Rules of Swimming

FINA Rules updated for breast or back

For those of you who have been fretting over or confused by the new FINA rules for “where you put your hands when you finish a breaststroke or butterfly race” hopefully the attached “Separated Hands” pictures will clear any confusion. The official communique is below. It’s reassuring to see that it necessitated a two day conference in Thailand to come to the decision.

“British Swimming have now received official notification of the statement of the FINA TSC:

Related to the new FINA Rules about separated hands as mentioned in SW 7.6 (Breaststroke) and SW 8.4 (Butterfly) please note the statement of the FINA TSC as agreed at the FINA TSC at the Meeting in Bangkok (THA) on 6 & 7 December 2013:

”Separated” means that the hands cannot be stacked one on top of the other. It is not necessary to see space between the hands. Incidental contact at the fingers is not a concern.

EXTRACT FROM FINA RULES as detailed in the Extracts of ASA Laws and ASA Technical Rules 2010
For the full set of Rules go to

Rules of Swimming


SW 2.1 Referee
SW 2.1.1 The referee shall have full control and authority over all officials, approve their assignments, and instruct them regarding all special features or regulations related to the competitions.  He shall enforce all rules and decisions of FINA and shall decide all questions relating to the actual conduct of the meet, and event or the competition, the final settlement of which is not otherwise covered by the rules.
SW 2.1.2 The referee may intervene in the competition at any stage to ensure that the FINA regulations are observed, and shall adjudicate all protests related to the competition in progress.
SW 2.1.3 When using finish judges without three (3) digital watches, the referee shall determine placing where necessary. Automatic Officiating Equipment, if available and operating shall be consulted as stated in SW 13.
SW 2.1.4 The referee shall ensure that all necessary officials are in their respective posts for the conduct of the competition.  He may appoint substitutes for any who are absent, incapable of acting or found to be inefficient.  He may appoint additional officials if considered necessary.
SW 2.1.5 At the commencement of each event, the referee shall signal to the swimmers by a short series of whistles inviting them to remove all clothing except for swimwear, followed by a long whistle indicating that they should take their positions on the starting platform (or for backstroke swimming and medley relays to immediately enter the water). A second long whistle shall bring the backstroke and medley relay swimmer immediately to the starting position. When the swimmers and officials are prepared for the start, the referee shall gesture to the starter with a stretched out arm, indicating that the swimmers are under the starter's control. The stretched out arm shall stay in that position until the start is given.
SW 2.1.6 The referee shall disqualify any swimmer for any violation of the rules that he personally observes. The referee may also disqualify any swimmer for any violation reported to him by other authorised officials. All disqualifications are subject to the decision of the referee.
SW 2.3 Starter
SW 2.3.1 The starter shall have full control of the swimmers from the time the referee turns the swimmers over to him (SW 2.1.5) until the race has commenced.  The start shall be given in accordance with SW 4.
SW 2.3.2 The starter shall report a swimmer to the referee for delaying the start, for wilfully disobeying an order or for any other misconduct taking place at the start, but only the referee may disqualify a swimmer for such delay, wilful disobedience or misconduct.
SW 2.3.3 The starter shall have power to decide whether the start is fair, subject only to the decision of the Referee. 
SW 2.3.4 When starting an event, the starter shall stand on the side of the pool within approximately five metres of the starting edge of the pool where the timekeepers can see and or hear the starting signal and the swimmers can hear the signal.


SW 4.1 The start in Freestyle, Breaststroke, Butterfly and Individual Medley races shall be with a dive. On the long whistle (SW 2.1.5) from the referee the swimmers shall step onto the starting platform and remain there. On the starter's command "take your marks", they shall immediately take up a starting position with at least one foot at the front of the starting platforms. The position of the hands is not relevant.  When all swimmers are stationary, the starter shall give the starting signal.
SW 4.2 The start in Backstroke and Medley Relay races shall be from the water.  At the referee's first long whistle (SW 2.1.5), the swimmers shall immediately enter the water. At the Referee's second long whistle the swimmers shall return without undue delay to the starting position (SW 6.1).  When all swimmers have assumed their starting positions, the starter shall give the command "take your marks".  When all swimmers are stationary, the starter shall give the starting signal.
SW 4.3 In Olympic Games, World Championships and other FINA events the command "Take your marks" shall be in English and the start shall be by multiple loudspeakers, mounted one at each starting platform.
SW 4.4 Any swimmer starting before the starting signal has been given, shall be disqualified. If the starting signal sounds before the disqualification is declared, the race shall continue and the swimmer or swimmers shall be disqualified upon completion of the race. If the disqualification is declared before the starting signal, the signal shall not be given, but the remaining swimmers shall be called back and start again. The Referee repeats the starting procedure beginning with the long whistle (the second one for backstroke) as per SW 2.1.5.


SW 5.1 Freestyle means that in an event so designated the swimmer may swim any style, except that in individual medley or medley relay events, freestyle means any style other than backstroke, breaststroke or butterfly.
SW 5.2 Some part of the swimmer must touch the wall upon completion of each length and at the finish.
SW 5.3 Some part of the swimmer must break the surface of the water throughout the race, except it shall be permissible for the swimmer to be completely submerged during the turn and for a distance of not more than 15 metres after the start and each turn. By that point, the head must have broken the surface.


SW 6.1 Prior to the starting signal, the swimmers shall line up in the water facing the starting end, with both hands holding the starting grips. Standing in or on the gutter or bending the toes over the lip of the gutter is prohibited.
SW 6.2 At the signal for starting and after turning the swimmer shall push off and swim upon his back throughout the race except when executing a turn as set forth in SW 6.4. The normal position on the back can include a roll movement of the body up to, but not including 90 degrees from horizontal.  The position of the head is not relevant.
SW 6.3 Some part of the swimmer must break the surface of the water throughout the race. It is permissible for the swimmer to be completely submerged during the turn, at the finish and for a distance of not more than 15 metres after the start and each turn. By that point the head must have broken the surface.
SW 6.4 When executing the turn there must be a touch of the wall with some part of the swimmer’s body in his/her respective lane. During the turn the shoulders may be turned over the vertical to the breast after which a continuous single arm pull or a continuous simultaneous double arm pull may be used to initiate the turn. The swimmer must have returned to the position on the back upon leaving the wall.
SW 6.5 Upon the finish of the race the swimmer must touch the wall while on the back in his/her respective lane.  


SW 7.1 After the start and after each turn, the swimmer may take one arm stroke completely back to the legs during which the swimmer may be submerged. A single butterfly kick is permitted during the first arm stroke, followed by a breaststroke kick.
SW 7.2 From the beginning of the first arm stroke after the start and after each turn, the body shall be on the breast. It is not permitted to roll onto the back at any time. From the start and throughout the race the stroke cycle must be one arm stroke and one leg kick in that order. All movements of the arms shall be simultaneous and on the same horizontal plane without alternating movement.
SW 7.3 The hands shall be pushed forward together from the breast on, under, or over the water. The elbows shall be under water except for the final stroke before the turn, during the turn and for the final stroke at the finish. The hands shall be brought back on or under the surface of the water. The hands shall not be brought back beyond the hip line, except during the first stroke after the start and each turn.
SW 7.4 During each complete cycle, some part of the swimmer's head must break the surface of the water. The head must break the surface of the water before the hands turn inward at the widest part of the second stroke. All movements of the legs shall be simultaneous and on the same horizontal plane without alternating movement.
SW 7.5 The feet must be turned outwards during the propulsive part of the kick.  A scissors, flutter or downward butterfly kick is not permitted except as in SW 7.1.  Breaking the surface of the water with the feet is allowed unless followed by a downward butterfly kick.
SW 7.6 At each turn and at the finish of the race, the touch shall be made with both hands simultaneously at, above, or below the water level.  The head may be submerged after the last arm pull prior to the touch, provided it breaks the surface of the water at some point during the last complete or incomplete cycle preceding the touch.


SW 8.1 From the beginning of the first arm stroke after the start and each turn, the body shall be kept on the breast. Under water kicking on the side is allowed. It is not permitted to roll onto the back at any time.
SW 8.2 Both arms shall be brought forward together over the water and brought backward simultaneously through-out the race, subject to SW 8.5.
SW 8.3 All up and down movements of the legs must be simultaneous. The legs or the feet need not be on the same level, but they shall not alternate in relation to each other. A breaststroke kicking movement is not permitted.
SW 8.4 At each turn and at the finish of the race, the touch shall be made with both hands simultaneously, at, above or below the water surface.
SW 8.5 At the start and at turns, a swimmer is permitted one or more leg kicks and one arm pull under the water, which must bring him to the surface. It shall be permissible for a swimmer to be completely submerged for a distance of not more than 15 metres after the start and after each turn. By that point, the head must have broken the surface. The swimmer must remain on the surface until the next turn or finish.


SW 9.1 In individual medley events, the swimmer covers the four swimming strokes in the following order:  Butterfly, Backstroke, Breaststroke and Freestyle. Each of the strokes must cover one quarter (1/4) of the distance.
SW 9.2 In medley relay events, swimmers will cover the four swimming strokes in the following order:  Backstroke, Breaststroke, Butterfly and Freestyle.
SW 9.3 Each section must be finished in accordance with the rule which applies to the stroke concerned.


SW 10.1 All individual races must be held as separate gender events.
SW 10.2 A swimmer swimming over the course alone shall cover the whole distance to qualify.
SW 10.3 The swimmer must remain and finish the race in the same lane in which he/she started.
SW 10.4 In all events, a swimmer when turning shall make physical contact with the end of the pool or course.  The turn must be made from the wall, and it is not permitted to take a stride or step from the bottom of the pool.
SW 10.5 Standing on the bottom during freestyle events or during the freestyle portion of medley events shall not disqualify a swimmer, but he shall not walk.
SW 10.6 Pulling on the lane rope is not allowed.
SW 10.7 Obstructing another swimmer by swimming across another lane or otherwise interfering shall disqualify the offender.  Should the foul be intentional, the referee shall report the matter to the Member promoting the race, and to the Member of the swimmer so offending.
SW 10.8 No swimmer shall be permitted to use or wear any device or swimsuit that may aid his/her speed, buoyancy or endurance during a competition (such as webbed gloves, flippers, fins, etc.).  Goggles may be worn. Any kind of tape on the body is not permitted unless approved by FINA Sport Medicine Committee.
SW 10.9 Any swimmer not entered in a race, who enters the water in which an event is being conducted before all swimmers therein have completed the race, shall be disqualified from his next scheduled race in the meet.
SW 10.10 There shall be four swimmers on each relay team.
SW 10.11 In relay events, the team of a swimmer whose feet lose touch with the starting platform before the preceding team-mate touches the wall shall be disqualified.
SW 10.12 Any relay team shall be disqualified from a race if a team member, other than the swimmer designated to swim that length, enters the water when the race is being conducted, before all swimmers of all teams have finished the race.
SW 10.13 The members of a relay team and their order of competing must be nominated before the race.  Any relay team member may compete in a race only once.  The composition of a relay team may be changed between the heats and finals of an event, provided that it is made up from the list of swimmers properly entered by a Member for that event. Failure to swim in the order listed will result in disqualification. Substitutions may be made only in the case of a documented medical emergency.
SW 10.14 Any swimmer having finished his race, or his distance in a relay event, must leave the pool as soon as possible without obstructing any other swimmer who has not yet finished his race.  Otherwise the swimmer committing the fault, or his relay team, shall be disqualified.
SW 10.15 Should a foul endanger the chance of success of a swimmer, the referee shall have the power to allow him to compete in the next heat or, should the foul occur in a final event or in the last heat, he/she may order it to be re-swum.
SW 10.16 No pace-making shall be permitted, nor may any device be used or plan adopted which has that effect.

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