Around the Cove Swims

Around the Cove Swims

Aquatic Park and surrounding area illustration by Pat Cunneen

Members are allowed to swim anywhere within Aquatic Park (aka "The Cove") and between The Gashouse to the West of the Opening and the Creakers to the East of the Opening. You are NOT allowed to cross the shipping lane without boat support and contacting Vessel Traffic for legal and safety reasons. There are many possibilities of swims you can do in our playground.  Some of the most common are below.

Two important terms to remember when doing a swim whether inside or outside of the Cove: ebb and flood. Ebb is when the water is flowing out of the Gate towards the Pacific Ocean. Flood is when the water is flowing into the Bay from the Pacific Ocean.  You will notice that you swim to the Opening a lot faster than heading back to the beach during an ebb and vice versa.  "Swimming against the current" means that you are swimming towards the Gate during a flood or swimming towards the East Bay during an ebb. The club has handy "tide books" that list the tide and the current predictions for the entire year. There are two books permanently fastened to the coffee table in the Day Room and in each of the locker rooms.  The higher the number, the stronger the current. A "4.7 ebb" means that the water is flowing out of the Bay at a rate of 4.7 knots per hour or 5.4 miles per hour. You will NOT be able to swim against this and the water will shoot you right out past the Golden Gate if you're not careful.  Luckily, Muni Pier and the Breakwater offer a lot of protection from the full effects of the currents, yet they are still noticeable.

Suzie Dods also hosts an excellent Introduction to Bay Swimming seminar to help familiarize yourself to swimming in the San Francisco Bay properly and safely!


Inside the Cove

Buoy Line

The buoy line is just to the left of the beach and runs the length of Aquatic Park to a rectangular buoy with a flag on it known simply as "The Flag." Many triathaletes swim up and down the buoy line over and over again which can make it feel like Grand Central Station sometimes. This is a great place to remain for those who have never swam in the Bay as it's relatively safe as it's proximity to shore makes it have less affects from the currents.

Buoy Line Swim

Cove Swim

A "cove" swim is anything that involves going along the buoy line to and along Muni Pier and the Opening and back to the club or the reverse direction (depending on the currents). Distance traveled depends on how tight you make your cove lap as everyone does it differently. Caution swimming along Muni Pier as fisherman have their lines in the water!

Cove Swim

"Tight Cove" or "Honest Cove"

A "tight cove" or "honest cove" is generally reserved for the infamous "Five Coves of Death" held every year on May 5th starting at 5:00 PM.  The swim is:
  • Beach to the Flag
  • Around the Flag
  • Through the goal posts,
  • Around the far lone post with your right shoulder
  • Follow the Muni Pier curve tightly
  • Under Muni Pier at the Wedding Cake
  • Past the Opening buoy with your right shoulder
  • Under the Jacuzzi
  • Behind the Balcultha and Thayer boats
  • Right after Thayer to the SERC dock

"Tight Cove" or "Honest Cove" Swim illustration by Joe Butler

Outside the Cove


If you’ve never swam in the Bay before, try going to the Flag and back. If you get bored with this and/or tired of running into other swimmers along the buoy line, try swimming around the Cove. If you are comfortable with swimming around the Cove, try swimming against an ebb down to the Creakers. Swimming against the current allows you to head back to the club with the current in the event that you need to abort the swim.*

Always follow the following safety guidelines for swimming outside of the cove:
  • Never swim outside the Cove by yourself! You could get injured or even killed and no one would know what happened to you.
  • Avoid swimming outside the Cove later than mid-morning due to heavy boat traffic during the day. NONE of them are expecting swimmers in the water.
  • ALWAYS check the tide book to see what the tide and currents are doing BEFORE you enter the water. It may look like it's flooding now but you may not know that a 4.7 ebb is going to start building in half an hour.
  • Always be honest about your limits! This includes how far you can swim and how long your body can stay in the cold water before you get hypothermic.
  • Keep an eye out for boat traffic at all times. Swim like they can't see you since there is a very high chance that they don't even know you're there and they still won't know after they run over you.
  • Do these swims with a seasoned veteran of that particular swim. A lot of members are very helpful and will be happy to tag you on a guided tour of the swim.
Roundtrip Fort Mason (RTFM)

A Roundtrip Fort Mason should be attempted by those who have swam multiple times around the Cove and are comfortable swimming in the Cove. You should never attempt a RTFM for the first time without a well-versed RTFM veteran. The swim should only be attempted during a Flood as if you get into trouble for whatever reason, the current will help you get back into the Cove and to help.

The swim is:
  • Beach to the Opening
  • Tight along Muni Pier until Fort Mason is directly across from you
  • Swim across to the East side of Fort Mason
  • Retrace your swim path back to the beach

Many continue onto the western building of Fort Mason which is the Gashouse. DO NOT pass this building without boat support as there are many private vessels that come out from the Gashouse Cove and they are not looking for little yellow caps bobbing in the water!

Roundtrip Fort Mason Swim

Outside/Inside,  Outside/Outside, Inside/Outside, Inside/Inside

All of these refer to swimming along the Breakwater, which is on the East side of the Opening. The "outside" refers to the Bay side of the Breakwater and the "inside" refers to the club side of the Breakwater. Hyde St Pier is a working pier so you must remain against the Breakwater for safety reasons. The easiest route is to go against the current to the Creakers (the Eastern end of the Breakwater) and then ride the current back either on the side you came "up" or on the opposite side. As always, do not attempt this for the first time without a seasoned professional as going the wrong way in the wrong conditions can lead to you getting swept to the Bay Bridge or out The Gate! The outside of the Breakwater will give you the full effect of the currents whereas you'll get some shelter from them on the inside of the Breakwater (except directly by the Creakers).

If you are swimming against the current to the Creakers and are going to traverse to the other side (say Inside to Outside during an ebb), give yourself plenty of turning room at the Creakers because the current is going to want to push you right into the end of the Breakwater, especially as you are no longer in the protection from the Breakwater wall.

Outside-Inside or Inside-Outside Swim

Chas Lap

A Chas Lap was named after our very own Chas Ferrari who did it so often that we named the swim after him. More information about the Chas Lap can be found on the Evan Morrison's blog "Farther, Colder, Rougher" post here.

Chas Lap

* Suggested Aquatic Park swim progression taken from Evan Morrison's blog "Farther, Colder, Rougher" about the Chas Lap.

Melissa Blaustein and Kelley Prebil getting ready for another morning swim in the San Francisco Bay