• Do you want to start a new open water event in your area?
  • Are you struggling with where to begin and how to get started?
  • Are you feeling overwhelmed by all of the tasks associated with running an open water event?
  • Are you unsure about how to run a safe and fun event?
  • Are you looking for a starting point and help in getting your event off the ground?

If so, you’re in the right place!

Starting a new open water event can seem like a daunting and scary undertaking. If you’ve participated in an open water swim before, you’ve seen the amount of work that goes into having a safe and fun event. However, don’t let all those tasks and concerns that you’re thinking about right now deter you from starting a new event. They can all be managed and worked through by starting with and using an “action item to-do list” of tasks and then work through them one at a time.

New Event Steps and Checklists

View a printable version here.

First level steps in starting the event

Before you start worrying about and trying to plan for the type of food you want or how the t-shirts are going to look, there are some higher-level items that need addressed first. These items are very important on how you will proceed with your event based on the feedback and acceptance or non-acceptance you receive.

  • Determine where you want to have the event…lake, river, ocean, bay, etc.

  • Determine where the race venue will be on this body of water and where the start and finish line will be. When doing so, consider parking availability in the area, access to the venue, getting safety boats and personnel to the area, potential weather and what might happen to the venue if weather got bad, etc.

  • Decide how you want the course to look and where it goes on the body of water. Is it an out-and-back, a point-to-point, a circle, square, rectangle?

  • Decide what the distance of the swim or swims will be based on the body of water, start/finish location, potential weather, safety concerns, buoy positioning, etc.

  • Write a race plan on how you plan to conduct the race(s) with detailed information about the course, venue, etc.

  • Create a venue map on how and where things will be setup at the venue (start/finish, medical tent, swimmer check-in, awards, bathrooms, parking, etc.).

  • Using the USMS safety guidelines and requirements, write a safety plan with detailed information about how you plan to run safety with safety boats, kayakers, lifeguards, buoys on the course, EMTs, volunteers, etc.

  • Pick a race date based on other local events, weather, water temperatures, and anything else that may affect your event.

  • Schedule a meeting with the local venue governing bodies (city, county, police, forest service, etc.) and discuss your race plan and safety plan with them to get a go-ahead approval from them to run your event on the date you selected. Without this approval, you won’t be able to or want to move forward. Once your local governing bodies approve your event, you’re ready to move forward with the next steps.
Second level steps once local approval has been given
  • Secure a USMS certified safety coordinator or make sure your safety coordinator is USMS certified prior to the event.

  • Determine who is going to be the event’s referee and make sure that they are USMS certified referee prior to the event.

  • Complete the USMS sanction application using your safety plan on usms.org.

  • Decide how you plan to do registration. If you want to do online registration, which is the most efficient, think about using a company like Club Assistant, IM Athlete, or Active.

  • Setup your online registration with the details about the event. Test it over and over again to make sure everything is working properly and then decide a date on when registration is going to open based on the race date. Open registration as early as possible to allow for as much time as you can to solicit for participants.

  • Determine if you’re going to have a dedicated website for the event. If so, get it designed and setup with all of the details about the event. Look at other race websites to see what information they’re providing and how they’ve setup their web pages.

  • Decide on a marketing plan for the event. How you plan on letting the open water swim community know about your event. Social media, forums, local advertisements are all good places to start. Start marketing the event as soon as possible.

  • Decide how you plan to solicit and register volunteers. Think about using a company like Sign Up Genius to organize and track your volunteers and the jobs their doing for the event.

  • Determine how many safety personnel you need based on your safety plan and hire EMS services for the event (lifeguards, EMTs, police boats, Coast Guard, local search and rescue teams, etc.). You may also want/need volunteer kayakers and safety boats for additional safety. If so, begin recruiting them. Talk to friends, local kayak clubs, etc.

  • Determine how you plan on timing the event (manual or with electronic timing). If electronic, hire a company early and make sure they are experienced.

  • Seek out sponsors for the event. Reach out to local businesses for support but also talk to larger companies that are in the swimming, nutrition, or similar business.
Third level steps once registration is open
  • Determine what type of awards you plan to give (finisher medals, trophies, age group awards). Order the awards in plenty of time to receive them prior to the event.

  • Design the race t-shirts. Talk to the vendor to be able to place the order for the t-shirts as close to the race date as possible. This allows you to collect as many registrations as you can with their t-shirt size and then order based on actual numbers needed. Don’t forget to order extra shirts for volunteers, race staff, safety personnel, and sponsors.

  • Based on race distances and number of participants, design and order swim caps or try and get these sponsored. Use brightly colored caps like yellow, pink, orange, etc.

  • Decide on what you plan on providing for drinks and food…are you going to feed them a meal after the event or just provide snacks? Are you going to have water bottles or coolers with water and cups? Make sure you have volunteers to help distributing all of this.

  • Communicate with each race participant on a regular basis about the event. Provide them a timeline for race day, directions, course map, venue map, etc. Much of this can be on the race website.

  • For the race venue are their toilets that can handle the number of participants or do you need to rent portable toilets? If you need to rent them do so early and make sure they will deliver at the time you need them to.

  • Also for the race venue, are you going to have tents, tables, chairs for the race check-in, safety meeting, awards, social, etc.? If so, rent this equipment early and make sure they will deliver and pick up when you need them to.

  • Have a communication sound system for race day for the safety meeting, music, and awards. This is how you’re going to communicate with the participants at the event.

  • Create a list of items that are needed for race day. For example, you may need, tape, scissors, hammer, headlamp, rope, zip ties, other tools, buckets, coolers, etc.

  • Communicate with any local marinas or businesses on the water about the event.

  • Determine the communication plan for race. Are you going to use radios, cell phones, bullhorn, etc.)? If radios and you don’t have any, make sure they are rented in time for the event.
Leading up to and just prior to race day
  • Buoy placement, when, how, and who is going to setup race the race buoys. Have plan for how this is going to be done and don’t wait to the last minute.

  • Finalize all permitting and insurance requirements and make the payments needed with the local permitting office. Make sure you have completed everything with your local governing bodies that permitted the event. Make sure you get your final and approved permit and have it with you on race day.

  • Make sure the parking plan is set with the local city/county and make sure you have volunteers to help with the parking.

  • Write your pre-race safety meeting and print it out so that you have a copy to read from at the event.

  • Print extra copies of the course map and have them at the event.

  • Communicate and have a meeting with police, safety boaters, and shore personnel prior to the event to make sure everyone is on the same page about how the event is going to be run.

  • Communicate with all of your volunteers and make sure they know when to show up and what they’re expected to do and for how long they’re needed.
Race Day
  • Arrive very early with volunteers to get everything setup.

  • Communicate with the participants as they show up what they need to be doing and where and when they need to be at a certain place (e.g. attend the pre-race safety meeting).

  • Stay on your timeline! This can’t be stressed enough. Being late for everything makes the event look bad and if you have to be off the premises by a certain time things are going to be rushed or missed.

  • Make sure your timing company and personnel are setup and ready to go.

  • Conduct the pre-race safety meeting and make sure everyone is there.

  • Get your safety personnel with your safety coordinator to have one final talk and get them on the water where they need to be.

  • Start the race on time and in an organized way.

  • Communicate and monitor the event constantly.

  • Work with your timing company to get the results for the awards.

  • Have fun and enjoy what you’ve been able to put together.
Post Race
  • Get results posted as soon as possible.

  • Send a thank you email to all participants, volunteers, safety personnel, and sponsors.

  • Solicit for feedback about the event and use this to make the event even better the next year.