The Tickle Swim
A 5k swim to raise funds and awareness for mental health issues.

Welcome to

The Tickle Swim

for Mental Health


What is The Tickle Swim for mental health?

The Tickle Swim for mental health is a 5km open ocean swim across the tickle from Bell Island to Portugal Cove St. Phillips in support of CMHA-NL's work in Newfoundland and Labrador.

The aim of the event is to raise awareness surrounding mental health issues in our province, and the inherent need for all of us to maintain good mental fitness; as we focus on our physical fitness. Secondly, this event aims to raise funds for the Newfoundland and Labrador Division of the Canadian Mental Health Association to support their work across this province. Swimmers of all abilities are welcome provided they are fit enough to complete the distance.

This is not a race although some friendly competition does occur.


In 2013, the 5km swim was conceived and swam by community activist Sheilagh O'leary. Sheilagh's vision came from her personal belief in the importance of improving and maintaining good mental health through physical fitness.

During the first year, 7 swimmers crossed the 5km between Portugal Cove and Bell Island. In its second year 10 swimmers were met by a large crown of well-wishers, local MHA Dave Brazil, media, and a reception hosted by the Town of Portugal Cove St. Phillips.

In recent years we have had between 20 and 30 swimmers, raising over $25,000 each year!


To register contact CMHA-NL. The deadline to register is the 1st of July. For safety reasons we allow a maximum 25 swimmers, with the remainder placed on a wait list. Registration also requires signing and returning a liability release as well as setting up a personal pledge page. We strongly recommend a fundraising goal of $1000 for each participant. Register on-line here.

There will be a pre-swim meeting before the swim day. Registration will add you to a mailing list and you will receive updates. This meeting serves to answer questions, discuss logistics, and also as fun meet-n-greet.

Swim day

The swim will take place August 10th at 7am but is highly dependent on the sea and weather conditions. The decision to swim or not will be made the previous evening, and if necessary the swim will be postponed to August 11th. The direction of the swim (to or from Bell Island) will also be made with preference given to leaving from Bell Island. Participants will be contacted via email or text message.

The course of the swim is just North of the ferry terminals in both Bell Island and Portugal Cove St. Phillips.

New this year, a Little Tickle Swim for Juniors will take place Aug 24th - location TBD.

Geographic Coordinates

Bell Island

Latitude: 47° 37' 50.045" N

Longitude: 52° 55' 15.221" W

Portugal Cove St Phillip's

Latitude: 47° 37' 39.985"

Longitude: 52 ° 55' 15.221" W


There are no specific training guidelines as participants will vary greatly in age, experience, and ability. At just under 5km, The Tickle Swim is not an extreme distance, but it is not one to be taken lightly. Participants should be aware that a 5km swim is the rough equivalent of running a half marathon (21km). The local Tely Ten road race is only ~16km. Further, as this is an ocean swim, swell can be significant and makes the swim much harder than it would be in a pool or lake. The running equivalent is likely closer to the hilly local Cape to Cabot race (20km).

Therefore, it is essential that before attempting The Tickle Swim, you swim on a regular basis and have completed other long open water swims. You can walk the Tely Ten or Cape to Cabot but you really can't do that in a swim.

Remember that the pool is not the lake, and the lake is not the ocean. Swimmers may want to consider training with a masters swim group (Rockly Island Swim Club) or participating in The Open Water Swim Series to test their fitness.

Weather and ocean conditions

Weather and ocean conditions can vary. In the first year, it was fairly smooth, in the second year, there was a significant swell from the north as you can see in the video below. For this reason, if you are used to breathing only on one side, it is a good idea to do some practice breathing on both sides so that you can adapt to the varying conditions of the swim.

The water at this time of year is cool (13-17°) but not cold. The English Channel is a similar temperature and swimmers cross it without wetsuits. We strongly recommend wearing at least a thin wetsuit unless you have acclimatized yourself to cold water tempteratures.

Currents and tides in Conception Bay are generally weak. Of far greater importance for the swim will be the direction and strength of the winds. Of course, if wind and tide are in opposition, this can make the water choppy.

During the swim, the main form of sea life you will encounter is jellyfish. Jellyfish can sometimes be found in dense aggregations but are often found singly or in small groups. Swimmers have reported swimming through dense aggregations without being stung. Other jellyfish such as lion's mane have a stronger sting but are not common.

Swimmers should be cautious. In 2014 a sunfish was spotted. While very large, these are not considered dangerous. Obviously, ocean wildlife should be treated respectfully and not disturbed. Large sharks such as Great Whites are infrequent as well as Orcas.

Note that sea sickness can become an issue while swimming. At the very least, be prepared to deal with a strong taste of salt water in your mouth.

Swim kit

A proper kit is recommended for a successful swim. We strongly urge all participants to obtain:

  • A triathalon type wetsuit. Other wetsuits such as those for diving or wind surfing can be too cumbersome for a successful crossing
  • A swim cap, although two is preferable for warmth.
  • Swim goggles (be sure that you have tested them in a variety of conditions and they are not prone to fogging)
  • Consider neoprene gloves and socks
  • Water bottle(s) to be carried by your kayaker (manditory)
  • Body glide or wetsuit lubricant to prevent chafing
  • A towel and a change of clothes for variable weather conditions after the swim

Note: Your kit will be transported from the start of the swim to the finish by support volunteers in time for your arrival.

Kayak and safety support

Kayak support is absolutely essential for the safety of each swimmer and each swimmer is responsible for securing their own kayaker in advance of the swim.

Due to the variable nature of the swim day, this is obviously a substantial commitment. The swimmer should make their kayaker aware of this and may need to arrange for a backup kayaker if the primary is unable to attend in the event of delays.

Kayaker responsibilities:

  • Carry water for their swimmers and themselves
  • Carry a radio to communicate with the swim marshal and each other
  • Helping to keep the swimmers on course and to blow a whistle every kilometer
  • Proper use of common safety gear

We will make efforts to secure contacts in the kayaking community and will provide assistance finding kayakers if/when possible. However, CMHA-NL cannot be responsible for finding kayakers; this responsibilty rests with the swimmers.

In addition to kayak support, CMHA-NL will ensure several motorized boats will be on the water to provide assistance if required.

Swim marshal

A Swim Marshal will be designated before the swim day. It is expected that all participants obey the directions of the marshal for their own safety. This includes terminating the swim for the group or an individual swimmer for health or safety reasons, or if the swimmer cannot complete the swim in a reasonable time frame. Remember that a number of people are volunteering their time to organize this event and keep it safe and successful.


Immediately following the swim, water, coffee, tea, and other refreshments are provided at a reception with local media, officials and past participants.


As you can see from the information above, your safety is of utmost importance in this event. We wouldn’t be able to do this without the support of our kayakers, safety support boats, as well as the St. John’s Ambulance on shore. On behalf of the Canadian Mental Health Association, NL Division we would like to thank the swimmers, and everyone that makes this event possible, for your dedication and tremendous efforts to making this event a safe and successful one. If you have any further questions regarding this event please contact us.

Special Thank you:

  • Alex McGruer
  • Cdn. Coast Guard, Notships
  • Dept. of Transportation and Works
  • Elliot Yeo
  • Harry Young
  • Jeff Lawlor
  • Kayak Newfoundland and Labrador
  • Keith Barrett
  • Keith Lewis
  • Kimberly Davis

  • Mayor Gary Gosine
  • Mayor Moses Tucker
  • MHA David Brazil
  • Randy Cahill
  • Randy Clarke
  • Rick Stanley
  • Sheilagh O’Leary
  • St. John Ambulance
  • TA Loeffler
  • Tobias Langle
  • Town of Portugal Cove St. Phillips
  • Town of Wabana