The Course

Buzzards Bay Swim Course

The Buzzards Bay Swim features a spectacular 1.2-mile open water course across outer New Bedford Harbor. The point-to-point course begins in the South End of New Bedford and ends at Fort Phoenix Beach State Reservation in Fairhaven. On the water, swimmers are fully supported by safety personnel and welcomed to the finish line by cheering supporters.

What does the course look like?

Buzzards Bay Swim features a one-of-a-kind scenic point-to-point course across outer New Bedford Harbor. Assisted by the U.S. Coast Guard and a local safety patrol, swimmers navigate 1.2 miles through the harbor and channel, passing by the iconic Butler Flats Lighthouse and the New Bedford Hurricane Barrier, one of the largest stone structures on the East Coast.

Watch the video below to see the Swim course for yourself!

Where does the course start and end?

The Buzzards Bay Swim course crosses outer New Bedford Harbor, from the South End of New Bedford to Fort Phoenix Beach State Reservation in Fairhaven. (For more information about the location of the start and finish lines, visit the Schedule & Directions page.)

What is the water like?

kayakers and swimmers at the Buzzards Bay Swim
The finish line at Fort Phoenix State Reservation is a
popular swimming beach.

Water Temperature

Buzzards Bay can be slow to warm up in the spring, but water temperatures reliably increase 5-10 degrees in the weeks leading up to the Swim. Typical water temperatures range from 68-70 degrees F.

Roughly 80% of swimmers wear wetsuits, while others swim in bathing suits or bathing suits and a swim shirt. Visit the Training page to learn more about wetsuit options and open-water swimming training.

Tides

To help everybody along, the Swim start coincides with the incoming tide. This helps push swimmers across the harbor so they're not swimming against the tide.

This year, high tide is at 8:38am, so the first wave of swimmers will start promptly at 7am. This will give swimmers time enough to cross the harbor before the tide turns. Visit the Schedule and Directions page for a full list of start times.

Marine Life

The Swim takes place in outer New Bedford Harbor, which is largely open to the waters of Buzzards Bay. Most swimmers encounter harmless marine species such as seaweed, eelgrass, small fish, and the occasional comb jelly. In fact, these species are a sign of clean water!

Water Quality

The Swim takes place in outer New Bedford Harbor, well outside of the working inner harbor and hurricane barrier. The water in the outer harbor is clear and well flushed by Buzzards Bay and the Atlantic Ocean. Many swimmers remark about how beautiful and clean the water is, especially compared to when the Swim began in 1993. The finish line, located at Fort Phoenix State Reservation, is a popular beach where local residents swim all season long.

To ensure everybody's safety, we coordinate very closely with local health departments to monitor the water in the outer harbor in the days and weeks leading up to the Swim. The water at the start and finish lines (both public beaches) is tested every few days for bacterial pollution. This data almost always comes back clean. If bacteria levels were above safe standards, we would not hold the Swim.

In the inner portion of New Bedford Harbor (inside the hurricane barrier and north of Route 6), the U.S. EPA is working to clean up legacy contamination from PCBs. The only human risk from PCBs today comes from direct exposure to the muddy bottom (primarily north of Coggeshall Street) or from eating fish and shellfish caught in the harbor. There is no risk of exposure to PCBs in the water itself, especially in the outer harbor beyond the hurricane barrier, where the Buzzards Bay Swim takes place. The PCB cleanup in New Bedford Harbor is a high priority for the Buzzards Bay Coalition, and funds raised through the Swim helps support our advocacy on this issue.

How are swimmers supported on the water?

kayakers and swimmers at the Buzzards Bay Swim
A safety team of rescue personnel and kayak escorts
protects swimmers in the water.

To keep all swimmers and kayakers safe, the Buzzards Bay Swim has a robust and experienced safety team and tested protocol in place.

Safety Squad

Along the Swim course, there are 20+ motorized vessels on the water from agencies including:

  • The U.S. Coast Guard and U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary
  • Massachusetts Environmental Police
  • TowBoatU.S. New Bedford
  • New Bedford Police, Fire, and Harbormaster
  • New Bedford Harbor Development Commission
  • Fairhaven Police, Fire, EMTs, and Harbormaster

Additional support comes from the Bristol County Sheriff’s Office, Community Boating Center, private captains, and the Buzzards Bay Coalition’s own R/V Buzzards Baykeeper®. These boats enforce the channel closure, advise recreational boaters, transport event and safety staff, visually monitor the event and participants, and provide rescue services if needed.

In addition, 14+ trained kayak safety squad members line both sides of the course and watch for swimmers in distress. They wear bright safety green t-shirts and vests so they are visible to swimmers and boaters. These kayakers are available to anyone who needs help or needs to get out of the water for any reason. There are also EMTs stationed at the finish line and an ambulance standing by at Fairhaven Shipyard, should it be required.

Kayak Escorts

For added safety, swimmers can choose to swim with their own kayak escort: a friend or family member who paddles alongside you the entire way across the course. We recommend that all new swimmers sign up as an “escorted” swimmer so they can feel comfortable and supported during their swim. Visit the Qualifications page to learn more about swimming with a kayak escort.

Cancellation

The Buzzards Bay Swim is a rain or shine event. It will only be cancelled due to unsafe conditions (such as storms, fog, or choppy water). Any decision relative to safety is made on the morning of the Swim.

Ready to sign up for the Swim? Register now!

Thank you to our sponsors!

The Buzzards Bay Swim is a Waterkeeper Alliance SPLASH Series event, presented nationally by Toyota.