GCBS Swimmers in Bay

About GCBS

What is the Great Chesapeake Bay Swim?
The Great Chesapeake Bay Swim (GCBS) is one of America’s premier open water swim challenges. The annual event is scheduled for the second Sunday of June and consists of a 4.4 mile swim across Maryland’s Chesapeake Bay. The race starts from the shores of Sandy Point State Park, which is about 5 miles northeast of Annapolis. The course extends eastward between the two spans of the William Preston Lane, Jr., Memorial Bridge (U.S. Highway 50) and finishes at a small sandy beach on Kent Island immediately south of the Bridge eastern-shore  causeway adjacent to Hemingway’s Restaurant.

Who does it benefit? 
Net proceeds from the 2022 event will go to March of Dimes, Chesapeake Bay Trust and the United States Coast Guard.

How many swimmers may enter?
The GCBS is limited to only 650 pre-registered entrants to ensure a safe and well-organized event . Typically participants start the race in two waves fifteen minutes apart, with the faster swimmers in the second group. This helps to group the swimmers as much as possible during the race to assist the kayakers and boaters in monitoring and aiding the swimmers.

Can anyone participate?
The GCBS requires a major commitment to proper training and open water experience. To be accepted, applicants must submit documentation that they have either completed a recent open water event or completed a three-mile pool swim in under 2 hours 15 minutes (see application for details). Although thousands of swimmers have successfully completed the event over the years, the achievement has been a once-in-a-lifetime experience for over 60 percent of the finishers. To increase safety, wetsuits are allowed and encouraged (the GCBS is not a U. S. Masters Swimming event). 

Is it dangerous?
Among the difficulties that may be encountered during the average 2 hour 25 minute swim are flailing arms and legs during the “Cuisinart start,” cross currents, swells, chop, hypothermia if the water is cold, nettle stings if the water is warm, and collisions with the bridge supports or rocks surrounding the jetties, islands and causeways.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has measured tidal, current and weather conditions prior to the event and compared the results with predicted conditions to determine the optimum starting time for the event. 

How does it affect the race?
As a result, 79-97 % of the starters finished the race in the last 5 years. Prior to this, in 1991 and 1992, a strong ebb current of about 2 knots in the main channel beneath the 200-feet high spans (one and a half miles from the start) precluded all but the strongest and most determined swimmers from finishing the event (only 15-19 % finished the swim). 

The Bridge & the Bay – Particulars. . .
At its widest point, the Chesapeake Bay is 30 miles wide and narrows to just four miles where it is crossed by the William Preston Lane, Jr., Memorial Bridge, built in 1952 (northern, westbound span) and in 1973 (southern, eastbound span). 

Who’s idea was it in the first place?
No one knows who was the first to swim across the bay at this point. However, a determined 21-year old, Brian Joseph Earley, started what is now the GCBS with his first solo swim from Kent Island to Sandy Point State Park on June 13, 1982, in memory of his father Joseph Earley, who died of diabetes complications in 1981. Two years later, race organizer Fletcher Hanks began a separate bay swim event which attracted 2 swimmers the first year and about 60 the second year. On June 15, 1986, the Hanks and Earley events merged when 211 swimmers successfully  swam from Westinghouse (south of the bridges on the western shore) to Hemingway’s Restaurant. The following year, the event started at Sandy Point State Park, which established its present course. Brian Earley, originally a  Chesapeake Bay area resident, has moved to San Diego, California. Nevertheless, he has returned many times on the second Sunday of every June since 1982 to once again swim the Bay in honor of his father and to help those who are less fortunate.

Charity Information

The Great Chesapeake Bay Swim serves as a charitable fundraising event that in 2022 will benefit the March of Dimes, Chesapeake Bay Trust and the United State Coast Guard.

To date, The Great Chesapeake Bay Swim has raised in excess of $3,000,000 for charity. The proceeds were distributed to the following worthwhile organizations:

  • The March of Dimes, Maryland Chapter
  • The National Aquarium, Bay Restoration Project 
  • The Chesapeake Bay Foundation 
  • The Chesapeake Trust 
  • The Chesapeake Bay Power Boat Association 
  • CRAB- Chesapeake Region Accessible Boating


The Great Chesapeake Bay Swim, Inc. is committed to ensuring that the maximum percentage of dollars donated to the Event are returned to non-profit programs. In any given year, however, we cannot guarantee what that percentage will be. It depends on many variables, including how many swimmers participate, how much money they raise, and recruiting, logistics and event expenses.

How much money has gone back to charitable causes?
Since the first Great Chesapeake Bay Swim in 1992, on average, approximately 61.4% of every dollar raised – representing a total of over $ 3,000,000 has been returned to the March of Dimes and other worthwhile charitable causes! Please note that these figures are averages and the specific percentage for an individual Swim Event may differ. 

Where does the rest of the money go? 
On average, about 19.2 % of every dollar raised has gone to administrative expenses, safety and support: timing, signage, tents, and everything it takes to move the swimmers safely from the western shore to the eastern shore.  Safety is the number one priority of the Great Chesapeake Bay Swim. Additionally, about 9.2% of every dollar raised goes to the 500 plus volunteers who make the Great Chesapeake Bay Swim possible every year, in the form of t-shirts and a Volunteer Appreciation Party. Finally, about 10.2% of every dollar raised goes back to the swimmer participants, in the form of t-shirts, awards and other premiums. 

What is the standard for return on donations?
Guidelines for special event fund raising vary. Different organizations say different things and this always depends on the nature of the fund raising event and its appeal. Standards are different for a special event like the Great Chesapeake Bay Swim than they are for solicitations you receive in the mail. As a person who gives to charity, you should do all you can to understand the complexities of charitable fund raising. Don’t accept any one number as a norm. The total amount of money raised is as important as the percentage. For instance, an event that returns 70% of your dollar back to charity may look better than one that sends 60% back. But what if the event that returns 70% raises $100,000, while the event that returns 60% raises $500,000? The 60% event returns a lot more money to the cause. One of the leading professional fund raising trade organizations, the Philanthropic Advisory Service of the Council of Better Business Bureaus, states that at least 50% of every dollar raised by a special event should go back to charity. The historic average of the Great Chesapeake Bay Swim event (61.4%) falls well above that guideline.

The Great Chesapeake Bay Swim is very different from most fund raising events. In addition to raising money, it raises public awareness of the charitable causes which it supports, and instills tremendous feelings of empowerment among participants and those whose lives the event touches. For many participants, the Swim is a life–changing experience.  Creating an environment for that kind of experience requires the expertise to execute very complicated logistics and to mobilize massive operations. The Great Chesapeake Bay Swim is truly in a class by itself. 

Does the Great Chesapeake Bay Swim work to get things donated?
The Great Chesapeake Bay Swim works constantly with local businesses to generate donations and sponsorships to the event which help defray costs and send more money back to charitable organizations.

An important note . . . 
The Great Chesapeake Bay Swim has many non-financial benefits that you can be enormously proud of.

News stories about the Event that are reported in the media and inform the entire region about the charitable causes which we support: A first-hand experience of what giving back to humanity is all about for the participants, volunteers and spectators alike; A demonstration of people working together to solve problems.

These are just some of the things that make the Great Chesapeake Bay Swim so remarkably magical. And these are things you can count on when you participate in the Great Chesapeake Bay Swim as a swimmer, volunteer or donor.