swimming in the Charles River

My quality of life totally skyrocketed over this past weekend.

That’s because I did something I never thought possible.

I swam in Boston’s Charles River.


a leap of faith

Yes, it was intentional. Yes, it’s perfectly legal.

Yes, I’d do it again.

In fact, I did it again this afternoon.

I invited my husband and my friend Michele.

I threw three cold beers into a little cooler and packed a couple of beach towels…and off we went on our bikes.

We rode over to the Esplanade, and headed to the closest dock, one near Boston University.

Here I am…don’t I look happy?


Living in the city can be pretty rough in the summertime. Here on the East Coast, city dwellers are tantalizingly close to rivers, ponds, and the sea, but getting to someplace we can swim outside can be a real hassle.

Since I’ve begun commuting to work along the Esplanade, I’ve seen students and other intrepid Millennial-types floating around in the river.

With a mixture of horror and then growing fascination, I wondered what it would be like, and if I had the balls to jump in myself if it got hot enough.

On a hot and sweaty ride home from work last week, I saw a kid diving off the dock with a big splash.

I screamed, and pulled my bike over to the side of the path. Once his head popped out of the water, I called out over the din of Storrow Drive traffic:


He turned his head around to spot me, laughed, and, treading water, gave me a quick thumbs up.



Michele flashing victory signs behind me. That’s MIT in the background.

I love living in the city, but I’ve always hated how the waters near urban areas are typically off-limits. There’s usually a highway or industrial chain link fence blocking us from getting to the shoreline.

Our rivers and ocean shorelines have been reserved for shipping, industry, or highways — not for the people who live here.

Wouldn’t it be awesome to bike or walk to a green, beautiful place to swim in Boston — for free, or a small fee?

Dear Mayor Walsh, what do you say? Did your audience with the Pope last month inspire you to create a more bikeable, walkable, livable city?

Now that we dodged the 2024 Olympics bullet, why can’t we apply some of those ideas to make our city more enjoyable, and our residents more healthy and happy?

It’s not an impossible dream…

When my husband and I visited Zurich a couple of years ago, we were amazed to see people swimming in the Limmat River, which runs — crystal clear, no less — through the center of the city. It was inspiring to see. We came home, wishing we could swim here in Boston.

Greater Boston is 80 percent pavement. Stormwater runoff — and in some cases sanitary sewer overflow — drains into our waterways, clogging them with algae and bacteria. But our state government has worked hard over many years to clean them up, enough to allow people to now swim in the Charles. Unbelievable!

Let’s hope this trend continues.

After our swim, I felt refreshed, and I smelled just fine. Like pond water. No slimey residue or itchy rashes.

If you decide to go for a dip in the Charles, hop or jump off a dock. Don’t touch the bottom. Your footsteps will stir up the toxic sediment. Ew. Still, the water itself is perfectly fine to swim in most of the time (don’t go in after a heavy downpour).

After my swim, I biked home to run some errands. Waiting in line, I whipped out my iPhone and started to send some of the photos we took of our swim to my friend. I turned to the woman next to me and said, “You’ll never guess what I did today…”

“That’s wonderful — good for you! The water has been tested for years and is perfectly clean to swim in — just dive off one of the docks…”

I was surprised at her delighted reaction. Turns out, she works in External Affairs for the Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR) for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, the department “in charge” of the Charles and other local waterways and parks.

I’m taking my chance encounter with the DCR lady as a good sign…

I’m going to bring a bathing suit to work this week, and will change into it for my ride home if it gets too hot.

What a luxurious and easy way to cool off after work! I can’t wait…