Drafting and Sighting in Open Water Swim Races

by Pool Builders on 01-12-2013 in Articles

Are you hoping for a personal record in your next open water swim race? Would you like to race more efficiently and keep on course? Check out the tips below.


If you want to race faster and with less effort - draft. This involves swimming very close to a competitor. Stay either directly behind their feet or slightly to the side, off their hip. To save the most amount of energy, you can swim up to 20 inches directly behind the lead swimmer. This technique reduces exertion by up to 38 percent. Even swimming up to five feet behind still offers energy savings.

Some bumps between swimmers may be inevitable but try to avoid this if possible. Instead, just stay very near the person, right in their bubbles, to let them break the water. You should feel a different, easier movement of the water if you place yourself in the right spot. Practicing this skill in the pool will help you get the right feeling. There you can also get used to other swimmers touching your feet. This seems disconcerting at first, but you will get used to it. Drafting provides serious benefits in terms of greater speed and ease, allowing for a faster and more relaxed swim.


Open water swim races may be point to point or around buoys. Either way, you must sight to keep on course. Sighting involves looking up out of the water to quickly spot a solid, stationary object. Choose the next buoy or perhaps a park or building. The race director may offer suggestions before the start.

How do you sight? Move your head the least amount possible as it slows you down. Just lifting your eyes above the water is best but difficult in waves. In that case, you may need to lift your head straight up to glimpse over them. After taking a quick look, breathe and continue your stroke. Avoid breathing at the same time you look as you may take in a mouthful of water.

What if you need to adjust your course? Opinions differ here on procedure. Some coaches say you should turn sharply to realign. They argue that more time spent off course simply translates to a longer, slower race. Other coaches say that adjustments should be made gradually as sudden turns take more energy and can lead you to overcompensate. The real answer may lie in how you feel and the choppiness of the water. Sharp turns will be tough if you are hanging on for the finish or slogging through waves.

How often should you sight? You may need to sight more in the beginning of a race while you get settled. Sighting tires you out because it changes your body alignment and slows your momentum. Therefore, to avoid overdoing it, aim for around once every eight strokes. With calm water, you can possibly go longer. Waves may require more frequent looks.

Remember to sight even if you are drafting. When you start drafting, sight more often to evaluate your competitor's skills. You can then save energy by sighting less if the racer holds a good line.


Before race day, practice drafting to get used to swimming very close to others and possibly getting your feet bumped. Also, perfect your sighting to gain efficiency in this important skill. Drafting reduces the energy you expend during your race. Swimming a straight line results in a faster race and minimizes the distance to finish. Utilize these two important techniques to attain your best time yet.

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