POW Rules

POW racing rules are simple.


The Start
The start is in the water. The swimmers can be lined up in the same row or lined up in different tiers. It is best not to have more than 8 swimmers in a 50-meter course and 6 swimmers in a 25 yard/meter course. Swimmers can be placed randomly at the start.


Race Countdown
1-minute, 30-second and 10-second warnings are given.
A final countdown beginning at 10 seconds can be given.



  1. POW races can be conducted in either the counter-clockwise or clockwise direction. The swimmers must swim around the outside of all turn buoys.
  2. Swimmers must completely turn around each turn buoy with their complete body. If their body does not completely go around a buoy, they are either disqualified or they must go back and go around the buoy.


Bell Lap
As the first swimmer starts the last loop, a bell/horn/whistle can indicate one loop remains.


Swimmers can be penalized or disqualified for intentional contact, obstruction or interference with another swimmer.

The referee can give YELLOW (penalty) cards or RED (disqualification) cards any time during the race. Each YELLOW and RED card is recorded. A YELLOW card results in a 5-second time penalty for the aggressor and a 3-second time reduction for the victim. A RED card results in the immediate disqualification of the aggressor and a 5-second time reduction for the victim.

Each rule infraction will be indicated by a whistle and the showing of either a YELLOW or RED card. When a swimmer with one YELLOW card commits a second infraction, the swimmer shall receive a RED card and be immediately disqualified. Time penalties and time reductions can be adjusted as determined by the Referee.


The finish can be either in the water or on the pool deck. The order of finish is determined by the Referee and can be video-taped in order to help make judgment calls on photo-finishes.


Distance Guidelines
Races can include both genders and mixed ages depending on the referee’s decision.

  • 8 years & under:
    1 loop, approximate distance in a 50-meter pool 150 meters
  • 9 – 12 years:
    2 loops, approximate distance in a 50-meter pool 300 meters
  • 13 – 16 years:
    3 loops, approximate distance in a 50-meter pool 450 meters
  • 17 & over:
    4 loops, approximate distance in a 50 meter pool 600 meters

Preliminary heats and finals can also be conducted.


Officiating Recommendations
Swimmers race in close proximity to one another in POW, open water swims and triathlons. Physicality is an integral and inevitable part of the sport. When swimmers are in constant contact with one another on nearly every stroke, some preventative officiating should be taken.

The Referee should be walking around the pool deck, following and observing the swimmers throughout the POW event. The Referee should have a whistle, YELLOW card, RED card, pen and paper on hand.

If the Referee observes an infraction, he should write down the race numbers of the aggressor and victim and show either the YELLOW or RED card to the aggressor. It is only the responsibility of the Referee to show the YELLOW or RED card for 5 seconds. Even if the swimmers does not see or acknowledge the infraction, the time penalty is still assessed.

The Referee can also signal concern with physicality by pointing and/or signaling with his arms for swimmers to move apart as a part of preventative officiating. If two or more swimmers are in near constant contact, or one or more swimmers are in danger of being interfered with by the actions of another swimmer, those swimmers should be signaled to move apart. The Referee should blow a series of short, crisp whistles while signaling with his arms to move apart. The Referee should repeat the signals so that the swimmers have the opportunity to understand the signal. Swimmers who are breathing to the opposite side may be chose to ignore the whistles, warnings or infractions, but this does not relief them of their obligations to abide by the POW rules or judgments of the Referee.


A YELLOW card is used for signaling minor infractions including:

  1. Gaining an unfair advantage at the start.
  2. Contact with another swimmer that is unsporting in nature including pulling on ankles, shoulders or any part of the body.
  3. Altering the course of another swimmer into the wall or turn buoy.
  4. Pushing down on a swimmer’s shoulders, back or legs.
  5. Changing direction to interfere with an overtaking swimmer.

A RED card signals the immediate disqualification of the swimmer. The swimmer must leave the course immediately. The Red Flag is given for the following infractions:

  1. Accumulation of two YELLOW card infractions
  2. Failing to swim the prescribed course. Swimmers who miss a buoy and fail to return and re-round that buoy are disqualified.
  3. Unsporting Conduct including striking another swimmer with a hand, fist, elbow, knee or foot, or retaliating for intentional or unintentional contact. It can also include pulling back another swimmer by grabbing a foot, ankle, leg, hand, arm or swimsuit.
  4. Intentional contact that interferes with another swimmer at the finish of a race.
  5. Jumping from or walking on the bottom of the pool or pushing off a wall.
  6. Pulling on the walls or turn buoy cables. Contact with turn buoys or cables while turning is not grounds for disqualification. However, grabbing cables and moving the cable out of the way so as to receive a competitive advantage may be grounds for disqualification.


Once the infraction has been signaled to the swimmer, the Referee should mark the following details of the infraction:

  1. Competitor’s Number
  2. Type of Infraction (YELLOW or RED)
  3. Location of the Infraction (e.g., on the first loop or at the second turn buoy)
  4. Description of Infraction (e.g., pulling back on legs, repeated hitting of feet)


One of the most difficult judgment decisions that a Referee has to make is regarding contact between swimmers. Due to the nature of POW and open water swimming, many swimmers swim in close proximity to each other.


Right of Way
The swimmer in front has the right of way. Swimmers who wish to overtake another swimmer must remain clear of the swimmer being overtaken.

Trailing swimmers must not interfere with the leading swimmer when attempting any manoeuvre to overtake the leader. Interference can range from the hand frequently coming into contact with some part of the other swimmer’s body (e.g., feet, legs, hips, lower back, shoulders, arms or hands), to the trailing swimmer grabbing some part of the lead swimmers body or swimwear.

Although the leading swimmer has the right of way, it would not be appropriate to allow the leading swimmer to abruptly change course to keep a swimmer attempting to pass. This veering is intentional interference.

Occasionally, swimmers in a tight pack during POW choose to change their position. One of the more dramatic moves is called a crossover move. This crossover occurs when a swimmer trailing another on one side of the leading swimmer chooses to change their position to the other side of the swimmer.

One option this swimmer would have would be to slow down, drop behind and speed up to reposition by passing behind the leading swimmer. The most basic crossover move is initiated by the trailing swimmer who swims across and over the legs of the leading swimmer, which often results in disturbing the stroke of the leading swimmer. Generally speaking, if the shoulder position of the trailing swimmer is forward of the leading swimmers hips, excessive contact is likely to occur. As the relative position of the shoulders moves further down the body of the lead swimmer, the chances of a crossover being performed legally improves – especially if the crossover move is performed by the trailing swimmer rolling over on his/her back while crossing over the legs of the leading swimmer.


Unsportsmanlike Conduct
There are rare occasions where a swimmer may commit an unsportsmanlike act in the water.  Their actions may be intentional or unintentional, but the result is an unfair advantage relative to the victim.  Unsportsmanlike conduct can range from exceptionally severe physical contact such as intentionally striking, elbowing or kicking another swimmer to an unintentional impeding where other swimmers are veered off-course. Unsportsmanlike conduct may also include interference with other swimmers approaching the finish.  Swimmers who are charged with unsportsmanlike conduct are assessed a RED card infraction and immediately are disqualified from the competition.



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