Home Rulessports › Swimming
ASA Swimming Rules and Regulations

This informative section is a basic guide of swimming rules for beginners. The ASA is the national governing body. They regulate the rules of competitive swimming in the United Kingdom.

SWIMMING RULES: A referee initiates each swim heat and the final race.

The swimming referee uses a series of short blasts on a whistle to give signals to the swimmers.

At this point, competitors should remove all excess clothing except their competition swimwear.

How to Start a Swimming Race?

Swimmers take their places on the appropriate starting block or platform.

As a rule this would be on the deck or actually in the water for certain races. They then wait until they hear the sound of a long whistle. The referee will stretch out his arm. That signal means the swimmers are under the starter’s control.

Competitors must wait until they hear the starter’s command ‘take your mark‘. That is the time to assume the starting position and wait for the starting signal.

As a rule that means one foot should be in front of the starting platform. Swimmers who are in the water must have one hand on the wall.

Strokes, Turns, and Finishes

There are four swimming styles recognized in Olympic Championships. They include breaststroke, butterfly, backstroke, and freestyle. In swimming terminology ‘stroke‘ refers to how the swimmers perform the style.

For example, the backstroke style means the swimmer must push off on his back. He will then continue swimming on his back throughout the whole race.

The ‘turning‘ rules govern how each individual negotiates the turnaround. That takes place at the end of each swim lap.

This follows the Amateur Swimming Association or ASA swimming rules and regulations UK. Their governance determines how the swimmer must ‘finish‘ to end the race and win.

Rules of Swimming

Aim of Swimming Competition

As a rule, elite and professional competitions take place in a swimming pool. The objective is to win a race against other swimmers.

Olympic Swimming Pool Size

The dimension of an Olympic-size swimming pool is 50 meters long (164 feet long).

A 50 meter pool gets regarded as the ‘long course‘ of pool competitions. That distinguishes it from the 25 meter ‘short course‘ (82 feet long).

Swimsuits and Equipment

Competitors can only wear one swimsuit (with nothing worn underneath). All competition swimsuits must be non-transparent.

FINA have further stipulations on swimming rules and regulations UK. They do not allow swimsuits to cover the neck and the material must not extend past the shoulders or ankles.

Swimming competition rules allow swimmers to use eye goggles. They can also wear a nose peg but no more than two swim caps.

Note: These ASA swimming rules and regulations refer to professional swimming championships and events.

Competition Swimmers

As a rule all swimmers who are racing against each other must use the same swimming style. That would be either breaststroke, butterfly, backstroke, or freestyle. Races are most often performed as an individual medley or in a swimming relay format.

General Swimming Regulations

  • ASA technical rules for swimming regulate the start of a race.
  • Swimmers cannot start swimming or be moving before the starting signal or buzzer. Doing so will be a false start and the offender will get disqualified.
  • A disqualification can occur before the starting signal goes off. In this case the starting signal would not get given. The remaining swimmers would get recalled and the race starts again.

During the Race

  • As a rule, competitors may not walk during a race. But they can stand (for resting) during a Freestyle race or a Freestyle leg of a Medley race.
  • Each swimmer must make physical contact with the end of the pool or course when turning in all races.
  • The turn must get made from the wall and it is not permitted to take a stride or step from the bottom of the pool.
  • After completing the race swimmers must remain in the water and in their own lane. They must wait in their lane until the referee (or other official authorized by him) releases them.

False Starts

  • The rules of swimming disqualify any swimmer who starts before the signal. The referee observes it and will confirm the starter’s observation of the violation.
  • The starting signal may sound off before the disqualification gets declared. In this case the race would continue. The swimmer or swimmers would get disqualified on completion of the race.
  • No swimmer gets charged with a false start if a recall signal sounds off inadvertently. If a swimmer responds to the ‘stand up‘ command and gets charged with a false start, he may get relieved of the charge.
  • The starter must correct a swimmer for any illegal starting position. If not, the swimmer cannot get disqualified.
  • Any swimmer may notify the referee ‘before the race‘ of his intent not to compete. In this case he will get disqualified as a declared false start.

Swimming Rules and Regulations on Disqualifications

  • The rules and regulations of swimming competitions can disqualify swimmers for:
    • False starts.
    • Unsportsmanlike behavior.
    • Acting in an unsafe manner.
    • Obstructing another swimmer in the water.
    • Entering the pool before a race has finished.
    • Dipping goggles into the pool before an event.
  • Swimmers cannot stand on the bottom of the pool during any race (except the freestyle). The result for doing so is a disqualification from the race.
  • Each swimmer must start and finish the race in the same lane (grasping the lane dividers is not permitted).

Swim Stroke Rules in Swimming

Freestyle Swimming Regulations

  • Freestyle means that in any event so designated, the swimmer may swim any style. The exceptions would be an Individual Medley or Medley Relay event. Freestyle means any style other than backstroke, breaststroke, or butterfly.

Breaststroke Swimming Regulations

  • All movements of the arms should be simultaneous. They also be in the same horizontal plane without alternating movement.
  • Hands must get pushed forward together from the breast, on, under, or over the water.
  • Elbows must be under the water except for the final stroke before the turn. The same applies during the turn and for the final stroke at the finish.
  • Both hands must get brought back on or under the surface of the water.
  • The hands must not get brought back beyond the hip line. The exception is during the first stroke after the start and each turn.
  • All movements of the legs must be simultaneous. They should be in the same horizontal plane without alternating movement.
  • The feet must get turned outwards during the propulsive part of the kick.
  • A scissors, flutter, or downward dolphin kick is not permitted.
  • Swimmers can break the surface of the water with their feet. Providing it is not followed by a downward dolphin kick.
  • The touch must get made with both hands at each turn and at the finish of the race. It should be simultaneous at, above, or below the water level.
  • The head can submerge after the last arm pull before the touch. This is only providing it breaks the surface of the water at some point during the last complete or incomplete cycle preceding the touch.
  • During each complete cycle of one arm stroke and one leg kick, in that order, some part of the swimmer’s head must break the surface of the water. The exception is after the start and after each turn. The swimmer may take one arm stroke completely back to the legs and one leg kick while wholly submerged.
  • The head must break the surface of the water before the hands turn inward at the widest part of the second stroke.

Butterfly Swimming Regulations

  • From the beginning of the first arm stroke after the start and after each turn, the body must get kept on the breast.
  • Underwater kicking on the side is in the rules of swimming.
  • It is not permitted to roll on the back at any time.
  • Both arms must get brought forward together over the water. They must get brought backward simultaneously throughout the race. This is subject to ASA technical rule 516.6.
  • All up and down movements of the legs and feet must be simultaneous.
  • The position of the legs or feet need not be at the same level. But they must not alternate in relation to each other.
  • A breaststroke kicking movement is not permitted.
  • The touch must get made with both hands at each turn and at the finish of the race. It should be simultaneous at, above, or below the water level.
  • At the start and at turns, a swimmer can use one or more leg kicks and one arm pull under the water. This technique must bring him to the surface.
  • Swimmers can be completely submerged for a distance of not more than 15 meters after the race start and after each turn.
  • By that point, the head must have broken the surface. The swimmer must also remain on the surface until the next turn or the finish of the race.

Backstroke Swimming Regulations

  • At the signal for starting and after turning, the swimmer must push off and swim upon his back throughout the race. The exception is when executing a turn as set out in ASA Technical Rule 517.4.
  • The normal position on the back can include a roll movement of the body up to, but not including 90 degrees from the horizontal. The position of the head is not relevant.
  • Some part of the swimmer must break the surface of the water throughout the race. The exception is when the swimmer is completely submerged during the turn, at the finish and for a distance of not more than 15 meters after the start and at each turn. By that point the head must have broken the surface.
  • During the turn the shoulders may get turned over the vertical to the breast. After which, a continuous single arm pull or a continuous simultaneous double arm pull may get used to initiate the turn.
  • Once the body has left the position on the back, any kick or arm pull must be part of the continuous turning action.
  • The swimmer must have returned to a position on the back upon leaving the wall.
  • When executing a turn there must be a touch of the wall with some part of the swimmer’s body.

ASA Swimming Rules for Olympic Officials

Olympic Games and World Championships need several officials to control the competitions. Official adjudicators must include at least two referees. They should also have a control-room supervisor, 4 judges of stroke, and 2 race starters.

How to Win a Swimming Competition

To finish the race as the winner, the swimmer must be the first one to touch the wall. In the backstroke race the swimmer must finish by touching the wall while swimming on his back.

To win the breaststroke race the swimmer must touch the wall with both hands. Competitive swimming rules and regulations allow the winner to have a submerged body under water at the touch.

Advanced Swimming Rules


Swimmers Also Ask About…

A to Z List of Sports Rules: A listing of popular indoor and outdoor sporting categories.
Underwater Hockey Rules: Basic regulations for playing ‘octopush game’ or hockey underwater.
Weird Sports Rules: A concise list of weird and wonderful sports games around the world.
FINA Swimming Rules and Regulations PDF: [Free Download Option]

Rules of Swimming for Beginners: ASA Rules and Regulations of Swimming Competitions