The History of Swimming from Alcatraz

Jumping in Alcatraz Odyssey Swim

Become Part of Alcatraz History by Swimming from Alcatraz Island with Odyssey Open Water Swimming!

Known as The Rock or simply Alcatraz, the Alcatraz Federal Penitentiary, located more than a mile off the coast of San Francisco, was built to be the strongest prison in America. It was also created to be escape-proof. Due to the security of the prison facility itself, the distance from shore, cold water, and strong currents, few dared to attempt to escape.
during which the prison housed about 1,500 total prisoners, only 14 total escape attempts were made. Of those who attempted to escape, none are believed to have successfully made it to shore without drowning, being captured, or being shot during the attempt.

The prison held such notorious as figures as mob boss Al Capone, Jame “Whitey” Bulger, George “Machine Gun” Kelly, and Robert “The Birdman” Stroud.

Although the prison hasn’t held inmates since the early 1960’s, its legacy lives on, and in a much more positive manner than one might have imagined back when it was in operation..

Alcatraz and the idea of escaping from it has become a part of America’s pop culture. From being featured in movies like The Rock and Escape from Alcatraz to being discussed in songs and played out in video games, Alcatraz continues to be a popular topic and tourist destination. It’s also part of some of the most exciting and desirable open water swimming events in the world.

Swimming from Alcatraz Island

“Swimming from Alcatraz” returns more than a million search results on Google and thousands if not tens of thousands of swimmers from around the world participate in Alcatraz-related swims, triathlons, and events each year. Crossing from Alcatraz to San Francisco is not as challenging as one may think based on popular lore about sharks and freezing waters. In fact, sharks in San Francisco Bay are exceedingly rare, and wetsuits minimize the physical impact of the frigid waters. Still, swimming from Alcatraz is no joke. Some of the key challenges include:

  • Rough and choppy water

  • Cold water temperatures which can be 10 degrees or lower than in other parts of the East Bay

  • Swimming across the current

  • Length (1-2 miles or longer depending on your route)

Due to local laws that help protect individual safety, swimmers participating in Alcatraz-related swims begin swimming from just off of the island. The start of the swim includes jumping in safely from a boat and heading towards San Francisco. Pictured above and explained here on our Alcatraz swim page, the Odyssey Alcatraz swim route takes swimmers from just off of Alcatraz Island to the St. Francis Yacht Club Beach.

Odyssey Alcatraz swims are approximately 2 miles long and can take anywhere between 20 minutes to over an hour based on your level of experience and the conditions. Swimmers are encouraged to wear a wetsuit due to the low temperatures, which can range anywhere from the high 40’s to 65 degrees.

Alcatraz Swimming Events:

Swim from Alcatraz with Odyssey Open Water Swimming

Odyssey Open Water Swimming began in 2013 as a small, locally-owned company providing exciting adventures in the East Bay. Odyssey Alcatraz swims quickly caught on and thousands of swimmers have joined Odyssey on public and private Alcatraz swims.

Each swim includes Odyssey staff for support and larger swims feature an EMT on stand-by in the rare case that one is needed. Staff members will kayak or paddleboard alongside swimmers and will be able to pull swimmers from the water if necessary.

Public Alcatraz swims, which are offered three times a year by Odyssey, are events that are open to the public for registration until the swim is sold out. Swims are priced affordably at under $200 and swimmers can save $50 by registering before a month prior to the event. Swims usually have a limit of 100 swimmers but may be able to accommodate a larger group.

Alcatraz Private Swim Odyssey Open Water Swimming.jpg

Odyssey also offers private Alcatraz swims for groups and individuals. From high school groups to nonprofit organizations raising money for charity to corporations looking for a team-building event -- Odyssey has hosted hundreds of private Alcatraz swims and can help organize and host your upcoming Alcatraz swimming adventure.

Ready to dive in and swim from Alcatraz?

Learn more about upcoming Alcatraz swims from Odyssey Open Water Swimming and register here.