The race starts and finishes at South Cove in Battery Park City on the Hudson River. Swimmers begin at South Cove, navigate around the Battery then head north up the East River, counter-clockwise around Manhattan Island. They swim north into the Harlem River, through Spuyten Duyvil, and then south down the Hudson River to the Battery. There are 4 check points: Hell's Gate where the East River meets the Harlem River, Spuyten Duyvil where the Harlem River meets the Hudson River, the 79th Street Boat Basin in the Hudson River, and the World Financial Center.
Race Start: At the start of the race, swimmers should work their way out to 500 feet off shore. (U.S. Coast Guard regulations require swimmers stay 500 feet from Manhattan Ferry landing.) Only the kayaker will escort swimmers around the Battery. Boats will be lined up from South Street Seaport to the Heliport in numerical order. Swimmers should plot a course on the Manhattan side of the motor boats. When they reach the boat with their number, they should identify themselves, and the boat will leave the line and will follow them for the remainder of the event.
First Leg - The East River: Swimmers proceed up the East River under the Brooklyn Bridge, Manhattan Bridge and Williamsburg Bridge. They should aim for the left of all three bridges. Just beyond the second bridge in the East River (the Manhattan Bridge), swimmers steer clear of the pier near the prison barge by adjusting the course towards the center of the river. On the left side of the river at 23rd Street, swimmers watch for float planes taking off and landing. The planes dock at the marina near the "Gulf" sign.
Swimmers continue up the East River through the west channel (Manhattan side). After the Williamsburg Bridge, they should look up river for the UN Building and head directly for it. If not sure, they should ask their crew – it is important for the swimmers to remain left if they are unsure. At approximately 36th Street there is HEAVY construction marked by two large RED buoys/markers. Pass to the left. As swimmers approach this section, they will see a smaller island with a green buoy in front of it; keep the islands (including Roosevelt Island) well to the RIGHT.
At the end of the wall by Gracie Mansion swimmers will be going left into the Harlem River. (Those who are too far out will be caught in the current and swept out to Long Island.) As swimmers enter the Harlem River they will see a small outcropping (Mill Rock) – they must keep it well to the right.
Second Leg - The Harlem River: Swimmers then head towards the leftmost stanchion on the footbridge at the entrance to the Harlem River at Hell's Gate. This is the first check point. The current will be against the swimmers at this point and may continue to be against them for 30 to 45 minutes in this area. After about one-half Mile, there is a bend to the left where there are numerous piles in the water. Swimmers may get close to this area, but must avoid getting inside the pile field.
Swimmers stay to the right on all bridges in the Harlem River. The one exception is the Spuyten Duyvil Bridge - they may swim anywhere under that bridge.
Final Leg -The Hudson River: At Spuyten Duyvil, where the Harlem River joins the Hudson River, the swimmers pass their second check point. Enter the Hudson after about 100 yards at an angle (straight line is not the shortest route). DO NOT VEER TOO FAR INTO THE RIVER. As swimmers head down the Hudson River, they should target the George Washington Bridge using the left stanchion (approx. 150 yards out from the point under the bridge). Do not hug the shore - target the gray Sanitation Pier at 59th Street, which is mid-river. As swimmers pass under the GW Bridge, they must stay as far enough out from shore so that they are not swept into the sewage disposal plant at Riverbank State Park, which protrudes out about a quarter of a mile. This plant spans 10 blocks, from 145th to 135th Street. Swimmers should continue to target the gray Sanitation Pier at 59th Street.
Swimmers should continue down the Hudson River on the Manhattan side. Their third check point is opposite the 79th Street Boat Basin. Moored boats will be visible, and swimmers are advised to stay 200 yards off the Boat Basin where there is a good current. They should continue to target the 59th Street Sanitation Pier, staying approximately 75 yards out. Swimmers should maintain this course as they pass the 59th Street Sanitation Pier. They must be careful of boats coming out of the piers, especially in the area of the cruise ship piers located just south of the 59th Street Sanitation Pier. Three cruise ships are scheduled to depart from 4:30 pm – 5:00 pm, and swimmers may have to be pulled out of the water temporarily if they are too close to the departing ships. Swimmers should stay 50 yards out on remaining piers.
End of Race: As swimmers approach the Downtown Boathouse (Pier 26), they should begin to look for the Battery Park Wall. After passing the ferry landing, head closer to the wall for the remainder of the race. The fourth check point is opposite the World Financial Center. Once past it, the swimmers continue along the seawall, turn into South Cove, Battery Park City, and stroke by the cheering crowds to the finish.