South End Rowing Club is located on Aquatic Park in San Francisco, where swimmers can enjoy a protected cove and private beach for easy access. Swimming in the San Francisco Bay can be a challenging environment thanks to strong tides, boat traffic, sea life, and water temperatures ranging from under 50 degrees F in the winter months to the low 60 degrees F over the warmer months.
Bay swimming videos and resources
The resources below are available for swimmers to learn more about safely swimming in Aquatic Park and the surrounding areas.
- Learning about Bay Tides
- Swimming in Cold Water
- Bay Swimming
- “Scared Straight” Stories About Dangerous Swims
- Bilateral Breathing
- CBS Sunday Morning: Taking the plunge
- Man Attacked by Sea Lion
- Presentation from the Marine Mammal Center
Learning about Bay Tides
Two important tidal terms to understand 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. “Swimming against the current” means that you are swimming west (towards the Gate) during a flood or swimming east (towards the East Bay) during an ebb. The club has handy “tide books” that document the tides and current predictions for the entire year. There are two books in the Day Room and in each of the locker rooms. Learn how to read these. Luckily, Muni Pier and the Breakwater offer a lot of protection from the full effects of the currents when you are in the cove, yet even so, they are still noticeable. Do not swim outside the cove if you do not understand the tides and currents.
The tides and currents are very important part of swimming in the Bay. Please watch this video to learn more!
View the Tides & Currents Slides (PDF)
Swimming in Cold Water
Jeff Gunderson and Sue Free talks about what its like to swim in colder water and understand the challenges.
Jeany Duncan explains the signs and different levels of hypothermia.
View the Hypothermia Slide Deck (PDF)
Vanessa Lea talks to us about what to expect when swimming in the San Francisco bay.
Stories about dangerous swims
View the “Scared Straight” Slide Deck (PDF)
CBS Sunday Morning: Taking the plunge
Man Attacked by Sea Lion
Presentation from the Marine Mammal Center
Laura Gill from the Marine Mammal Center gives a presentation on seal lions and harbor seals and other marine mammals.
Common Aquatic Park swim routes
There are many possibilities of swims you can do in our playground, Aquatic Park Cove (“The Cove”)
Swimming in the bay is always at your own risk. You are NOT allowed to cross the shipping lane without boat support and contacting Vessel Traffic for legal and safety reasons.
Ultimately, you are responsible for your own safety.
Inside the Cove
The buoy line runs along the length of Aquatic Park, from the just west of the Dolphin Club dock to a rectangular buoy with a flag on it at the western most end of the cove. It is known simply as “The Flag.” Many triathletes 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 effects from the currents.
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. Take caution swimming along Muni Pier as 1) Fishermen have their lines in the water; 2) Muni Pier is old and crumbling, pieces may fall into the water as you 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, avoiding fishing lines and the potential for falling debris
- Original: Under Muni Pier at the Wedding Cake. Until Muni Pier is repaired we advise going around the Wedding cake not under
- Past the Opening buoy with your right shoulder
- Under the Jacuzzi
- Behind the Balcultha and Thayer boats
- Right after Thayer to the SERC dock
Outside the Cove
SERC does not recommend members swimming outside the Cove. If you do so you swim at your own risk and always swim with a buddy / escort.
Melissa Blaustein and Kelley Prebil getting ready for another morning swim in the San Francisco Bay