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Trent Grimsey English Channel swim start Open Water Swimming on 1Vigor
Trent Grimsey, English Channel Record Holder

Open Water Swimming Navigation

by Trent Grimsey, English Channel World Record Holder - 6:55 hours

"Dedication is what you do when no one else is watching."

Navigation Skills for Performance and Safety

I think one of the hardest things to do in Open Water swimming is to navigate. There is nothing worse than swimming in big swell and not knowing if you’re swimming in the right direction. It happens to the best of us from time to time. That is why I’ve created this list to try and make it easier for you:


• New Goggles: Have you ever had your goggles fog up during a race when you’re trying to sight a buoy? The way to prevent this is to never wear your training goggles in a race. New goggles don’t get foggy so try to wear a new pair whenever you race. If buying a new pair for each race is not an option for you, just have a separate pair that you only ever race in..

• Tinted Goggles. If you are swimming during mid day under bright sunshinse or hazey conditions navigating can be very difficult and annoying due to the bright sun and the sun's reflection off the water. Tinted goggles can filter the glare making sighting and navigation easy and enjoyable.

The Course

Ask Questions. How many times have you done a triathlon or ocean swim and not been 100% clear on the actual course? Always listen carefully in the race brief before the start. If you are not sure about something, stick your hand up and ask the question. The chances are most other swimmers don’t really understand the course either so you’ll be helping everyone by asking the question. It’s better to know too much about the course than too little. Study it and get to know it back to front.

• Weather. The day before your race and race morning check the weather forecast. Also, ask the locals or do research about typical wind patterns for the time of the year you will be racing. Many coastal areas have typical wind patterns. It's good to be mentally and physically prepared for difficult water conditions caused by wind and how those winds will impact navigation.

• Tides and Currents. Coastal areas will also have tide movements and strong currents, some stronger or more extreme than others depending on the tides. Knowing in advance the tides you will encounter during the race will help you develop a winning swim navigation strategy to deal with the tides and currents.

Drafting or Pack Swimming

Navigating will be a lot easier if you leave it to someone else to do. When drafting or in a pack slightly lift your head so you can see the feet of the person in front of you. You want to swim as close to this person as possible without touching their feet. If you touch their feet the element of surprise will be gone come the end of the race.


Sighting can get pretty tricky in big or choppy swell. It can get a little scary sometimes when you’re lifting your head to sight and all you can see are walls of water around you. This is why it’s very important to time your sighting with the swells. The best time to sight is when you can feel the swell picking you up and you know you’re on the highest point. If you sight when you’re on a low all you’ll be able to see is walls of water. Timing is everything!

If you’re leading or swimming by yourself in a race you should be sighting around every 6 strokes. If you’re drafting or swimming in a pack it’s still good to sight approximately every 20 strokes just to make sure the person or pack in front of you is taking the shortest line to the next buoy.

Keep swimming, be safe! Trent

Trent Grimsey is the English Channel Record Holder and arguably the fastest swimmer on the planet! Trent also is a member of the Australian National Open Water Swimming Team and one of the best open water swimmers in the world. He is currently Australia's highest ranked male open water swimmer on the current FINA Open Water Swimming world rankings. Trent participated in the 2011 FINA World Championships in Shanghai, China and on the FINA 10KM Marathon Swimming World Cup and the FINA Open Water Swimming Grand Prix series. He won the shortened 2012 Maratón Internacional Hernandarias – Paraná in Argentina. Trent also has the following accomplishments: FINA World Championships 25km (Rome)- SILVER, 2009 FINA World Cup 10km (Sharjah) - GOLD, 2009 Waikiki Rough Water Swim (Hawaii)- GOLD, 2010 Australian Nationals 5km - GOLD, 2010 The Great Australian Swim (Redcliffe) - 1st, 2011 Maui Channel Swim (team) 18K - 1st (Maui, Hawaii), 2011 Optimis Sport Distance Swim Challenge 20km - 1st (Los Angeles, USA), 2011 Australian Nationals 5km - SILVER, 2011 The Great Australian Swim (Coolangatta) - 1st, 2011 Noosa Blue Ocean Swim - 1st, 2011 Cadiz Freedom Swim (Cape Town, South Africa) - 2nd, 2012 Capri-Napoli Marathon - 1st, set course record - World Record English Channel Swim set August 28, 2012 of 6:55 hours.
Trent attended Genesis Christian College and lives in Brisbane, Australia.

More about Trent Grimsey

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