What Are the Rules of Swimming?

The rules of competitive swimming are comprehensive and vary by region, organization and level of competition. The scope of most sets of rules for competitive swimming is to keep athletes and participants safe and to provide a fair and accessible competitive environment.

International, national and regional rules vary to some degree, but the rules of swimming fall into three major categories. There are rules pertaining to the technical execution of individual competitive strokes such as butterfly, backstroke, breaststroke and freestyle and their corresponding starts, turns, and finishes, and events such as individual medleys and relays. Rules also govern proper and safe behavior for athletes and coaches during competition and practice, and other rules govern the physical environment of appropriate competition or training spaces.

Complete rulebooks and rule handbooks for USA Swimming rules as well as by-laws and financial regulations governing member swim clubs are available on the USA Swimming website under the tab “Rules and Regulations” on the “About” page. Complete lists and explanations of rules governing international swimming competition are available on the FINA website under the tab “Rules.” Swimming rules for local or regional leagues both within the United States and throughout the rest of the world are available through local or regional authorities or resources.