FAQ for Visiting IronMan Athletes

1) Can I swim the IM course in the river?

from Roots Rated.

from Roots Rated.

  • The access points for the IM 70.3 and Full swim courses are impermanent structures which are set up and broken down immediately before and after each race, sadly, there is no access at either the start or the finish, sadly.  
  • Also, unfortunately, the exit for both IM finishes is at an active marina where it is posted no swimming due to electric shock hazard.  The electrician for the City of Chattanooga has to cut off the power for the day of events only.   

2) Can I swim unattended in the TN River?

  • No.  You should never swim unattended in the TN river because there is a lot of commercial traffic (barges, duck boats, Southern Belle, commercial fishing craft, bass boats, jet skis, etc.).
  • There is no protected swimmer area in the TN River.
  • There is a shipping lane in the TN River.  The channel is on the North side of MacClellan Island and under the center span on the bridges, although sometimes barges go under other the spans.  There is also a lot of commercial boat traffic on the South side of the island, so there is no motor-boat free zone. Barges travel through regularly and are not on any set schedule.  They move pretty fast and do not have brakes.  They cannot see lone swimmers in the water, especially if they are travelling towards the sun.
  • You could get hit by a boat if you are swimming without a kayaker or SUPer.    You are not visible to bass boats which tend to fly at 60 mph right along the bank, especially in the early morning hours.  Again, you are hardly visible to motorists with the sun shining on the water.
  • If you want to swim in the river, you need to organize a kayaker or SUPer to go with you so that you are visible to motor boats.  Otherwise, it is simply not safe.  It is also not safe to just be with a group of other swimmers.
  • It is also not safe to just swim with an orange float behind you.
  • Remember, boats don’t have brakes!

3) Where are the access points downtown?

There are very few access points to the TN river downtown near the IM course.  They are:
a) On the North Shore under the Market Street Bridge at Coolidge Park at the boat launch.  River MIle 464.4 Coolidge Park (Launch).

b) On the North Shore there is another kayak launch at the Blue Rhino statue at Coolidge Park next to the Little Theater.  There are steps down to the river.

c) On the North Shore under the Veterans Bridge downtown on the North Shore you can get it but there is no convenient parking.

d) On the North Shore four miles upstream of downtown River Mile 468.0 Rivermont Park (Launch).


4) What is the deal with the current?

  • There can be a lot of current in the TN river and you must plan your swim accordingly.  
  • The release from the Chickamauga dam is dependent on weather, lake levels, and electricity usage.
  • Typically, most triathletes struggle to make headway swimming against current greater than about 20,000 cfs.  
  • When there is current you must swim upstream first and then turn around and come back to where you started, otherwise you will not be able to fight the current to swim back up to your exit spot.  Also, if you get swept away by the current there may not be any downstream exit points and you may be stuck.  The area just downstream of Chattanooga on the South shore is a barge staging area and this is a very dangerous spot to be.
  • Everytime before you swim, you should check out the current on TVA’s website here: http://www.tva.gov/lakes/chh_r.htm

5) Swimmer Area in Lake Chickamauga

  • One of the only places you can swim unattended is in the Chickamauga Lake, just upstream of the Chickamauga dam at the bottom of the lake.  There is a buoy line that a lot of swimmers use.   End to end (buoys) approximately 310 yards.
  • There are other parks such as Harrison Bay and Chesterfrost park with small swim areas.

6) Do the C.O.W.S. have organized swims on the weekends?  

  • Not really.  We have a swim every Wednesday at 5:15 p.m. (get in 5:45) downtown that is open to swimmers, however you must be able to swim a mile freestyle in the pool and swim with your face in the water with side breathing.  If you are not able to keep up with the short group, then you may be asked by our kayak pilots to exit the water for the safety of the group (we can’t have one kayaker back in the way back with one swimmer).  
  • A suitable pace for the short group would be that you can swim a mile (1650 yds or 66 laps) in the pool in under 30 minutes.
  • For more info on our Wednesday swims, See here.  
  • Outdoor Chattanooga allows the COWS to use their kayaks on Wednesdays.
  • Other than that, you can use the COWS facebook pageto see if there is another swim going one or try to organize one.  Typically, if you are bringing a person to kayak and have a kayak, you can find people to join you and swim and show you the routes!  
  • We do not offer pilotting/kayaking services typically, unless you are a group and would like to hire our pilots to organize a swim for you.

7) I have someone to kayak for me.  What swim route should I do?

Everytime before you swim, you should check out the current on TVA’s website here: http://www.tva.gov/lakes/chh_r.htm

a) If you want to do a 4 mile downstream swim you can put in at Rivermont Park and exit downtown at the boat launch under the Market Street Bridge.

b) If you want to swim downtown, you can put in under the Market Street Bridge and swim upstream first swimming right up against the land on the north shore.  In current, it is best to hug the shore as closely as possible where the current is less strong.  Then you can turnaround wherever and come back.  It is difficult to swim against the current next to the Delta Queen at flow rates over 20-30K.  

c) Remember if you cross the river you are going into a shipping channel and must have your kayaker constantly be looking for boat traffic.


8) Is there a place to rent kayaks or SUPS?  

  • Yes, but they are not great options.
  • Outdoor Chattanooga allows the COWS to use their kayaks on Wednesdays.
  • I suggest just buying a cheap kayak (~$100) from Academy and bringing a friend with you to paddle it!
  • You can rent SUPs or kayaks at L2 boards downtown.
  • You can rent SUPs or Kayaks from RockCreek!
  • You can rent a kayak or SUP down in Suck Creek and put in and do a swim down there (about 20 min drive from downtown) at River Canyon Rentals for $40, but this is really far away from the IM course, but a beautiful place to swim, nonetheless.  The current is swift down there too.


  • The currents can be strong and the river can be crowded with many different types of motorized watercrafts.  Safety comes first.
  • There can be broken glass, sharp rocks, fish hooks, etc. along the shoreline.  Walk with caution, wear shoes if needed (the kayakers can carry them once you’ve entered the water), and listen to pilot instruction upon entry/exit.  
  • There is always a danger of debris in the river, such a wood loaded with nails.  Listen to pilots to be aware of oncoming tree branches, etc.  Be aware of your surroundings.
  • There can be logs/trees underwater and you could run into them if the water is murky or even if it isn’t.