Encouraging More Adults to Swim
FAQs for Officials

Minimum number of officials

(Kathy Casey, Nov 2010)

Question: Am I correct that the minimal officiating crew for official times at a meet is three officials on deck at all times?

Answer: No, the minimum number of officials can be two (103.1); one referee (who must be certified, 103.2), one starter, and two stroke and turn judges, but the referee and starter can both also serve as stroke and turn judges (hence the four positions can be covered by two people). The referee cannot also serve as a starter (103.1.1).

Time trials

(Kathy Casey, Nov 2010)

Question: As a referee, do I have the authority to offer time trials at the end of the meet or spaced throughout the meet if a swimmer asks to swim an event a second or third time to try to break a record or if a swimmer missed an event?

Answer: No, the order of events as stated in the meet announcement cannot be changed, and an event may not be added to a meet that is already in progress. The announced arrangement of heats in any event cannot be added to or altered, except by the authority of the referee only to the extent of consolidating heats (102.13.1). Time trials can be conducted at a meet if they were announced in the meet information and entry form, offered to all swimmers entered in the meet, and counted as part of the event limit per day per swimmer. If the primary timing system is fully automatic, record attempts can also be made during initial distances of longer events and during the leadoff legs of relay events (105.3.6).

Adding Time Trials

(Officials Committee, 2009)

Question: During a meet, a swimmer approaches the Meet Referee and explains that he is attempting a USMS record in the 200-meter butterfly. During this event earlier in the meet, the swimmer missed the record by only 0.01-seconds. He requests that the Meet Referee add a time trial at the end of the meet so he can make another attempt. Should the Referee grant the request? 

Answer: Rule 102.13.1 states that the “order of events as stated in the meet announcement shall not be changed” and “the announced arrangement of heats shall not be added to or altered except by the authority of the referee to the extent of consolidating heats”. Therefore, adding individual time trials per swimmer requests to the meet program after the sanction has been granted is not permitted. The Referee may not grant the request. 

Choice of strokes during freestyle events

(Kathy Casey, Nov 2010)

Question: I told a swimmer that she could not do the 200 IM during the 200 free because once a stroke is selected in a freestyle event, you cannot change to another stroke during the race. The swimmer’s coach insisted I was wrong. Who was right? 

Answer: The coach was correct. In an event designated as freestyle, the swimmer may swim any style (101.5.2). There are no restrictions about changing the style of swimming during a freestyle event. The only restriction regarding style is during the freestyle portion of a medley event; in a medley relay or individual medley event, freestyle means any style other than butterfly, breaststroke or backstroke (101.5.2). Again there is no restriction about changing the style of swimming during the freestyle portion of the medley event. Regardless of the stroke(s) used, times achieved in freestyle events can be recorded only as freestyle times (103.12.2). 

Leaving and Re-entering the Pool During a Race

(Officials Committee, 2009)

Question: During the Women’s 1000-yard Freestyle, the swimmer in lane 4 mistakenly stops after 950-yards and exits the pool. The timing system operator shouts “you have another 50”! The swimmer re-enters the pool and completes the race. After the race, the swimmer wakes up the Referee on the side of the pool and comments on how wonderful it was that the officials were alert and thanks the officials for allowing her to complete the race, even if her time will be a few seconds off. Does this swimmer have a surprise coming? 

U.S. Masters Swimming rules are clear that the swimmer may not leave the pool during the race. As soon as the swimmer exited the water, she was unfortunately disqualified. If the swimmer did not leave the pool, however, she could complete the race even if she stopped early. It should be noted that the swimmer is responsible for completing the specified distance, so the officials are not required to do anything. 

Leaving and Re-entering the Pool After a Race

(Officials Committee, 2009)

Question: At the conclusion of the Women’s 1000-yard freestyle, the swimmer in lane 4 exits the pool. After observing that all of the other competitors have at least 200 yards remaining in the race, she re-enters the pool and warms down. Should the swimmer be disqualified? 

Answer: There is no rule that explicitly prevents a swimmer in an individual event from reentering the pool after completion of the race, but the Referee may take appropriate action against the swimmer if her actions were unsafe, unsportsmanlike, or resulted in interference with another swimmer. 

Entry into the competition pool is controlled via the start rules. Swimmers may not enter the competition pool unless they are reporting to swim an event or if one or more of the lanes have been designated for continuous warm-up. Rule 102.15.7 states some actions that would not be considered entry into the competition pool (dipping goggles or swim caps into the pool prior to a race). 

Rule 102.15.6 prohibits interference with another swimmer. The Referee could conclude that a swimmer re-entering the pool created such a disturbance that he interfered with a swimmer in an adjacent lane who has not yet competed their race. 

Thus, the Referee has a little latitude in this situation. If the swimmer exited the pool, but then before stepping away from the edge of the pool, she carefully slipped back into the pool feet first and took a few strokes of cool down, the Referee could do nothing or could warn the swimmer not to exit the pool next time she wants to cool down before the heat is concluded. Rule 102.4.2 requires the swimmer to enter warm-up and warm-down areas feet first in a cautious and controlled manner. 

If on the other hand, the swimmer deliberately re-entered the pool after some period of time, did so after being asked not to do so or after swimmers were instructed to leave the pool, dove into the pool, created a disruption that had an impact on the other swimmers in the heat, or did so without regard to the other swimmers still swimming, the referee could easily consider the action unsafe or unsportsmanlike and may disqualify the swimmer on these grounds. 

Body Position During In-Water Starts

(Officials Committee, 2009)

Question: During a heat of the Women’s 100-yard Freestyle, two swimmers in the heat elect to start in the water. The Starter instructs the swimmer in lane two that she must face the course when starting since the forward start is being used. The swimmer complies and the Starter proceeds to start the heat. Is the Starter correct? 

Answer: The USA-Swimming glossary defines the forward start as a “forward entry facing the course”. Thus, the Starter concluded that the swimmer should be facing the course prior to the start. 

However, USMS Rules do not define the forward start in the manner. Moreover, USMS rules stipulate that either a backstroke start or a forward start may be used in a Freestyle event. In any event except for backstroke, swimmers may start from the block, deck, or in the water. 

The requirements for starting in the water are specified in USMS Rule 101.1.1. The swimmer must have at least one hand in contact with the wall or starting block and one foot in contact with the wall. Swimmers who start from the deck or the block must have at least one foot at the front of the block or deck prior to the command “Take Your Mark”. (A difference between USMS and USA-Swimming rules.) The starter should correct swimmers who fail to comply with any of these requirements, but there is no need to instruct swimmers to face the course when starting in the water. 

The same is true for breaststroke, butterfly, or individual medley events, but the swimmer must be toward the breast when the feet leave the wall after the start. 

Toe Placement During Backstroke Starts

(Officials Committee, 2009)

Question: During a heat of the Men’s 50-meter backstroke, the Starter instructs the swimmer in lane 3 that he must adjust his foot placement such that the toes are below the line of the gutter. Is the starter correct?

Answer: The requirements for backstroke starts are in USMS rule 101.1.2. Both hands must be in contact with the gutter or starting grips. Standing in the gutter, placing the toes over the lip of the gutter, or bending the toes over the lip of the gutter before or after the start is prohibited. Thus, the starter’s instructions were correct. 

The starter is responsible for enforcing the correct starting position before the start. (In backstroke events, judging the foot position after the start becomes the Stroke and Turn Judge’s responsibility.) Starters should also remember that any verbal instructions provided to swimmers should be given in a calm, conversational tone.

Backstroke turn

(Kathy Casey, Nov 2010)

Question: Has the backstroke turn changed? I do an open turn and was told that if I turn to my side as I come in, I must do a flip. I was told that when I turned toward my breast, I should have done a flip turn. 

Answer: If you were disqualified because you did not do a flip turn, that is an incorrect interpretation of the rule. If you were disqualified for not initiating the turn or for a noncontinuous turning action after turning past vertical toward the breast, those are correct interpretations of the rule (101.4.3). The USMS Rule Book specifically notes in 101.4.3 that a swimmer can turn toward the breast and do an open turn.

Breaststroke kick

(Kathy Casey, Nov 2010)

Question: I’m asking for some clarification on 101.2.3. The last sentence says, “Breaking the surface of the water with the feet is allowed unless followed by a downward butterfly (dolphin) kick.” This applies to the dolphin kick permitted after the start and turn, correct? It seems obvious, but I just wanted to check since dolphin kick at any other time is not allowed.

Answer: No, it refers to the breaststroke kick during the entire race. A swimmer’s feet can break the surface of the water during the breaststroke kick, and it is not a disqualification, unless it is followed by a downward dolphin kick (or unless there is a scissors, flutter, non-simultaneous movement of the legs, or the movement of the legs is not in the same horizontal plane). The dolphin kick after the start and the turn of course includes the downward portion of the butterfly (dolphin) kick, and that is permitted ONLY after the start and the turn and must be followed by a breaststroke kick. If the swimmer happens to be on the surface when taking that single, butterfly (dolphin) kick and happens to break the surface of the water with the feet, that is also not a disqualification. 

Written split requests

(Kathy Casey, Nov 2010)

Question: I swam a 1500 SCM and knew I could get the 800 LMSC record with an initial split. Having never done such a thing before, I read the rules and tried to follow them. I approached the meet referee and tried to submit my split request in writing. He didn't want to take the form, saying that the split time would show up in the meet results anyway. I used the meet results to submit the split time to the LMSC records officer. It apparently was not an "official" time under USMS rules, and would not have counted for Top 10 (which was not a concern!).

Answer: Your written request for the split should have been accepted by the referee and your split time, if it was an automatic time, for the 800 should have been included in your LMSC's submission for USMS Top 10. USMS requirements for official split times are different than those for other swimming organizations and are published in the "Differences" documents for all the swimming governing bodies in Appendix B of the USMS Rule Book. For USA Swimming, the Differences are published in both the USMS Rule Book and the USA Swimming Rule Book. MS2.6.4, page 120, of the USMS Rule Book explains written notice of splits to the referee as well as other USMS split requirements that differ from USA Swimming rules.

Short vs. Long Whistle

(Officials Committee, 2009)

Question: At the start of a heat of the Men’s 100-meter Freestyle, the Referee gives the “short whistle” signal for swimmers to prepare for their event. Two of the swimmers in the heat step onto the starting platform. The Starter instructs the swimmers to step down and wait for the long whistle. The Referee immediately gives the “long whistle” signal to instruct the swimmers to step onto the starting platform. Was the Starter correct?

Answer: The officials were using the correct starting sequence as defined by USMS rules. The “short” whistles are used to signal to swimmers that they should remove clothing, except for swimwear, and prepare to swim. At the Referee’s long whistle, the swimmers should step up onto the block, to the edge of the pool deck, or into the water, and wait for the Starter’s command. For many reasons, it is not desirable to have swimmers step up onto the starting platform before the Referee has given the signal to do so. The officials are generally correct instructing swimmers to wait for the appropriate signal. 

However, there may be other cases where asking the swimmer to step down, only to immediately step back up, would incur an unnecessary delay in the meet and would serve no practical purpose. So, the Referee could just give the signal for the remaining swimmers to step up and start the heat normally. If, in the Referee’s judgment, this practice is causing a problem throughout the meet, he could consider an appropriate way to remind swimmers of the correct starting procedure. As officials we should remember that swimmers of all ages, ability levels, and experience levels participate in masters meets and we should take this into account in providing instructions to swimmers. Sometimes “as good as it gets” is good enough. 

Side Judges and Jurisdiction

(Officials Committee, 2009)

Question 1: During a heat of the Men’s 100-yard Backstroke, a Stroke and Turn Official stationed on the side of the pool observes a swimmer in lane two roll past the vertical onto the breast after passing the backstroke flags, take one arm pull, and kick several yards into the wall before executing the turn. The official stationed at the turn end was watching an adjacent lane and did not see the entire turning motion of the swimmer in lane two. However, the side judge raised her hand immediately and reported an infraction to the Referee, citing a non-continuous turning action. The Referee disallowed the infraction on the basis that it was not within the side judge’s jurisdiction. Who is right? 

Question 2: The Men’s 100-yard backstroke is being run with judges at the start and finish ends of the pool. Due to a shortage of officials, there are no judges stationed on the side of the pool and no official stationed at the 15-meter mark. The judge on the turn end observes that the swimmer in lane four was underwater well past the 15-meter mark, surfacing near the backstroke flags. The judge raises his hand and reports the infraction to the Referee. The swimmer’s coach challenges the call on the basis that there were no judges on the side and the turn judge did not have a sufficient vantage point to determine that the swimmer went past the 15-meter mark. How should the Referee rule? 

Answers 1 & 2: Both situations deal with the question of stroke and turn jurisdictions. The Meet Referee is responsible for defining jurisdictions and these may vary from meet to meet, depending on many factors, including the number of available officials, the experience level of officials, the size of the meet, the format of the meet, and configuration of the pool. The objective is to “balance the deck”, providing the best coverage possible, and ensuring that each swimmer is judged fairly and consistently. Many times, we do not have a sufficient number of officials to cover all jurisdictions optimally and must combine assignments and jurisdictions accordingly. But, this must always be done in a way that provides fair and equitable officiating for all swimmers. 

Regardless of the assigned jurisdictions, the Referee must ensure that disqualifications are backed up by a clear and convincing observation from the official. That includes ensuring that the official was in the appropriate position to be able to clearly see the infraction.

Both situations are judgment calls that the Referee must make. In the first situation, if the turn judge was assigned jurisdiction over backstroke turns, the Referee is probably correct to overrule the side judge. Although the side judge may have seen the infraction clearly, it is not necessarily fair to have the same swimmer judged by two different officials for the same action. Moreover, although the side judge may have been able to see the turn infraction, the officials on the other side of pool may not have been judging this area since the turn judges were assigned this jurisdiction. Thus, allowing the DQ could create an imbalance where some lanes are judged by a different standard than others. 

If, however, the Referee had specifically assigned “wall to wall” jurisdiction for the side judges, the call could be upheld if all lanes were being judged the same and the official could clearly see the infraction. 

In the second case, it depends on how the Referee has assigned the jurisdictions, how clearly the turn judge can see all of the swimmers in his jurisdiction, and how clear the observation is. Although it is preferable to call this type of infraction from the side (with an official stationed at the 15-meter mark), some meets will operate with officials only at the ends, with the officials having jurisdiction over both stroke and turn infractions. If each lane is being judged in the same way, and the turn judge can clearly observe that the swimmer was underwater the entire distance and was clearly past the 15-meter mark, the Referee can approve the DQ. If, however, this standard cannot be satisfied, the “benefit of the doubt” concept must and the Referee should disallow it.  In most pools, it is probably very difficult to discern where the swimmer surfaced relative to the 15-meter mark if viewed from the ends. 

In any case, the Referee should clearly establish the positions and jurisdictions as part of the mandatory pre-meet briefing for officials. 


(Officials Committee, 2009)

Question: During a heat of the 1000-yard Freestyle, a Stroke and Turn Official observes that the swimmer in lane four is wearing a wristwatch. The official reports the observation to the Deck Referee, who disqualifies the swimmer for using a device that may aid in pacing. Is the Referee correct?

Answer: USMS rules do not permit the use of any device which may aid the swimmer’s speed, pace, or buoyancy (102.15.9). However, in this case, the official only reported an observation that the swimmer was wearing a pacing device. USMS and USA-Swimming have interpreted this rule to mean that the swimmer must be using the device, not just simply wearing it. 

In order for any disqualification to be valid, the official must provide a clear and definitive observation to the satisfaction of the Referee. In this case, if the official only reported that the swimmer was wearing a watch, the observation does not reflect a violation of the rule and the Referee should not have approved the disqualification. 

In order to show that the swimmer was using a pacing device, the official would have to clearly observe actions that support this conclusion. Some examples could be: 

  • The official observes the swimmer pressing buttons on a watch to record split times before and/or during a race.
  • The official observes the swimmer looking at a watch display multiple times during the race. 
  • The official hears an audible sound coming from the device at regular intervals during the race. 

Remember that if the official is not clear about what they observe, the “benefit of the doubt” concept will apply and the swimmer should not be disqualified.  

Medic alert bracelet

(Kathy Casey, Nov 2010)

Question: I wear a medic alert bracelet and have been told by some referees that it is not allowed to be worn during competition. What is the official ruling on this? I have Crohn's Disease, am immunosuppressed and allergic to latex, and thus my physicians have advised that I not remove the bracelet.

Answer: You can wear the medic alert bracelet. It doesn’t provide any potential benefit for speed, and it is essentially a doctor’s note providing necessary information about life-threatening medical issues. A doctor’s note requesting that the medic alert bracelet be worn during competition is not necessary. In fact, USMS has no rule addressing jewelry for pool competition. Some officials may remember the old “watch rule,” a former interpretation of the rule banning any device or substance to help speed, pace, buoyancy, or endurance (102.14.3 in the 2010 rule book, 102.14.6 in the emergency swimwear rule changes) that banned wrist watches from competition. That interpretation has not been in effect since June 2006. Note to officials: forcing a swimmer to remove a medic alert bracelet could cause liability issues for USMS if a medical emergency occurs resulting in injury or death.



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