open water

New Wave’s open water swim buoy (“tow float” outside North America) product line might be the most widely available brand of this essential piece of open water swimming gear . New Wave also offers the broadest line of floats from the Open Water Swim Bubble (float without a dry bag) to models that have a dry bag for storage of gear designated as ” 15L” and “20L” volume, in multiple colors (pink, orange, yellow, ‘fluo green’), and two different materials of construction.
The New Wave Swim Buoy for Open Water Swimmers and Triathletes is available from Amazon in the US for $49.95 for the larger 20L buoy in more durable TPU material, and $39.95 in PVC material, which  puts New Wave in the middle of the range of pricing and feature sets. For a lot of open water swimmers this might amount to the most balanced option between the very low cost, minimally built swim buoys (like the T6), and the fullest featured higher-cost swim buoy like the Orca Safety Buoy with Pocket.
Model Nominal Size Price ($US) Material Amazon Link Available Colors
New Wave Swim Buoy for Open Water Swimmers and Triathletes “20L” 49.95 TPU (“TPU coated nylon”)

New Wave Swim Buoy for Open Water Swimmers and Triathletes “20L” 39.95 PVC (Polyvinyl Chloride) Orange, Pink, Yellow, ‘Fluo Green’
New Wave Swim Buoy for Open Water Swimmers and Triathletes “15L” 39.95 TPU Orange
New Wave Swim Buoy for Open Water Swimmers and Triathletes “15L” 34.95 PVC Orange, Pink, Yellow, ‘Fluo Green’
New Wave Swim Bubble for Open Water Swimmers and Triathletes 0, no dry bag storage 29.95 PVC Fluo Green, Orange, Pink, Yellow
Does the New Wave line offer the right size, cost and feature set for or your open water swimming? OpenWaterLog tested the 20L TPU model in detail. Read on to learn more.
Buoy size
The size designation form New Wave is “20L” for the larger buoy that we tested (and “15L” for the smaller size model, not tested here). This appears comparable to the same size designation by some other suppliers like the 20L T6.
New Wave specifies the size options to account both for storage capacity (which we measured below) and for the buoyancy and swimmer size (20L for open water swimmers up to 250lbs/113Kg, 15L up to 190 lbs./86kg). In practice the bladder and dry bag use the same space; the more space available for the buoyancy of the bladder also gives more space that could be used for gear inside the dry bag. The dry bag and bladder are competing for this space (more items in storage = the less space remains for the bladder inflation). Our review didn’t test the buoyancy at different loadings (other than confirming satisfactory buoyant function when loaded) or try to tease out how this supports swimmers of different sizes, which also depends on swimmer body composition and buoyancy. But we did offer a precise measurement of buoy capacity to permit comparison between different buoys and brands. We also comment on the dry bag storage practical capacity.
To make sense of the volumes, measured the volume of all buoys in a standardized way to ensure an apples-to-apples comparison. Volume of the buoy was measured like this:
  • Deflate the bladder and close the fill valve..
  • Fill the dry bag with water up to the line on the bag where the closure strip can be folded 4 times, and the buckle closed. (In each case, first overfilling beyond the ability to fold 4 times, then pouring out water gradually to permit 4 folds).
  • Measure this volume of water as poured out of the dry bag.
Measured volume of the Orca Swim Buoy comes out to be 8.8L, a little larger than the T6 (8.0L), and significantly smaller than the premium Orca (11.1 liters).
What does 8.8L of dry bag capacity allow? The 20L New Wave permits storage and towing of some combination of dry land clothes, towel, wallet/phone/keys, and/or maybe sandals or shoes. As an example:
  • Sandals, size 11 US (44 EU), or minimal footwear (like the water shoes in the photo),

Thin Water shoes in the New Wave Open water swim buoy


  • Full size beach towel (big enough to be a stand-in for shorts + t-shirt + lightweight towel + some other small items),

full size beach towel into the New Wave Open Water swim buoy


  • Lightweight windbreaker.

Light weight jacket added to open water swim buoy


New Wave Swim Buoy Dry bag loaded with Water Shoes, Big Beach Towel and light windbreaker
There is enough room for all of these items loaded into the dry bag while permitting four turns of the closure strip, best practice for keeping the dry bag dry.
The New Wave capacity will satisfy a lot of open water water swimmers for a lot of swim types. if you arrive to a swim in a car, and only need to stash car keys for the swim, or if there is a locker (like at Ohio Street Beach in Chicago), this might be all the dry storage you need.
It’s even enough to permit bike to swim or run to swim with change of clothes in some cases. That’s the signature capability of the larger Orca, in which a swimmer can load dry land clothes as needed for cool or cold season, cushioned shoes up to size 11 (US)/ 44(EU) men’s running shoes, towel, etc. To do so with the New Wave will obligate some users to make choices:
The larger size/format running shoes will fit…
Large running shoes fit in the dry bag of the New Wave Open Water Swim Buoy
As well a couple smaller items (shown here: lightweight backpack and t-shirt)….
Small backpack fits in the New Wave Open Water Swim Buoy

…add a minimal backpack

A T-shit fits in the New Waver Open Water Swim buoy

…add a t-shirt

But not much more.
New Wave Open Water Swim Buoy dry bag is full
Certainly not a full set layers of cool weather dry land clothing, a full beach towel, etc.
So, options might include
  • omit the largest shoes (i.e., have smaller feet, or bring thin sandals or other minimal shoes rather than cushioned running shoes) and/or
  • bring a much lighter set of dry land clothes, towel, and other gear.
Even at this fullest loading, the buoyancy of the New Wave 20L was enough to do what we wanted to do: rest/relax/recover in the water, up to and including sitting on the buoy, high enough to get a better look over the open water waves, take a photo (provided you have a waterproof phone case), be visible in a photo, etc.
Does this capacity make the buoy cumbersome to carry to the water? Our weight for the New Wave (12oz/340g), is lighter than the Orca (13.5oz / 383g), a little heavier than the minimalist T6 (9.5oz / 269g).  Likewise in the middle of the range in all dimensions, like the rolled-up length when stored in a backpack (13″/23cm) vs 14″/36cm for the larger Orca or 11″/28cm for the T6.
Nominal Size
Measured Dry Bag Volume
Measured (flat) width, inches (cm)
Measured (Flat) Length, inches (cm)
Price (US$)
Weight (oz)
weight (g)
New Wave Swim Buoy
12 (32cm)
25 (64cm)
TPU (“TPU coated nylon”)
New Wave Swim Buoy
13 (32cm)
26 (64cm)
PVC (Polyvinyl Chloride)
Orca safety buoy with pocket
14 (36cm)
27 (68cm)
TPU (“85% TPU, 15% nylon”)
T6 20L Swim Buoy
11 (28cm)
23 (59cm)
Construction and Materials
New Wave offers their products with a choice of two different materials of construction: TPU (Thermoplastic Polyurethane) and PVC (polyvinyl chloride) shell. New Wave asserts that “TPU-coated Nylon fabric has enhanced tear and abrasion strength and is unaffected by sunscreen oils and chemicals like chlorine”. Other suppliers make similar claims. This is a credible claim: a previous version of the New Wave TPU buoy endured 4 years of regular use by OpenWaterLog.
The  PVC material buoys are less durable, but lower in price. They come with a wider choice of four colors (Orange, Pink, Yellow, ‘Fluo Green’).
The color we used was Orange, which is bright enough for visibility to boats, other swimmers, etc., a critically important safety function in some swim locations. After years of use, the color faded somewhat, but is vibrant enough to see from a distance.
The new wave buoys tested have a 1/2″ (1.3cm) diameter valve that can be screwed open / closed, used for both inflation and deflation. While adding air by drawing another breath to continue inflating, it’s necessary to cover the valve opening or otherwise try to avoid losing air from the bladder. Not difficult on land, a bit more difficult in the water to add a bit more air to the flotation bladder after some time in the water, as the contents of the dry bag settle and compress. This is easier with the Orca’ separate invitation and deflation valves.
The New Wave included a nylon belt and tow line similar to other swim buoy, as well as all needed hardware for their smooth functioning like the (unlike bargain options like the T6)  plastic connector that smoothly attaches the waist strap to the tow line for the buoy. This avoid the potential loss of the belt (as happened with testing of the above bargain option) and reduces sliding friction of the belt as the swimmer rotates to breathe, or as waves and wind move the buoy in the water.
Can you count on keeping everything dry in the dry bag?
The sealing surface around the edge of the dry bag opening is reinforced with tacky-feeling blue non-woven plastic that gives a 1.25″ (3.2cm) wide belt around the opening of dry bag. This primarily serves to reinforce the belt of the sealing surface to give well-defined sturdy folds, so that the folds don’t collapse (as is in the case with the unreinforced T6, in which the folds tend to become like a twisted like a rope) and permit leaks. Also, the blue material seems (although we did not find a good way to test this) to enhance the sealing character when pressed in multiple folds against the shell material. Though, the T6 constructed with the same blue surface was prone to leaks, due to the completely unreinforced edge.
Following best practices for closing the swim buoy, OpenWaterLog didn’t have a single event of water leaking into the dry bag, in dozens of tests, under varied conditions of open water swim temperature and wave height, or dry bag loading. Whether it’s the blue plastic sealing surface or the reinforced edge that encourages defined folds in the closure process, the New Wave avoids leaks.
Swim Feel
There’s not a lot to distinguish the feel in the water between reasonably well designed swim buoys with a appropriate tow line and belt design. New Wave gets those details right, and felt as good as other commercial buoys: little interference of the strap in kicking, the tow line was long enough to avoid kicking the buoy, little or no sense of resistance in towing, even when fully loaded. Part of this is the magic of swim buoys in general: the friction of towing the float is virtually negligible to the open water swimmer in most conditions.  New Wave doesn’t get in the way of that.
  • It is a very broad line of swim buoys, with offerings that vary in size, durability, and corresponding price. There is a wide range of colors for some of these.
  • The pricing spans a range from $34.95 to $49.95, depending on size and material of construction. This falls in the median range between premium priced swim buoys ($64.95), and less feature rich, bargain options ($17.99)
  • The New Wave is reasonably feature rich in it’s design that, like the price, occupies the middle of the range of swim buoys we tested in size and function.
  • Design choices and features are likely to be a good fit for swimmers who
    • Want some ability to carry some dry land gear, phone, wallet, etc., safely while in the water. For some users, the New Wave might permitting run/bike/public transit to swim, and back.
    • Don’t need the largest capacity (i.e., large shoes +layers of cold weather dry land gear + towel)
    • prefer modest size for space for carrying the buoy around (i.e., in a backpack, packed in a suitcase),
    • Prefer a durable swim buoy, proven to survive years of use, like their TPU material buoy.
  • There might be better options for swimmers who value
    • Lowest possible price,
    • Fullest possible capacity for large amounts or large size of dry-land gear and
    • In-water access to nutrition, hydration, phone/camera, or other needs, as there is no pocket for external storage on this swim buoy.