The upcoming Manhattan Island Marathon Swim has a 15-foot no-drafting rule. That is, each swimmer cannot be encroached within 15 feet (4.5 meters) by another swimmer.
This 15-foot distance enables and demands that each swimmer swims their own race without the benefit of drafting off of another swimmer.
But it can also be used as an offensive and defensive strategy by the most competitive swimmers - aided by a motivated and tactically savvy crew - who are swimming to win.
Because the river currents throughout the Manhattan Island Marathon Swim are so strong and certain lines along the course are better than others, it is possible that the most savvy swimmers can effectively "block" their opponents from the best lines of navigation, especially if they are in a battle and they have the inside line.
For example, if Swimmer A is heading into the finish area and Swimmer B is coming alongside them, Swimmer A can take the inside line and Swimmer B cannot get within 15 feet of them, which could be the difference in the race.
Because we have seen so many marathon swims, especially in rivers, come down to differences in tenths of a second, this 15-foot drafting rule could be utilized as an important tactic by competitive swimmers and their support crew.
Gerry Rodrigues, who once competed in the Manhattan Island Marathon Swim and is well-known as a very tactical swimmer said, "While I can see the media value of having three people swimming shoulder-to-shoulder down the Hudson [River] towards the finish, this [15-foot] rule can be used to one's advantage. One tactic that can be used is to get out in front and effectively keep your competition from coming alongside you. You can achieve a 15-foot buffer than can be very helpful at the end of the race or around key points along the course."
But, upon confirmation with the organizing committee, the 15-foot rule is clearly as much about intent than the literal meaning. That is, 15 feet is the ideal and recommended distance, but the swimmers will be informed of certain exceptions. For example, (1) safety overrides all rules, (2) temporary conditions may not allow for the 15-foot distance to be enforced, (3) temporary encroachment is allowed, but repeated offenses are cause for disqualification, (4) swimmers must change their behavior/tactics when warned by a race official, (5) if swimmer feels another competitor is violating the 15-foot ruling, they should raise it with their Race Official who will then speak with the other swimmer's Race Official to help get the other swimmer to make adjustments. Conditions may require both swimmers to make adjustments to establish fair conditions. (6) Intent is harder to determine, but if a swimmer is purposely trying to use another for their personal advantage, this is cause for a warning or disqualification.
The race - both solo and among the relays - will be exciting and challenging.
We will also be providing live updates on Twitter via http://twitter.com/swimopenwater.