Organisers of the annual cross-harbour swim - the fourth since the event was resumed after a 30-year break - began registering applicants yesterday under a new system they hope will enable more people to join in.
Unable to increase the 2,000-swimmer quota because of government restrictions, they hope establishing a reserve pool this year will at least ensure that all the places are filled.
In previous years, about 10 per cent of the registered entrants failed to show up for the 1,500-metre race from Lei Yue Mun to Quarry Bay - with only about 1,800 taking part last year.
This year a reserve of about 200 swimmers who do not get in first time round will be established and replacements chosen at random from this pool to replace no-shows. "We think this will be a good way to maximise the 2,000-swimmer quota and ensure more people participate," Amateur Swimming Association honorary secretary David Chiu Chin-hung said.
The association asked the government for a bigger quota but without success. "There were safety reasons and some things were not done as well last year," Chiu said.
Failure to remove flotation devices from the water in time caused a minor holdup in harbour traffic, which affected their chances, Chiu said.
Applications for the New World Harbour Race on October 12 will close on August 6.
Also new at this year's event is a requirement for all swimmers in the leisure group - a separate category for those who want to take part but not race - to wear an inflatable orange tow float. The organisers said this was common safety practice in international open water races and would not affect a swimmer's performance.
Racing categories include an international race, a youth race, three open races for different age groups and an invitation challenge. All swimmers, unless exempted, will have to complete a time trial of 1,500m in 45 minutes in September.
The race was suspended after 1978 when the harbour's waters became too polluted to swim in.