Other open water swims where wetsuit swimmers and non-wetsuit swimmers compete in the same division have different time differentials (e.g., 60-90 seconds per 1.6 km swam).
But there is no precise differential that makes a race between wetsuit swimmers and non-wetsuit swimmers fair for the following reasons:
• Wetsuits give different advantages to swimmers of different speeds. That is, a wetsuit will generally assist slower swimmers relatively more than faster swimmers.
• Wetsuits of different configurations and different thicknesses give different advantages to swimmers.
• Different advantages are gained depending on the water surface conditions and water temperatures. That is, the rougher and colder it is, the greater the differential generally is.
In summary, if a race director wants to encourage wetsuit use (e.g., because the water is cold, because many newcomers are being encouraged, or because the event is geared towards triathletes), then a smaller differential is better (e.g., 30-60 seconds per 1.6 km).
In contrast, if a race director wants to encourage non-wetsuit use (e.g., because the water is warm, because many competitive masters swimmers are expected, or because a purist philosophy is desired), then a greater differential is advised (e.g., 2-3 minutes per 1.6 km).
But there is no right answer because the variables are too great. The most practical way to determine a reasonable differential in the first year is to ask 3-5 swimmers to swim the exact course twice – first with a wetsuit on and then without a wetsuit. In the first year, take the average differential as the race standard. If these athletes are considered average and a mix of male and female. this may provide decent data.
In subsequent years, the differential can be based on the actual average times between the wetsuit and non-wetsuit swimmers.
Of course, many events now separate the awards between wetsuit and non-wetsuit swimmers which is the most fair means to award the different groups of swimmers while encouraging purists, newcomers and triathletes to participate.
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