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  1. Disability Swimming Questions

    by , April 28th, 2019 at 03:02 PM (Rules Committee Blog)
    A couple of questions were received regarding the use of aids (snorkels, pull buoys, and other equipment) because of disabilities. In one case, disabilities as a result of a stroke.

    We dont have specific competitions for swimmers with disabilities, but our rules do provide some latitude for officials to accommodate swimmers with disabilities. Our goal is to make it possible for as many people to participate as we can. The rules say that referees can modify a rule for permanent life-altering physical conditions.

    A stroke can have significant lasting effects, even though things can change over time with physical therapy and other treatment, so that certainly qualifies as a disability under these guidelines. When we make an accommodation, it is only for a specific meet, so it is best to contact the referee before each meet in which you are interested in competing. We try to work with each swimmer in order to determine an appropriate solution.

    I can describe a few general things that we can do, but it is best to make judgements based on specific information from the swimmer. A referee would normally ask you some questions to better understand your physical condition, what you do in workouts, how you disability limits any other life functions, and if you are undergoing any type of medical treatment that would be expected to change things.

    We can always do things like permit extra time or assistance in getting to the starting platform, getting in the water, getting out of the water, etc. The officials could allow you to swim in a different lane, maybe closer to a ladder, ramp, or lift if there is one at the pool. We could also allow you to swim in an outside lane while other events are running if you have a slower time.

    If a swimmer is physically incapable of complying with a rule because you have lost the use of an arm or leg, the referee can modify the rule for that swimmer. Swimming with one arm would be perfectly fine for freestyle, but could also be OK for other strokes if the referee approves a modification.

    We dont generally permit the use of equipment as an aid in competition (things like pull buoys, snorkels, hand paddles). However, if this is the only way that someone is able to participate, the referee could permit the use of equipment as a local option, but the swim would not be included in the official results. It would depend on several factors specific to the meet. We would not be able to make this accommodation at a USMS National Championship meet.

    Again, these are just some general guidelines. With good communication between swimmers and meet officials, we can generally find a good solution that would permit most athletes to participate in masters meets.
  2. Question: Wearing more than one swimcap

    by , March 31st, 2019 at 02:21 PM (Rules Committee Blog)
    Question: Can a swimmer wear two swim caps during competition?

    Answer: By rule, swimmers are permitted to wear a swimsuit (in one or two pieces), goggles, and no more than two swim caps. The swimwear rules are covered in article 102.12.1 in the USMS rules.
  3. Question: Wearing a Watch in Competition

    by , March 31st, 2019 at 02:19 PM (Rules Committee Blog)

    Is it permissible to wear a wristwatch while swimming during a race in a sanctioned USMS meet?


    It not illegal to wear a watch, but it is illegal to use a watch during a race. If the official observes that a swimmer is using a watch as a pacing device, the swimmer should be disqualified. But, simply wearing a watch is not enough to warrant a DQ.

    Charles Cockrell
    USMS Rules Committee Chair
  4. Question: Backstroke Turns

    by , March 31st, 2019 at 02:17 PM (Rules Committee Blog)

    What is permissible in doing a backstroke turn?


    In backstroke, the requirement is for some part of the body to touch the wall at the turn. Prior to the turn, you are permitted to leave your back and turn over onto the breast in order to execute the turn. If you leave the back, only one single or double arm pull is permitted and you must initiate the turn before the conclusion of the arm pull. Any other kicking, pulling, or gliding motion that is separate from this continuous turning motion is not permitted.

    Note that swimmers are not required to perform what some people call a backstroke flip turn. You can also touch the wall with your hand or arm at the turn and do an open turn. Or, if you turn over on to the breast, you can touch the wall with your hand, as long as you dont take another pull, kick into the wall, or glide into the wall without initiating the turn.

    Charles Cockrell
    USMS Rules Committee Chair
  5. Question: How many official splts are possible?

    by , March 31st, 2019 at 02:16 PM (Rules Committee Blog)

    When swimming the 1500-meter Freestyle, how many official splits may a swimmer obtain?


    When swimming a 1500-meter freestyle event (or any distance/stroke event), you may request any splits that correspond to a conforming event listed in article 102.5.2.

    For the 1500-meter Freestyle, that would include the 50, 100, 200, 400, and 800 meter freestyle events if you choose. Unless automatic splits are in place for the meet, you must request the split(s) in writing to the meet referee prior to the end of the meet for freestyle events.

    Note that for individual backstroke events and relay events, the split request must be submitted to the referee in writing prior to swimming the event.

    Charles Cockrell
    USMS Rules Committee Chair
  6. Question: Preliminaries/Finals Formats

    by , March 31st, 2019 at 02:07 PM (Rules Committee Blog)

    Is it permissible to run a sanctioned or recognized meet with a format that includes preliminaries and finals?


    This is covered in article 102.5.5.

    Formats other than timed finals, including preliminary heats and finals, are permitted under USMS rules only for short course yards meets. National Championship meets may only be conducted in a timed finals format. The only difference is that when an alternate format is used, swimmers may only swim three events per day. We also say that if a format other than timed finals is used, the meet announcement should state the process for seeding since we dont cover seeding for prelims when finals are scheduled in the rule book.

    For meets held in 25-meter or 50-meter pools, all events must be conducted as timed finals, which means that swimmers only swim the event one time and the results are determined by ranking the official times of all swimmers who compete in the event.

    Charles Cockrell
    USMS Rules Committee Chair
  7. Question: Dual Sanctioned Meets

    by , March 31st, 2019 at 02:01 PM (Rules Committee Blog)

    A team wishes to have a dual sanctioned meet. For the longer events they want to run as combined. For all other events they want to run either as parallel or interwoven. Is this permissible?


    It appears that meet host would like to run some events where the swimmers are separated by events/heats and other events where swimmers swim together in the same heats.

    That is perfectly fine as long as the meet information clearly states the entry procedures for each set of events. Also, swimmers may only swim for USA Swimming or USMS in the meet, not both. So, swimmers with registration in both organizations must select only one organization to represent for the entire meet.

    For additional information, all of the guidelines for running dual-sanctioned meets can be found in Appendix B of the USMS Rule Book:

    Charles Cockrell
    USMS Rules Committee Chair
  8. Foot Position in the Forward Start

    by , July 5th, 2018 at 08:30 PM (Rules Committee Blog)
    Masters rules for strokes, starts, and turns are mostly the same as USA Swimming rules, but we have a few differences which need some emphasis so that swimmers, coaches, and officials have a clear understanding. One of the most overlooked differences is in the forward start rule and we routinely receive questions regarding the application of this rule. The language of the rule may seem somewhat technical, but we can break down the requirements for a simple explanation.

    USMS article 101.1.1 says the following:

    The forward start may be taken from the starting block, the pool deck, or a push from the wall. At the commencement of each heat, the referee shall signal to the swimmers by a short series of whistles to remove all clothing except for swimwear, followed by a long whistle indicating that they may take and maintain their positions with at least one foot at the front of the starting platform or the deck, or in the water.

    What does the last sentence mean with respect to the position of the feet?

    Masters is unique in imposing a foot position requirement prior to the "take your mark" command. This rule says that swimmers are required to step onto the starting platform and place at least one foot at the front of the block. "Front" does not necessarily mean that the foot has to be at the front edge of the starting platform, but it must be towards the front surface. This requirement applies when the swimmer steps onto the platform.

    The source for this requirement comes from the FINA masters rules. FINA MSW 3.2 says:

    When using the forward start, the referee's whistle shall indicate that the swimmers may take their positions with at least one foot at the front of the starting platform or pool deck, or in the water with one hand having contact with the starting wall.

    USMS article 101.1.1 goes on to say:

    On the starters command, Take your mark, each swimmer shall immediately assume the starting position with at least one foot at the front of the starting platform or the deck.

    We have slightly different wording in article 103.8.5 which says:

    On the starters command, Take your mark, each swimmer shall immediately assume a starting position that maintains at least one foot at the front of the starting platform or at the front of the pool deck.

    The intent of this rule is to say that swimmers may not adjust the position of the front foot after the "take your mark" command. The position of the back foot may be adjusted (for example, to re-position the foot on the back wedge if one is present). The idea is that swimmers must find their position on the starting platform when stepping onto the starting platform and then remain in that position for the entire starting sequence.
  9. Club Categories & Relay Starts

    by , May 4th, 2018 at 08:17 PM (Rules Committee Blog)
    At Nationals, why are there two club categories?

    At the USMS National Championship Meet, clubs are scored in two categories: Regional Clubs and Local Clubs. The designation is found in the meet program. Regional clubs are clubs that are made up of subgroups or workout groups. Local clubs are clubs that have decided not to have separate workout groups or subgroups so they represent their club at the National Championship Meet. Your club designation is determined by your club and LMSC. Some workout groups decide to join a regional club, which might include workout groups from an entire city or LMSC. As for scoring at local LMSC swim meets, the meet hosts determine whether they are going to be scored by workout groups/subgroups or by regional clubs. Members always compete for your club, not your workout group and results going into the national database is always designated as your club, not your workout group. However, as terms of scoring at local LMSC swim meets, the meet host determine whether they are going to be scored by workout groups/subgroups or by regional clubs. More information about local and regional clubs can be found in the USMS rule book 104.5.6 Club Scoring. For USMS Spring Nationals in May there are currently 251 local clubs registered (including individuals who are unattached) and 19 regional clubs. Championship banners are presented to the top 10 clubs in the local division and top five clubs in the regional division.

    Relay Starts with Adjustable Back Plates on the Starting Platform

    Article 101.7.3 H is a rule that was added this year to the rule book. It states that the relay swimmers in the second, third, and fourth position cannot start from the top of the adjustable back plate (wedge). The first swimmer is bound by normal forward or backward start rules. The swimmers must have at lest part of one foot in contact with the starting platform (not on back plate/wedge) in front of the back plate. This rule was put in partly for safety reasons, to prevent relay swimmers from moving the back plate/wedge all the way to the front of the block and taking off from just the wedge. When doing a relay start, the wedge can be placed as far forward as you would like as long as part of your foot touches the part of the block facing the water before take-off. Only one foot has to touch the front part of the platform so the other foot can remain on the back plate/wedge. Also, the foot that touches the front part of the platform does not have to start in that position. When the start has begun, the foot may begin in any position, however, it must touch the front part of the platform before take-off.
  10. Recently Asked Questions

    by , April 7th, 2018 at 12:42 PM (Rules Committee Blog)
    With this entry, we answer a few questions recently received from USMS members.

    My birthday is coming up and I am going to "age up" into a new age group. When does my new age group take effect at USMS sanctioned meets.

    For meets held in 25-yard pools, your age group is determined based on your age on the last day of the meet. So, if you are swimming in a meet that ends before your birthday, you will swim in the age group that corresponds to your age before your birthday. If you enter a multi-day meet and just happen to have a birthday in the middle of the meet, you will swim in the older age group.

    For meets held in 25-meter or 50-meter pools, we conform to the rules of FINA (the international federation). Your age group for the entire year is determined based on your age on December 31. So, even if your birthday is not until December, you would swim in the older age group for the entire year.

    It can get a little confusing with the difference between yards and meters. The rule differences mean that you could potentially be swimming in two different age groups for a short time, especially if you have a birthday that is later in the year. When you enter a meet, the entry process should automatically put you in the correct age group based on your birth date and the rules in effect for that meet.

    Are straps, braces, and compression products (such as a Cho Pat, AceTM Bandage, or other brands) legal in USMS Competition?

    These devices are not legal in USMS competition. In the rules we say that swimwear consists only of a swimsuit, googles, and cap(s). Anything additional is not permitted and we specifically say that armbands or legbands shall not be considered part of swimwear and are not permitted. In addition, we say that swimmers may not wear or use any device that aids in speed, space, buoyancy, or endurance. While it may be true that these devices might create additional drag, they provide physical benefits in the form of muscle compression or stabilization that would contribute to an advantage in terms of endurance.

    Having a doctor's note does not compel the referee to make an accommodation for these types of devices. Even with a doctor's note, referees are required to follow the rules and cannot waive any of these requirements. Referees can only consider accommodations for permanent, life-altering, physical disabilities.

    Does USMS permit video recording devices to be used behind the blocks?

    The rules do not address the use of cameras or other video equipment behind the blocks beyond provisions for video replay footage use by officials and the use of stationary overhead cameras as a backup timing system.

    Can we use automatic relay takeoff officiating equipment at USMS meets?

    Yes, automatic relay takeoff equipment may be used at USMS sanctioned meets if available at the facility. The automatic judging equipment consists of a sensor on the starting platform that can show when the swimmer leaves the starting platform in comparison to the touchpad in the water which records the touch of the incoming swimmers. If an overhead video camera system is available as a backup timing system, the automatic officiating equipment can show a potential infraction which is then confirmed by reviewing the overhead cameras. If the overhead camera system is not available, the automatic relay takeoff equipment may not be used to initiate a potential infraction. Early takeoffs are noted by the officials on deck and then confirmed by the automatic relay takeoff equipment.

    If I am entered in a 200-yard freestyle event, can I swim the first 50 of this event as breaststroke in order to earn a record and then complete the event swimming freestyle (or other strokes)?

    In freestyle events, it is permissible to swim other strokes. However, times achieved in a freestyle event may only count as freestyle times. Even if you swim another stroke legally, you cannot earn an official time for another stroke.

    So, in the situation described in this question, a swimmer could swim the first 50 of a 200 freestyle as breaststroke (or any other stroke) without being disqualified. The swimmer can then swim any other strokes desired for the remainder of the event. However, the swimmer cannot earn an official time for a 50 breaststroke event that would count for records, top ten, or any other form of official recognition. The initial 50 split time can only count as a time for a 50 freestyle. The final time, regardless of the length of the event, may only be used as a freestyle time.

    Note that in individual medley or medley relay events, freestyle is defined as any other stroke not previously swum, so you cannot repeat butterfly, backstroke, or breaststroke during the freestyle leg of a medley event.
  11. How Do I know if my Swimwear is Legal?

    by , March 4th, 2018 at 12:41 PM (Rules Committee Blog)
    Article 102.12 covers the rules for swimwear in USMS competition. This article contains several provisions, so this month's blog post breaks down each provision, including type of suit, coverage, and other things that can or cannot be worn in competition. Note that article 303.7 covers the rules for long distance and open water which are very similar to pool competition, but contain a couple of key differences.

    102.12.1A says that the swimsuits worn for competition shall be nontransparent and conform to the current concept of the appropriate. The referee shall have authority to bar offenders from competition until they comply with this rule.

    Well, this one should be self-explanatory - no see-through suits!

    102.12.1B says that swimwear shall include only a swimsuit, no more than two caps, and goggles (a nose clip and ear plugs are allowed). Armbands or legbands shall not be regarded as parts of the swimsuit and are not allowed.

    A common question from swimmers is "can I wear something to help with an injury?" Typical questions include things like elastic bandages, knee braces, therapeutic bands, etc. The answer is generally "no" since these are considered an advantage in competition and not permitted under this rule.

    Article 102.12.1C has several rules:

    In swimming competitions, the competitor must wear only one swimsuit in one or two pieces. Does this mean that women can wear two-piece suits? Yes, but see below for some restrictions on coverage and fasteners.

    The rule also says that for men, the swimsuit shall not extend above the navel nor below the knees, and for women, shall not cover the neck, extend past the shoulder nor extend below the knees. (See below for the difference that applies to open water competitions.)

    All swimsuits must be made from textile materials. How would I know if my suit has a material that is not permitted? Well, we also say in 102.12.1D that only swimwear complying with FINA specifications may be worn in any USMS sanctioned or recognized competition. FINA evaluates and maintains a list of approved swimwear. If you purchase a suit that has been approved by FINA, it will have a sticker on it that says "FINA Approved Swimwear". All of these suits are approved for use in USMS competition and a complete searchable list is maintained by FINA here:

    USMS policy is to also accept "legacy" suits that comply with FINA specifications even if they do not appear on the FINA approved list. Generally, suits that are made out of materials such as lycra, nylon, polyester, or other traditional materials are acceptable. Suits made from neoprene or other buoyant materials are not acceptable because they violate 102.12.1E regarding the use of devices or substances that enhance speed, pace, buoyancy, or endurance. Any type of surface treatment that closes the mesh structure of the material (suach as a coating) is subject to scrutiny, so it is the technical suits that we need to look at. A pair of "board shorts" or a beach suit for women made out of traditional materials will generally comply with the rule.

    General tip: If a suit is marketed specifically for triathletes or strictly for training, you may want to check the specifications further. Triathlons dont follow the same rules and we have found some suits marketed to improve buoyancy that would not comply with the rule. Anything marketed with a thermal insulation material (e.g., a wetsuit) is likely not permitted.

    FINA also has a prohibition against zippers or any other fastening system, including ties. A waist tie is the only exception. For women, this means that a two-piece suit with a top piece that ties in the back is not permitted.

    The FINA approval process will also look at the thickness and permeability of the material used in the swimwear construction. If you really want to understand all of the technical specifications, you can find them here:

    Now we go to article 102.12.1E which says that no swimmer is permitted to wear or use any device or substance to enhance speed, pace, buoyancy, or endurance during a race (such as webbed gloves, fins, power bands, adhesive substances, snorkels, neoprene caps, etc.).

    All of these great training devices that we use in workouts to help us train more effectively either by improving stroke technique, dealing with injuries, or making it easier to train are not meant for competition.

    What about watches? The interpretation on watches is that watches could be considered pacing devices, but only if they are used for this purpose. It is not necessarily illegal to wear a watch in competition, but if an official observes a swimmer using a watch during a race, the swimmer is subject to disqualification.

    Rule 102.12.1E also explicitly says that medical identification items may be worn. If you wear a medical alert bracelet, for example, you are not required to remove it for competition. Doing so could compromise safety and the ability to respond to a medical emergency.

    Rule 102.12.1E also addresses the use of tape. The rule says that any kind of tape on the body is not permitted unless approved by the referee. We get many questions regarding the application of the rule and an official interpretation, consistent with FINA and USA Swimming, was issued in 2016.

    The use of tape in competition is limited to situations involving verified medical conditions. The application of tape is intended to be for situations such as wound closure, taping of fingers or toes (no more than two), taping to secure medical devices, or other limited uses that would not provide any competitive advantage. The use of any kind of tape that purports to provide muscle compression; muscle, joint, or ligament stabilization; or other physical benefits, including therapeutic elastic tape or similar products, is never permitted in USMS competition.

    Finally, we have the following provision in article 102.12.1C(1): Exemptions to the foregoing restrictions may be granted to a swimmer, on a case-by-case basis, by the chair of the Rules Committee or designee. Exemptions will be granted for conflicts due to the swimmers verified religious beliefs, verified medical conditions, or other reasons as deemed appropriate by the chair of the Rules Committee.

    Medical exemptions are generally intended for permanent medical conditions that would preclude someone from complying with the swimwear rules and being able to participate in competition altogether. If you feel that you have a medical condition, a religious belief, or other circumstance that would merit an exemption, please contact the USMS Rules Committee Chair at:

    Article 102.12 describes the rules for pool competition, but the same rules generally apply for "category I swimwear in open water competition (i.e., not wetsuits) as described in article 303.7. The coverage rules for open water competition are different - both men and women are permitted to wear a suit that does not extend past the shoulder or past the ankles. For medical exceptions that cover open water competition, swimmers should contact the chair of the USMS Long Distance Committee at:
  12. Using times from Masters Meets for USA Swimming Purposes

    by , February 3rd, 2018 at 11:36 AM (Rules Committee Blog)
    How can I get my times from Masters meets recorded for official purposes by USA Swimming?

    Many swimmers ask about using their times from Masters meets for USA Swimming official purposes, such as qualifying for USA Swimming meets.

    USMS (the meet director or an official from the LMSC) must request approval from USA Swimming to have the meet observed by USA Swimming for this purpose. This is not routinely done and is normally reserved for championship (LMSC, zone, national) or other large meets. A key requirement is having a sufficient number of USA Swimming certified officials
    available (normally a minimum of four officials with at least two designated observers) to judge the events for conformance with USA Swimming rules.

    If you think you have a need to record your times for this purpose, check with the meet director well in advance of the meet to ask if the host intends to apply for USA Swimming observation.

  13. How do I get my split times officially recorded?

    by , February 3rd, 2018 at 11:34 AM (Rules Committee Blog)
    How do I get my splits officially recorded?

    With championship meets on the horizon, many swimmers are interested in recording relay leadoff or initial splits in individual events for official purposes. Split times can be used for official purposes, including national qualifying times, top 10 times, and records, or just to record a time to measure your performance. It is good to review the rules to ensure that your splits will count for official purposes.

    What are the timing system requirements for recording splits?

    • An initial split or a relay leadoff split can be used for a world record if the split is timed with automatic equipment or, in the event of a touchpad malfunction, with a semiautomatic backup system consisting of at least one button.

    • An initial split or a relay leadoff split can be used for a USMS record if the split is timed with automatic equipment (a touchpad). If the touchpad fails, the leadoff split cannot be used for a USMS record.

    • An initial split or a relay leadoff split can be used for a USMS Top 10 time if the split is timed with automatic equipment, a semiautomatic timing system with a minimum of two buttons, or at least two valid watches.

    When do I need to submit a request to have my split recorded in the official results and how do I do that?

    You must submit a written request prior to your swim for relay leadoff splits and for initial backstroke distances in a longer backstroke event. We ask for a written request prior to these events so that officials can be notified and can judge the intermediate turns and relay exchanges appropriately. For all other initial splits in individual events, you must submit a written request prior to the end of the meet. Check with the meet director to obtain a split request form. In most cases, they will usually have them available at the check-in table when you arrive at the meet.

    What if the meet announcement states that splits will automatically be recorded?

    The rules allow for the meet host to automatically record some or all splits if the host desires. For national championships, automatic splits are mandatory, so your split times from all individual events will automatically be recorded and included in the official results, with the exception of backstroke events. Automatic splits may also be recorded for relays provided that officials are assigned to judge the exchanges and ensure that the second swimmer does not start in the water or stand on an active padand that the automatic timing system is properly functioning.

    If a meet host chooses this option, the meet announcement must state for which events splits are going to be automatically recorded. No written request is required for these events. For all other events (and, in all cases, backstroke individual events or an initial backstroke distance in the leadoff leg of a medley relay), a written request is still required. Check with the meet director if you are unsure based on guidance in the meet announcement.
  14. How do I make sure my record counts?

    by , January 6th, 2018 at 03:07 PM (Rules Committee Blog)
    Swimmers often ask: "What do I need to do to make sure my record (or potential top 10 swim) counts?" There are several things for which swimmers can look to ensure that their swims count for records and top 10.

    Meet Directors and LMSC Officers should be aware of these requirements and provide the necessary resources to recognize official times. However, some meets may require action by the swimmer, so it is good to be aware of the rules and read the information in the meet announcement carefully.

    Is the meet sanctioned or recognized by United States Masters Swimming (USMS)?

    Sanctioned meets are required to follow all of the rules of competition which should ensure times may be used for all official purposes. Times from sanctioned meets are generally submitted by the LMSC for consideration without any further action required by the swimmer, but if you have questions on the status of a record application, you can follow up with your LMSC Top 10 recorder.

    • The meet announcement must have a statement that says "sanctioned by (LMSC name) for USMS, Inc."
    • All participants in USMS sanctioned meets must be members of USMS, so the meet entry process should include verification of membership and a liability release.
    • Times from sanctioned meets must be submitted for FINA world record consideration within 60 days of the swim.

    Recognized meets may also be used to achieve USMS records and top 10 rankings. These are usually meets conducted by other organizations, but the host has agreed to conduct the meet under USMS rules so the times may be used for official purposes. A USMS observer must be assigned to the recognized meet by the LMSC. The USMS observer must submit a written report to the LMSC verifying whether the relevant USMS rules were followed. The meet announcement should state that the meet is recognized by USMS and swimmers could ask the meet director if these conditions have been satisfied.

    Times from recognized meets are not automatically submitted for consideration, so it is the swimmer's responsibility to submit the times and documentation to the appropriate LMSC Top 10 recorder. This may include the need to submit documentation on the pool measurement (see below).

    A few additional notes on recognized meets:

    • USA Swimming sanctioned meets are automatically recognized without the need for a formal application for recognition. USMS members who compete in a USA Swimming meet, as a USA Swimming athlete, may submit their times for consideration, but proper documentation (including pool measurement verification for USMS records) is required.

    • FINA will not accept times from recognized meets for world record or world top 10 consideration.

    • Times achieved by USMS members at events sanctioned by a FINA member federation (i.e., a masters meet in another country) may be submitted without a formal application for recognition as long as the USMS swimmer registers for the meet as a USMS member.

    • Times achieved at FINA World Masters Championships will automatically submitted for USMS record and top 10 consideration.

    Is the timing system sufficient to allow for records and top 10?

    • World and USMS records now require automatic timing (automatic start and touchpad finish). Without touchpads, it is not possible to achieve a record.
      • In the event of a touchpad malfunction, records may also be achieved using a semi-automatic backup system with three, two, or one button(s).
      • If the touchpad and buttons both fail, a single watch may be used to establish a top 10 time, but watches may not be used to establish records.
      • A minimum of two timers is advised in the event that one of the buttons also malfunctions.

    • If touchpads are not in use, a semi-automatic system (buttons) or watches may still be used to establish USMS top 10 times, but a minimum of two valid times are required.

    If touchpads are in use and there are at least two timers assigned to each lane, operating buttons and watches, all swims should count for records and top 10 barring complete failures of all timing systems (extremely rare). If touchpads are not in use and there are at least two timers per lane, all swims should count for top 10 consideration.

    Have the pool measurement rules been satisfied?

    • Sanctioned meets must have a statement in the meet announcement that indicates whether the pool measurement is on file with USMS and is in compliance with USMS rules, so check for this statement. For recognized meets, swimmers may need to check with the meet director if this information is not provided.

    • If a bulkhead is in use, the bulkhead placement must be confirmed with a measurement before and after each session. For recognized meets, swimmers may need to check with the meet director to ensure that this requirement is met and to obtain a copy of the measurement to submit to your LMSC Top 10 recorder.

    Are there enough officials?

    • There should be a minimum of two deck officials for the duration of the meet. There must be a meet referee, a starter, and two stroke and turn officials, but the referee and starter may perform the duties of a stroke and turn judge.

    • Officials must be certified by an approved certifying body (USMS, USA Swimming, NCAA, or High School Federation). The LMSC should verify that these requirements are met, but swimmers could also check with the meet director or meet referee at recognized meets.

    Is the documentation sufficient to accompany the record application?

    • Record applications must include a copy of the official meet results, timing system printout, and a copy of the heat sheet. A copy of the swimmer's birth certificate must accompany the record application or be on file with USMS.

    • Formal record applications are not required for swims at USMS National Championships or FINA World Championships.

    If I swim an event and miss the record, can I ask to re-swim the event later in the meet in another attempt to break the record?

    • No, except for postponement or a foul, there are no provisions for re-swimming a race. Time trials may only be conducted at short course yard (SCY) meets, but additional time trials or additional events may not be added to meet once the order of events is published in the meet announcement.

    Can I ask my LMSC to sanction another meet for me to attempt a record?

    • An LMSC can sanction a meet at their discretion pursuant to LMSC policies, but any event offered at a sanctioned meet must be offered to all age groups and both genders. The order of events must be published in the meet announcement at least one week prior to the entry deadline.

    Can my relay leadoff or initial split be submitted for a record application or top 10 consideration?

    • A relay leadoff split may be submitted provided automatic timing is used (touchpads) and the second swimmer does not start in the water.

    • A leadoff split may be submitted provided automatic timing is used and a written split request is submitted prior to the event (for backstroke events) or prior to the end of the meet (all other events).

    • For USMS national championship meets, leadoff and initial splits will automatically be submitted for consideration without the need for a written request (except for backstroke events).
  15. Completely Submerged

    by , December 3rd, 2017 at 11:16 AM (Rules Committee Blog)
    What are the rules about being completely submerged in butterfly and backstroke? Can swimmers be disqualified for being completely submerged after the 15-meter mark?

    The short answer is yes, it can be an infraction to be completely submerged in butterfly, backstroke, and even freestyle under certain circumstances. This month's blog post will explain the rules and what officials should be observing and reporting.


    Article 101.2.2 says that it shall be permissible for a swimmer to be completely submerged for a distance of not more than 15 meters after the start and after each turn. By that point, the head must have broken the surface of the water. The swimmer must remain on the surface prior to the next turn or finish. The swimmer is permitted one or more leg kicks, but only one arm pull underwater, which must bring the swimmer to the surface.

    Sometimes in butterfly, swimmers will take a stroke, tuck the head after breathing, and then extend the stroke before taking the next pull. If such action results in the swimmer being completely submerged, even if just for a moment, does that constitute an infraction?
    The answer is yes, this constitutes an infraction if this action occurs after the first arm pull that brings the swimmer to the surface after the start or after the turn.

    What if this action occurs before the 15-meter mark? Wouldnt that be permissible since the swimmer is permitted to be completely submerged for a distance up to 15-meters after the start and after each turn?

    The answer is no, the action is still not permitted because the swimmer is allowed only one arm pull underwater. That arm pull must bring the swimmer to the surface and the swimmer must remain on the surface until the next turn or finish. Even if the swimmer surfaces before the 15-meter mark, the swimmer may not be completely submerged after the first pull.

    However, we should note that in order for this call to be made, the official needs to ensure that the observation is clear and definitive. The official must be able to clearly observe and report the swimmer was completely submerged, taking into account the need to observe all lanes equitably. In most cases, this infraction would need to be observed from the side of the pool, so the official needs to ensure that swimmers in the middle of the pool are being judged the same as swimmers in other lanes. Things like the glare on the surface, wave action, and obstructions need to be taken into account and the swimmer should receive the benefit of the doubt. However, if the official can report with confidence that the swimmer was indeed completely submerged - not even a finger, hair follicle, or toenail above the surface of the water - then it is indeed an infraction.

    What about reaching for the wall at the turn or finish with the head down and arms extended under the water?

    If the swimmer is completely submerged prior to making the touch, then this action also constitutes an infraction. The comments on a clear and convincing observation also apply to this type of call. Once the official's gaze has shifted from observing the stroke to watching the end wall for a legal touch, the official may not be able to definitively see the entire body, making it difficult to make this call with certainty. But if the official can report a clear observation that the swimmer was completely submerged prior to the touch, then the swimmer should be disqualified.


    The rules for backstroke are similar, but the wording is different. Article 101.4.2 says that some part of the swimmer must break the surface of the water throughout the race, except that it shall be permissible for the swimmer to be complete submerged during the turn and for a distance of not more than 15 meters after the start and after each turn. By that point, the head must have broken the surface of the water.

    Some swimmers will use a double arm backstroke pull (sometimes called "elementary backstroke"). The action of pulling back with both arms while tilting the head backwards might result in the swimmer being completely submerged. Is that illegal?

    The answer is yes if the action occurs after the 15-meter mark. But, the same comments regarding a clear and convincing observation apply to this situation. The official needs to ensure that the swimmer was indeed completely submerged - the entire body from head to toe. If the official cannot observe the entire body to say the swimmer was completely submerged, the swimmer should receive the benefit of the doubt.

    What if this action occurs prior to the 15-meter mark?

    In this case, the rules say that swimmer may be completely submerged for a distance of not more than 15 meters after the start and after each turn. So, a swimmer could surface, submerge, and then re-surface prior to the 15-meter mark. If the action described above occurs prior to the 15-meter mark, it would not be an infraction.

    Same question as butterfly, what about "diving" backwards for the wall at the finish?

    The same answer as in the butterfly (see above) applies. If a swimmer is completely submerged prior to the touch, then it would be an infraction. But, official must be able to observe that the entire body is submerged before the official shifts to judging the touch at the finish.

    Being completely submerged at the touch - in other words, at the instant that the hand touches the wall - is not necessarily an infraction. The observation of being completely submerged must be prior to the touch.


    This question does not arise as often in freestyle, but there is also a requirement to surface within 15-meters in freestyle events.

    Article 101.5.2 for freestyle has the same language as backstroke. It says that some part of the swimmer must break the surface of the water throughout the race, except that it is permissible for the swimmer to be completely submerged during the turn and for a distance up to 15-meters after the start and after each turn.

    Therefore, if a swimmer does anything that results in being completely submerged after the 15-meter mark in a freestyle event, that constitutes an infraction.
  16. Automatic Relay Takeoff Judging Equipment

    by , November 26th, 2017 at 12:05 PM (Rules Committee Blog)
    I have been asked questions recently regarding the use of relay takeoff judging equipment at USMS meets.

    We have to look at several sections of the rules for context on how to use automatic relay takeoff judging equipment.

    First, there is article 102.13.1 which discusses disqualifications:

    We say that the referee, starter, or S&T judge, upon observing an infraction, shall immediately raise one-hand overhead. When there is dual confirmation of relay takeoffs (article 103.10.5B), a disqualification is not initiated by raising one hand overhead.

    So, then we look at 103.10.5B for the dual confirmation process:

    This article says that the lane and side takeoff judges shall independently report infractions in writing. A relay shall be disqualified only if the lane takeoff judge has reported an infraction and the assigned side takeoff judge has confirmed the same infraction.

    For the use of RJT equipment, we then look at 103.10.5C:

    When automatic relay takeoff equipment is in use, the system printout will provide the information to judge relay exchanges. Integrated backup timing cameras may be reviewed by the referee to confirm the automatic systems results. When backup timing cameras are not available, the referee will determine the confirmation process.

    There is no threshold specified in the FINA rules, but the wording is very similar to the above. FINA rule SW 13.1 says that when automatic officiating equipment (including RJT equipment) is used, the relay takeoffs judged by the automatic equipment shall have precedence.

    So, the answer is that we have no established numerical threshold in USMS for initiating a call from the automatic RJT equipment. For most of our meets, we do not have the use of the integrated backup timing cameras (I am only aware that we have ever used the full-up system at one meet the 2012 LC Nationals in Omaha).

    So, a reasonable protocol, considering all of the provisions in the rules, is that the officials on deck must initiate the call, preferably through the dual confirmation process. The RJT equipment can be used to confirm the call absent a fully integrated automatic system with overhead backup timing cameras to confirm the results. This is the best way to ensure that swimmers receive the benefit of the doubt.

    Given that this is an another example of technology which is becoming more widespread, we will work with the officials committee to develop a consistent protocol that we can provide to LMSCs.
  17. Frequently Asked Questions

    by , November 9th, 2017 at 08:26 PM (Rules Committee Blog)
    In this Rules Blog entry, we answer a few frequently asked questions about relays, splits, and distance events.

    Question: At a recent meet, we were told that our relays would be disqualified if we didnt use the swimmers registered names on the relay cards. Can they do that?

    Answer: Yes. It is a violation of 102.9.4. The name on the relay card must be the full name as it appears on the USMS membership card along with the swimmer's age and, for mixed relays, the gender of each swimmer. The order of swimmers in the relay must be declared to the head lane timer before the start of the relay heat and no changes are permitted after that point.

    Question: Can a swimmer get an official butterfly split time from an IM and have it count for records and top 10?

    Answer: Yes, if the split time is recorded by fully automatic timing, the swimmer completes the race without being disqualified, and the swimmer requests the split in writing before the conclusion of the meet. A swimmer could get an official 50 fly split time and an official 100 fly split time from the 400 IM, and both split times could count as official times for USMS records and Top 10. An exception to the requirement for a written request is when the meet has been approved for automatic splits. National Championship meets now have automatic splits for individual events, so the initial splits will be recorded for all individual events, except for backstroke.

    Question: What about backstroke splits in a backstroke event or a medley relay?

    Answer: Backstroke splits must be requested in writing before the event. This requirement exists because the initial split must conform to the finish rules for backstroke which require a swimmer to touch the wall while on the back. Therefore, officials must be alerted to judge the initial leg for conformance with finish rules. For example, if you request a 50-meter split in a 100-meter backstroke event, you would be required to touch the wall while on your back at the 50-meter mark.

    Question: Why isnt there a warning signal for the 400 free in a 25-meter pool or the 400 IM? What about counters?

    Answer: Article 103.8.7 states that a starter will provide a warning signal in events 500 yards or longer. So, the 400 free and the 400 IM events do not require a warning signal. The rules say that a swimmer may have a counter for events of 16 lengths or more except for the individual medley. Therefore, swimmers may have a counter for a 400-meter free in a 25-meter pool, but not in a 50-meter pool. Swimmers are not entitled to have a counter in a 400 IM.
  18. Major Changes for 2018

    by , October 1st, 2017 at 12:46 PM (Rules Committee Blog)

    At our recent USMS National Convention in Dallas, the House of Delegates approved several changes to the rules that will take effect on January 1, 2018. These changes are summarized below. You can post any questions using the comments tool or send them to:

    World Records and USMS Records: Applications for world records and USMS records will no longer be accepted when timed with manual watches or with a semiautomatic timing system (buttons) as the primary timing system. World and USMS records must be timed with automatic timing (touchpads) or, in the event of an individual lane malfunction, with a semiautomatic backup system consisting of three, two, or one button(s). Manual watches and semiautomatic buttons will continue to be accepted for USMS Top 10 recognition.

    Notification of Timing System in the Meet Announcement: If it is not possible to satisfy the timing system requirements for world records, USMS records, or Top 10, the meet announcement must include a statement notifying swimmers. If a change in primary timing is necessary prior to a meet or during a meet that affects the ability to earn records or Top 10 recognition, meet directors must ensure that swimmers are notified of the change.

    Starting Grips: Handgrips on the starting platforms are distinguished between grips for backstroke starts and forward starts. During backstroke events, swimmers may not use handgrips installed on the top of the starting platform which are intended for use during forward starts. During backstroke starts, swimmers must place both hands on the gutter or on the backstroke starting grips.

    Freestyle during Individual Medley and Medley Relay events: Swimmers must be at or past the vertical towards the breast during the freestyle leg of an individual medley or medley relay event, except that during a turn (freestyle turn or breast-to-free transition), swimmers may leave the wall in a position at or past the vertical towards the back. Swimmers must return to a position at or past the vertical towards the breast before any stroke or kick.

    Relay Starts with Adjustable Back Plates on the Starting Platform: The second, third, and fourth swimmers on a relay team must have at least part of one foot in front of the adjustable-setting back plate during a relay takeoff.

    Modification of Age Groups: Organizations outside of USMS requesting a USMS sanction to conduct a meet may modify the age groups to correspond to different minimum and maximum ages if their organizations age policies differ from USMS.

    Meet Announcement: The order of events must be published in the meet announcement at least one week prior to the entry deadline.

    Dual Sanctioned Meets: When a USMS meet is held in conjunction with a USA Swimming sanctioned meet (swimmers from both organizations swimming together in the same session), swimmers must select only one organization with which to compete for the entire meet.

    Warm Down: A swimmer who completes a race may warm down in the assigned lane while the rest of the swimmers finish the heat and shall not be disqualified if that swimmer does not delay the start of the next heat.

    Automatic Splits at National Championships: Recording of intermediate splits is a mandatory requirement for hosts of national championship meets.
  19. Changes to FINA Rules

    by , September 6th, 2017 at 09:01 PM (Rules Committee Blog)
    United States Masters Swimming (USMS) is a member federation of FINA - Federation Internationale de Natation Amateur - the international governing body for aquatic sports. Both USMS and USA Swimming follow the rules of FINA so world records and world top 10 performances can be recognized and so we can have consistency in the rules within the sport.

    FINA typically considers rule changes during the first year of the quadrennial (the year after the Olympics) when the FINA Congress meets at the World Championships. This is a long process that begins almost a year prior to the Congress when member federations have an opportunity to propose changes.

    The FINA Congress met on July 21, 2017 at the World Championships in Budapest. There were two changes approved to the swimming rules (those affect USA Swimming and USMS) and one change specifically approved for masters.

    The first change to the swimming rules is not really a substantive change at all, just a clarification in wording. FINA deleted a sentence from the rule that said "underwater kicking on the side is permitted". That does not mean that underwater kicking on the side is suddenly illegal in butterfly. FINA simply thought that the sentence was redundant and decided to take it out of the rule. The USMS rule does not have this language and since there is no change in how the butterfly will be judged, we dont need to change the USMS rules. Keep those underwater kicks!

    The second change affects the freestyle leg of individual medley and medley relay events. You might recall that in 2015, FINA issued an interpretation of the current rule that said swimmers cannot be in a position on (or towards) the back when swimming freestyle in an IM or medley relay event. This is because being in a position on the back constitutes a legal backstroke and swimmers are not permitted to repeat a stroke previously swum on the freestyle leg of an IM or medley relay (butterfly, backstroke, or breaststroke). This interpretation had the unintended consequence of making it illegal to execute a freestyle turn and leave the wall on your back, even if only for a short time followed by a correction to a position on the breast.

    The rule change would still prohibit swimming in a position on (or towards) the back for most of the freestyle leg of an IM or MR event. But, swimmers will now be permitted to leave the wall on the back, as long as you return to a position on (or towards) the breast before any stroke or kick.

    The third change affects the timing systems required to set a world masters record. Previously, FINA accepted world records when timed with an automatic timing system (touchpads), a semiautomatic primary timing system (automatic start with a button finish), and hand-held watches. Less than 5% of world records in recent years were set with any timing system other than automatic (touchpads). FINA will no longer accept world record applications unless timed with an automatic primary system (touchpads). In the event of a touchpad malfunction, FINA will accept record applications from a one, two, or three button semiautomatic backup system. Buttons may only be used as backup in case of touchpad failure, they may not be used as the primary system for records.

    These changes are effective September 21, 2017. Since USMS automatically adopts changes from FINA, the IM rule will also take effect in USMS sanctioned meets on this date. With our upcoming USMS National Convention, we will be distributing the rule changes to LMSC officials at convention and prior to September 21 to ensure that everyone is informed of the changes.
  20. Butterfly Stroke Disqualifications

    by , July 4th, 2017 at 05:12 PM (Rules Committee Blog)
    "Why was I disqualified in my butterfly event"? Most swimmers agree that butterfly is one of the most difficult strokes to swim, so it is not surprising that we get lots of questions about the rules. Here we break down the rules for the butterfly stroke and some of the common reasons for disqualifications.

    Beginning with body position, the rules say that after the start and after each turn, the swimmer's shoulders must be at our past the vertical toward the breast. (In one location, it says that the body must be "on the breast", but this is one of the confusing points in how the rules are worded. We use this language because it matches the FINA wording, but if you look closely "on the breast" in this context means the same thing as "towards the breast".) The swimmer is permitted one or more butterfly kicks underwater (but only one breaststroke kick), but only one arm pull, which must bring the swimmer to the surface. At the start of the first pull, the body must be on the breast.

    Does that mean that I can leave the wall on my side or without being perfectly on the breast? Yes, it does. Does that mean I can kick butterfly on my side underwater before I take the first pull? Yes, that is also permissible, as long as the body is on the breast at the first pull.

    Can I kick underwater as long as I want? No, because the rules also say that the head must break the surface of the water by the 15-meter mark after the start and after each turn.

    The arms must recover over the surface of the water. The glossary defines "arm" as the part of the body from the wrist to the elbow. Therefore, some part of the arm from the wrist to the elbow must clear the water surface during each stroke.

    A common infraction is when swimmers are attempting to recover the arms by moving them forward, but the body position is such that the arms dont break the surface the water before beginning the recovery. It is not sufficient for only the hands to break the surface, some part of the arm from the wrist to elbow must break the surface while the arms are moving forward during the recovery phase of the stroke. This does not mean that the entire arm must clear the surface of the water or that there needs to be a space between the bottom of the arm and the water surface. Typically, the officials will see this infraction clearly when standing behind the swimmer, but it can be called from the sides as well.

    Another common infraction occurs when swimmers take a partial stroke, then move the arms forward underwater from the breast before finishing the propulsive phase of the stroke. Sometimes this happens prior to a touch at the wall before the turn or finish. It most commonly occurs with incorrect body position or breathing and results from not being able to complete the propulsive part of the stroke without an adjustment.

    All movements of the arms must be simultaneous. That means that arms must consistently move together during all phases of the stroke, backward during the propulsive part and forwards during the recovery. Does that mean that they must be perfectly symmetrical? Not necessarily, but if the official observes one arm clearly ahead of or behind the other arm, that may constitute an infraction. A one arm pull, freestyle stroke, or other type of stroke would be a more obvious non-simultaneous arm pull.

    Reaching up to adjust the goggles? Also a non-simultaneous action. Stopping in the middle of the pool to catch a breath or wave to a friend? Definitely non-simultaneous movements of the arms.

    At the wall, a legal touch may be made at, above, or below the surface of the water, but must be made with two hands simultaneously. A one hand touch is not only a common infraction, but it is also one of the easiest things for an official to spot. The hands must be separated when the touch is made. In other words, the hands cannot be stacked on top of each other.

    Once a legal touch is made, the swimmer may turn in any manner desired. Stopping momentarily after the touch to hang on the wall and catch your breath? Thankfully, that is legal! As long as the body is toward the breast when the feet the leave the wall after the turn. However, walking on the bottom of the pool or leaving the pool is not legal in any stroke.

    What if I make a legal touch, stand on the bottom of the pool for a moment, and then push off the wall? You might be surprised to learn that this is legal. Although the rules say that it is not legal to stand on the bottom of the pool during the stroke in any stroke other than freestyle, the action described here occurs during the turn, not the stroke. And, the rules say that a swimmer may turn in any manner desired once a legal touch is made. Standing on the bottom before or after the turn is illegal, but during the turn is OK.
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