The swimming abilities of larval fishes are important for their survival, potentially affecting their ability to avoid predators, obtain food and control dispersal patterns. Near settlement swimming abilities may also influence spatial and temporal patterns of recruitment. We examined Critical speed (U-crit) swimming ability in late stage larvae of 89 species of coral reef fishes from the Great Barrier Reef and the Caribbean. Coefficients of variation in U-crit calculated at the individual level were high (28.4%), and this was not explained by differences in size or condition factor of these same larvae. Among species U-crit ranged from 5.5 cm s−1 to 100.8 cm s−1 (mean=37.3 cm s−1), with 95% of species able to swim faster than the average current speed around Lizard Island, suggesting that most species should be capable of influencing their spatial and temporal patterns of settlement. Inter-specific differences in swimming ability (at both the family and species levels) were significantly correlated with size and larval morphology. Correlations were found between swimming performance and propulsive area, fineness ratio and aspect ratio, and these morphological parameters may prove useful for predicting swimming ability in other taxa. Overall, the swimming speeds of larvae from the same families at the two locations were relatively similar, although the Lutjanidae and Acanthuridae from the Caribbean were significantly slower than those from the great barrier reef. Differences in swimming speed and body form among late stage larvae suggests that they will respond differently to factors influencing survival and transport during their pelagic phase, as well as habitat use following settlement.