Fish swimming capacity is a key life history trait critical to many aspects of their ecology. U-crit (critical) swimming speeds provide a robust, repeatable relative measure of swimming speed that can serve as a useful surrogate for other measures of swimming performance. Here we collate and make available one the most comprehensive datasets on U-crit swimming abilities of tropical marine fish larvae and pelagic juveniles, most of which are reef associated as adults. The dataset includes U-crit speed measurements for settlement stage fishes across a large range of species and families obtained mostly from field specimens collected in light traps and crest nets; and the development of swimming abilities throughout ontogeny for a range of species using reared larvae. In nearly all instances, the size of the individual was available, and in many cases, data include other morphological measurements (e.g. “propulsive area”) useful for predicting swimming capacity. We hope these data prove useful for further studies of larval swimming performance and other broader syntheses.