The central nervous system of paralysed Xenopus laevis embryos can generate a motor output pattern suitable for swimming locomotion. By recording motor root activity in paralysed embryos with transected nervous systems we have shown that: (a) the spinal cord is capable of swimming pattern generation; (b) swimming pattern generator capability in the hindbrain and spinal cord is distributed; (c) caudal hindbrain is necessary for sustained swimming output after discrete stimulation. By recording similarly from embryos whose central nervous system was divided longitudinally into left and right sides, we have shown that: (a) each side can generate rhythmic motor output with cycle periods like those in swimming; (b) during this activity cycle period increases within an episode, and there is the usual rostrocaudal delay found in swimming; (c) this activity is influenced by sensory stimuli in the same way as swimming activity; (d) normal phase coupling of the left and right sides can be established by the ventral commissure in the spinal cord. We conclude that interactions between the antagonistic (left and right) motor systems are not necessary for swimming rhythm generation and present a model for swimming pattern generation where autonomous rhythm generators on each side of the nervous system drive the motoneurons. Alternation is achieved by reciprocal inhibition, and activity is initiated and maintained by tonic excitation from the hindbrain.