Frequently Asked Questions
1. How and when can I sign up for the race?
Due to more demand than our local resources can support, registration for the Boston Light Swim is offered though a lottery system. Lottery registration opens on or about March 1st each year and is typically open for two weeks. We make a random drawing from all eligible entries when the lottery closes in mid-March and will inform all entrants as to your status that same day. We can only accommodate 25 solo swimmers and 6 relays. We will post the registration link to the BLS home page and our Facebook page as soon as it goes live.
To register, you’ll submit your biographical and past swim information to the website and be asked to enter credit card information. Your card will not be charged until your entry is approved, but a hold for the total amount will be placed on the card. Therefore, we strongly recommend that you DO NOT use a debit or bank card to complete this transaction. If you need to pay by check, we can arrange that, but we strongly prefer that you submit your credit card info at the time of application to the lottery. All credit card information is purged from our system once transactions are completed.
2. What do I need to do to qualify for this swim?
Swimmers who have swum the Boston Light Swim in the previous two years are qualified for entry for the current Boston Light Swim. So a swimmer applying for a solo entry in 2019 will be qualified if he or she participated in the 2018 or 2017 Boston Light Swim as a solo swimmer.
All other swimmers applying for entry must show proof of a long distance, open-water swim of 2.4 miles or greater that was completed within the year prior to the current Boston Light Swim event. Any open water swim event of 2.4 miles or longer will suffice and can be the 2.4-mile swim component of an Ironman distance triathlon, the 4.4-mile Great Chesapeake Bay Swim, the 3-mile or 6-mile event at Kingdom Swim in Vermont or any other organized open water swim event of 2.4 miles or longer. We strongly prefer to see nonwetsuit swims submitted for qualifying substantiation, given that the BLS is a nonwetsuit event and swimmers need to be capable of coping with cold water that can sometimes dip below 60 degrees F. The qualifying swim must have been completed within the past year and prior to the day of the current year’s Boston Light Swim event. Therefore, a swimmer applying to swim the Boston Light Swim on August 17, 2019 would need to show proof of a 2.4-mile or longer swim from the summer of 2018 or complete an event in summer 2019 prior to August 17, 2019.
Relay swimmers who participated as part of a relay in either of the prior two years of the Boston Light Swim are automatically qualified to participate in the current year’s Boston Light Swim. (Participation as a relay swimmer in the Boston Light Swim in the previous two years qualifies you for registration as a relay swimmer, but not a solo swimmer in the current BLS.) All other relay applicants will be required to show proof of a 1-mile or longer open water swim done within the past year, so a swimmer applying to participate in a relay at the 2019 Boston Light Swim would need to show proof of a 1-mile or longer open water swim from the summer of 2018 or complete an event in summer 2019 prior to race day. We strongly prefer to see nonwetsuit results submitted as qualifying swims.
Every swimmer should be able to swim a mile in less than 37 minutes. Because this swim is tidally dependent and because we have a strict 5-hour time limit on the course, swimmers who cannot show proof of a 37-mintute-per-mile open water pace will not be offered entry to the swim. (We’re not trying to penalize slower swimmers, honest. It’s because of the tides that you won’t be able to finish the event if you swim at a slower pace than that.)
3. I want to swim a relay, but I don’t have a partner. Can you help?
We recommend that you post your interest on our Facebook page. Lots of past and aspiring Boston Light swimmers are part of that group, and you are likely to find an interested relay partner there. We occasionally field inquiries from swimmers seeking a relay team member, and when we receive these, we typically post them to the Facebook page. Start there, and if we can help further, we will.
4. Why did the fee increase?
In 2019, the fees for the swim will be $300 for solos and $600 for relays. This rise in cost over previous years was necessitated because we have to cover our own insurance costs. We have also established a new lottery and registration process. Despite this increase, the Boston Light Swim is still one of the least expensive marathon swims being offered in the United States today. We strive to keep costs down so that everyone who wants to can participate.
The staff of the Boston Light Swim and MOWSA are all volunteers who receive no monetary compensation for their time and efforts related to the Boston Light Swim, the Doty Swim, or any other MOWSA-sanctioned or observed swim events. We are a non-profit organization, and any excess funds generated (which seldom happens) are reinvested into our events.
5. How do I find an escort boat?
Although we would love to be able to guarantee a boat for every single swimmer who registers, we cannot, both due to insurance considerations and because of resource limitations. Therefore, we ask swimmers to find their own pilots. This is a long-standing tradition at the Boston Light Swim, and it has seldom presented a big problem, despite how onerous it might sound at first reading.
Prospective BLS swimmers often fret about finding an escort pilot to support them during the swim. But don’t let that concern stop you from registering; there are lots of boaters in the area who are willing to help, and you can start by calling one of the local yacht clubs listed below. Some swimmers have also had success in the past by posting an ad on CraigsList. (Post your ad on Craigslist under Community > Events. You might also try listing your ad in the Events section under Gigs or Jobs.)
We also encourage you to post your request on the BLS Facebook page. If you’ve done all that and still can’t find a boat on your own, please let us know. Every year in early June, we contact boaters who have assisted in the past and ask for their availability. As we get commitments from boaters, we may be able to assign you one. But please make every effort to find a boat, as we cannot guarantee that a boat will be available for us to assign.
Local Yacht Club Contact Information
Columbia Yacht Club: (617) 269-9831
South Boston Yacht Club: http://www.southbostonyc.com, (617) 268-6132
Boston Harbor Yacht Club: http://bostonharboryc.com, (617)-269-5641
Dorchester Yacht Club: http://www.dorchesteryachtclub.com, (617) 436-1002
Old Colony Yacht Club: http://oldcolonyyc.org/wp/, (617) 436-0513
6. What Kind of boat is best?
Most any kind of motorboat can be used to escort you on the Boston Light Swim course, but we’ve found that 15- to 40-foot Boston Whaler style boats tend to work best. You may use a sailboat as your support vessel only if it has a motor—being under sail during the event is not permitted.
A few considerations to keep in mind:
A motor that permits your pilot to idle for long periods and drive very slowly to stay with you is paramount, but your boat must also have a motor that’s powerful enough to get you out to the lighthouse in time for the start. Most of the boats that have supported the race in the past can make it from the Boston Harbor Yacht Club to the lighthouse in about 20 to 45 minutes. Anything slower than that could be tight on the start, and we will not wait for you—the tide doesn’t wait for anyone.
Boats with a bigger keel and deeper draft may have some difficulty navigating shallower areas of the course or loading swimmers at the dock. Swimmers board at low tide, and the depth at the BHYC dock at that time is usually about six feet. If your boat’s draft is deeper, you’ll need to catch a ride out to the light on another boat and transfer once you reach deeper water, which we don’t advise because that makes difficult logistics even more challenging.
Your boat should have a swim step or ladder in case you need to climb aboard, and your pilot must have a marine radio to monitor transmissions about the race and to communicate in the event of an emergency.
A motor that will permit your boater to make it to shore quickly in the event of an emergency is also a good idea.
7. How much does it cost for the escort boat?
The boaters who support the Boston Light Swim are volunteers assisting you because they want to help. But keep in mind that they will be devoting a significant chunk of time to help you achieve your goal, and a voluntary donation to them would be most appreciated. Consider that they’ll be expending gas, their time, and putting wear and tear on the boat.
8. What are the swim rules?
By and large, the Boston Light Swim is governed by generally accepted practices for marathon swims, or "English Channel rules" as laid out by the Marathon Swimmers Federation. Specifically, BLS swimmers must adhere to the following or risk disqualification:
No Fastskins or high-tech suits; only basic, textile suits are permissible.
No intentional contact with the boat or another person
Use of only one bathing cap (one will be provided to you and for safety/visibility reasons, you MUST wear the cap we give you)
You may not wear a music player while in the water
Use of only one textile suit that does not:
extend onto the shoulder
extend below the knees (jammers are OK)
provide buoyancy or heat retention
Feeding is permitted (and encouraged), and the application of anti-chaffing substances such as zinc oxide lotion, Vaseline, or Channel grease are allowed. (Check with your boater about whether or not these potentially messy substances are permitted on his/her boat and plan accordingly.)
All swimmers must swim alongside their guide boat. You WILL be disqualified and removed from the race if you are observed swimming behind the boat. This is a safety requirement. Swimmers must keep within 10 to 20 feet of the port or starboard side of the boat. Your boater will be made aware of these rules, too.
There is a strict 5-hour time limit on the course. If you have not completed the course by the expiration of time, you must board your escort boat and motor to shore.
All swimmers must be 18 years of age or older.
Rules specific to relay teams
Relay teams (which may be comprised of 2, 3, or 4 swimmers) are governed by the same attire and general rules above, and are permitted to use a ‘helter skelter’ approach to their swims, meaning that swimmers are permitted to switch out as frequently as they want. You may swim in any order you want (and are welcome to mix it up throughout the swim), for any length of distance or time. The only set rule is that your team may not have more than one swimmer in the water at a time, so the swimmer in the water must exit the water when the next swimmer enters the water. Relay teams are encouraged to finish the race as a team (all together across the finish line).
9. How do I feed, and what should I eat?
If you have to ask, you may not be ready for a big swim like the Boston Light Swim. If you are new to long distance swimming, we recommend you do your research and learn the ropes before attempting a difficult swim like the BLS. The Marathon Swimmer’s Forum is a great resource for current and aspiring swimmers and the CS&PF lists excellent nutrition information on their website. If you have a specific question regarding feeding, contact Elaine Howley.
10. How do I train for this?
Again, if you have to ask, you’re probably not ready for this swim, but we love that you’re thinking about taking the plunge and encourage you to learn, train, and join us in the future. To get you started in long distance swimming, here are some resources you might want to check out:
Dover Solo by Marcia Cleveland
Open Water Swimming by Penny Lee Dean
Open Water Swimming by Steven Munatones
Swimming to Antarctica by Lynne Cox
Websites and Forums:
United States Masters Swimming Open Water Online
CS&PF Training Guide
If you have a specific question regarding training, Elaine Howley may be able to help.
11. Why isn’t the swim the same weekend every year? Why do we have to start so early?
The swim is typically held on a Saturday in August, but the exact date and time changes from year to year depending on the tide. We time the start of the swim to coincide with the incoming tide so swimmers gain the benefit of tidal assistance during the entire swim. We have already scheduled the swims through 2020 so you can plan ahead. (Yes, we know the start is painfully early some years, but the added benefit to getting a jump on the early tides is less recreational boat traffic and usually less wind on the course.)
12. What are your safety measures?
We strive to make the BLS the safest race you’ll ever swim, and that requires a lot of planning, volunteer assistance, and cooperation from swimmers and their crews.
The first line of defense during the swim is your guide boat. Each solo swimmer and each relay team must have its own boat to assist during the swim. No boat, no swim, no exception. (NOTE: We DO NOT permit multiple swimmers to “double up” and swim with the same guide boat. One boat = one swimmer. This goes for relay teams as well; one boat = one team, with only one swimmer in the water at a time.) We also have at least two (and usually three) “roving” safety boats on the course during the swim. Trained volunteers staff these boats and know what to look for and how to help if a swimmer runs into trouble.
Your crew is also a vital part of the safety plan. They should monitor you closely for the entirety of the swim to look for signs of hypothermia, the most common reason swimmers need to pull out of the Boston Light Swim. Signs of hypothermia include shivering, slurred speech, claw-like hands that will not relax, and an inability to follow directions or answer simple questions. Hypothermia is a very serious condition that requires medical attention. Your crew should pull you from the water and radio for help if you display signs of hypothermia.
We also register the swim with the United States Coast Guard, which sends a boat and emergency personnel to monitor the course. They also broadcast information about the swim to other recreational boaters in the area to make them aware of the swim.
In addition, we have Emergency Medical Technicians on the beach to assist swimmers upon the completion of the swim.
We also enforce cutoff times along the course as part of our safety procedures.
Swimmers must be at:
Rainsford Island (42.314433, -70.952067; +42° 18′ 51.96″, -70° 57′ 7.44″) within 2 hours of starting the swim
Long Island (42.309623, -70.974574; +42° 18′ 34.64″, -70° 58′ 28.47″) within 3 hours
Thompsen Island (42.322267, -70.998743; +42° 19′ 20.16″, -70° 59′ 55.47″) within 4 hours
At the finish (42.32862, -71.033295; +42° 19′ 43.03″, -71° 1′ 59.86″) within 5 hours.
(GPS coordinates are listed in both decimal and degrees/minutes/seconds)
We reserve the right to pull you from the race at these pre-designated points if you are not swimming quickly enough to meet these cutoff times, but will review each situation on a case-by-case basis. The aim is not to penalize slower swimmers, but rather to ensure everyone’s safety.
13. When do I know when to call it quits and who decides when the swim is over?
There are many times and reasons to pull out of a long distance swim, and it’s important that you are aware of what some of these situations are and what to look out for. In the Boston Light Swim, hypothermia is the biggest threat to the swimmer’s successful completion of the race. In recent years, the water temperature out by the lighthouse has been as low as 58 degrees Fahrenheit, which is very cold for most people. Your crew must monitor you during the swim for signs of hypothermia and pull you out if you have trouble.
Swimmers sometimes have problems with shoulder pain, cramping, seasickness, or another medical issue and may have to be removed from the water if they cannot continue. Your crew typically makes the decision to pull you in these instances, but the swimmer may also end the swim.
If sea or weather conditions change or another issue threatens the safe completion of the swim, your pilot has the authority to terminate the swim and remove you from the water. Your guide boat pilot has the final say on whether conditions are unsafe and you must follow their instructions if they tell you the swim is over.
In the event of lightning, we will terminate the swim. All boaters should pull their swimmers and drive them to the Boston Harbor Yacht Club for drop-off.
BLS staff also reserve the right to terminate a swimmer’s race if we believe a swimmer is experiencing a health issue or if we observe any safety issues or rule infractions.
14. Do I need a kayaker?
In the past, we have allowed swimmers to have a kayaker as a secondary safety support measure. However, a kayaker may not be your primary support and we typically do not recommend the use of a kayaker as the logistics of getting the kayak out to the start can be tricky, and the extra vessels on the course could be problematic in the event of an emergency.
15. Where should my family meet me? Can they watch? Can they volunteer?
Yes! Your family can watch the finish of the swim and help you celebrate your big accomplishment. The race ends at the L Street Beach at the Curley Community Center on Columbia Road in South Boston. Please come on down and cheer on the finishers. The fastest swimmers typically finish about two-and-a-half hours after the start, and the slowest swimmers will be finishing just before the 5-hour cutoff time. We encourage you to arrive early to see the exciting finish and cheer on all the swimmers.
Because the Boston Light Swim is a popular event with limited annual slots, we offer current year event volunteers the opportunity to bypass the swimmer selection lottery in the following year as a way of saying thank you for supporting the swim. Because of this incentive, volunteering has also become very popular, and we have instituted a volunteer lottery, limited to 4 official volunteers on Friday evening (to help with the pre-race safety meeting and dinner) and 4 official volunteers on Saturday (to help with set-up, finish line management, and cleanup). These volunteers are also selected by lottery. That lottery typically opens around the same time the swimmer’s lottery closes. If you want to be an official volunteer, keep an eye on our home page and Facebook page for the announcement of when that lottery opens. The lottery will remain open for a week or two, and then we will make a random drawing from all applicants to determine who will be the official volunteers.
If you would like to volunteer but are not interested in claiming one of the official slots in order to bypass the swimmer selection lottery the following year, please contact Elaine Howley or Greg O’Connor for more information.
16. What’s the best way to support this event?
Tell your friends about it or consider volunteering for us!
Because the Boston Light Swim is a popular event with limited annual slots, we offer current year event volunteers the opportunity to bypass the swimmer selection lottery in the following year as a way of saying thank you for supporting the swim. Because of this incentive, volunteering has also become very popular, and we have instituted a volunteer lottery, limited to 4 official volunteers on Friday evening (to help with the pre-race safety meeting and dinner) and 4 official volunteers on Saturday (to help with set-up, finish line management, and cleanup). These volunteers are also selected by lottery. That lottery typically opens within in a week or so of the closing of the swimmer’s lottery. If you want to be an official volunteer, keep an eye on our home page and Facebook page for the announcement of when that lottery opens. You’ll register via the MOWSA page and then we will make a random drawing of all applicants to determine the official volunteers for the event. (In order to bypass the following year’s lottery, official event volunteers must meet the requirements of volunteering as part of the event organization group. Crewing for a swimmer does not count as being an event volunteer.)
If you would like to volunteer but are not interested in claiming one of the official slots in order to bypass the swimmer selection lottery the following year, please contact Elaine Howley or Greg O’Connor for more information.
17. May I buy extra t-shirts for my crew and family?
Sure! When you register for the swimmer lottery, you'll have the option to purchase extra shirts. We also expect to have a limited number of extra T-shirts available for purchase on race day. We also have some shirts from past years, too, and they’re pretty cheap. Stop by the tent on the beach at the finish line to get yours.
18. What happens after the swim?
We’re glad you asked! We hope you’ll stick around to cheer on all the finishers as they come ashore. BLS veterans repeatedly tell us the welcoming atmosphere on the beach at the finish is one of their favorite aspects of this race. The M Street beach is a private, walled beach, and although in the past we have had beer on the beach, beginning in 2016, the rules at the venue now prevent us from having any alcohol on the beach at all. (So please don’t bring any with you, or you could jeopardize our ability to stage the event in coming years.) Yeah, we’re bummed, too, BUT! The world-famous L Street Tavern (as seen in the film “Good Will Hunting”) is just a couple blocks away and we will head there after the swim for a well-deserved beer and some laughs. We hope you’ll join us to celebrate your success!
19. Where should I park?
On-street parking is typically not a problem on the morning of the swim. You can park on Columbia Road all day without issue, but please pay careful attention to posted parking restrictions; some of the areas are designated as “Resident Parking” only and if you do not have a South Boston resident sticker, you will be ticketed and possibly towed. Instead, look for signs designating “Visitor Parking.” Parking on the Friday night before the swim when you arrive for the mandatory safety briefing and pre-race dinner may be trickier, as there is a two-hour limit on most of those visitor spaces after 6pm. We urge you to just pay attention to the signs and move your car as necessary. You can also take public transportation. The 9 and 11 bus lines run through Southie, and the Andrew and Broadway Red Line MBTA stations are within a mile of all the goings on for the Boston Light Swim. And, Uber/Lyft is your friend in Boston these days.
20. Where do I go and when do I need to be there?
We hold a mandatory pre-race briefing meeting for all swimmers at the Curley Community Center beginning at 4 p.m. on the Friday before the race. We will send out an email confirming the time and location prior to the event. You MUST be at the meeting to swim in the race the next day. This goes for relay swimmers, too; all members of your relay team must be in attendance. Everyone who will be swimming in the race MUST be at the briefing. No meeting, no swim, no exceptions.
After the meeting concludes, we will walk a couple blocks east to the Boston Harbor Yacht Club for the pre-race dinner. You are strongly encouraged to attend so you can meet the other participants and learn about the history of the swim, but the dinner is not a requirement. The dinner typically concludes about 8 p.m. so you have time to get home or to your hotel to get some rest.
On race day, you must be at the Boston Harbor Yacht Club two hours BEFORE the designated swim start time. You must check-in when you arrive and be marked with your race number. Your boater will meet you at the BHYC dock where you will load up and motor out to the lighthouse. Don’t be late. Seriously. Time and tide wait for no swimmer or boater.
We will send emails ahead of race day indicating exactly what time you need to be at the BHYC on race morning.
21. How long will it take?
The Boston Light Swim takes anywhere from two-and-a-half to five hours depending on your pace. Occasionally we have a very fast swimmer who finishes close to two hours. There is a five-hour time limit on the course. We must vacate the M Street Beach by 3 p.m., so no official race events will transpire after 3 p.m. on the day of the race.
22. How do I know where to swim?
We provide all the swimmers and boaters with GPS coordinates of the course. We recommend that your boater set the course and you aim to stay with them, keeping in mind that you are required to swim alongside the boat and may not swim in front of or behind the boat. There is a detailed description and map of the course on the website and you will be provided with a course map.
23. I’m coming in from out of town. Where should I stay? Where should I eat? What should I see while I’m in town?
Boston is an amazing city with lots of attractions and we’re proud to be locals. For those of you who aren’t, welcome! We have lots of recommendations for places to see, stay, and eat.
Because the swim and associated events take place in South Boston, the list of hotels, restaurants and pubs below are limited to South Boston. But should you choose to venture farther, you won’t be disappointed—there are many more wonderful places to eat, drink, and sleep throughout the city.
Doubletree Club Hotel Boston Bayside
240 Mt. Vernon Street
Boston, MA 02125
The Doubletree is located about 1 mile south of the finish line, just across Dorchester Bay. Rooms typically go for about $144/night.
Holiday Inn Express Boston Hotel
69 Boston Street
Boston, MA 02125
This hotel is located about 1 mile from the finish, near Route 93. Standard rooms cost about $144/night.
Courtyard Boston-South Boston
63 R Boston Street
Boston, MA 2125
The Courtyard is located about 1 mile from the finish, near Route 93. Standard rooms cost $160/night.
Boston is famous for its seafood, and you have to try the Barking Crab.
88 Sleeper Street
Boston, MA 02210-1226
149 P Street (between 6th Street and Columbia Road)
South Boston, MA
15 Fish Pier Street West (between Northern Ave & Trilling Way)
South Boston, MA 02210
LTK Bar & Kitchen (Part of Legal Seafood)
225 Northern Avenue
Boston, MA 02210
L Street Tavern
658 E 8th St (195 L St), South Boston, MA
The world famous L Street Tavern is just up the street from the finish line. You may remember it as the hangout featured in the movie “Good Will Hunting.” A group of us will head to the “L” after the swim to enjoy some beers and good company.
306 Northern Avenue
Boston, MA 02210
Harpoon Brewery churns out lots of tasty Boston beers right here in South Boston. You can take a guided tour followed by a tasting on the weekends:
Saturday 11:30 AM to 4:30 PM (starting every half hour)
Sunday 12:00 noon to 3:00 PM (starting every hour)
Tours last about one hour and cost $5, which includes a souvenir glass. A portion of fee goes to Harpoon Helps, Harpoon’s charitable foundation.
As for the sights, Boston is known for its historical places and there are tons of things to do, but we recommend you try the following for an authentic Boston tourist experience:
Walk the Freedom Trial
Head over to Charlestown and go aboard the oldest commissioned vessel in the world, the USS Constitution
Climb up the Bunker Hill Monument
Take a Duck Tour
Visit the New England Aquarium
Take a boat taxi out to the Boston Harbor Islands, a national park; these are the islands you swim past, so go explore them
Visit Fort Independence on Castle Island just down the street from the finish