The Top 10 Rules Of Curling

curling rules and regulations

Curling is an unorthodox sport compared to many of the other sports featured in the Winter Olympics, and as a result the rules of curling can often get lost in translation for new fans. However, with a bit of effort and research, curling can prove to be an exhilarating experience for anyone tuning in to the Winter Olympics. Read on to learn about the top ten rules of curling.

What are the most important rules of curling?

  1. Equipment and Ice Specifications
  2. Throwing Order Rules
  3. Hog Line Rule
  4. Burning a stone
  5. Tee line rule
  6. Five Rock Rule
  7. Scoring rules
  8. Time limit rules
  9. Conceding a game
  10. Sportsmanship and rule enforcement

1. Equipment and Ice Specifications

Curling Ice Specifications

Curling’s completely unique gameplay requires completely unique equipment. One of the most obvious and essential pieces of curling equipment are the stones. Curling stones must be the correct shape and size: about 42 pounds in weight, a maximum circumference of 3 feet (36 inches) wide, and minimum height of 4.5 inches tall.

The curling lines and circles are also highly regulated. The hacks, back lines, tee lines, free guard zones, hog lines, and house circles all have to follow exact measurements. For example, the radius of the largest circle is exactly 6 feet, while the button is only 6 to 9 inches. In all, a full ice sheet measures up to 150 feet by 15.7 feet.

The brooms, footwear, and optional stabilizers may also be subject to review by the competition organizers if needed, although gaining a competitive advantage via equipment is highly frowned upon by the culture and spirit of curling.

2. Throwing Order Rules

curling throwing order

Within each curling team, there is a certain order in which curling throws are made. This is similar to a batting order in baseball or softball. This order is as follows:

  1. Lead
  2. Second
  3. Vice
  4. Skip

The idea is that the lead has the easiest shot (since there are less stones on the ice at the time of the first shot), and the shots increase in difficulty for each subsequent throw. This means the skip has the most difficult shot because there are already several stones on the ice by the time it is the skip’s turn to throw. This is why the skip is often the most experienced player on a curling team.

After the lead throws, they will sweep for the next three of their teammates’ shots. The second also sweeps for their other three teammates.

The vice takes up the “target” position for the skip and sweeps only for the first two throws. The skip is the target for the three other players. This position requires holding a brush to indicate where a stone should be thrown while telling one’s teammates where and how to sweep.

The throwing order is slightly different for mixed doubles since there are only two players. In mixed doubles, one player throws the first and last stones while the other player throws the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th stones. Only five stones are thrown in mixed doubles curling.

3. Hog Line Rule

curling hog line

One of the most basic rules of curling is the hog line rule. A player must release their stone before it reaches the hog line. The delivering side’s hog line is located 33 feet from the starting hacks, 72 feet to the next hog line, and a total of 93 feet to the far end tee line.

The hog line rule forces players to throw the stone farther than they carry it, increasing the level of difficulty and making players rely more on skill and precision than strength or speed.

If a stone is not released before touching the hog line, the non-offending team removes it and replaces any stones it may have affected. The throwing team will almost always acknowledge their mistake and the error can be courteously rectified. The throwing team is also allowed to collect the stone before it reaches the tee line if it has violated the hog line rule.

In some professional competitions, the hog line rule is enforced via an electronic sensor that turns red when a player is still touching the stone on or beyond the hog line.

The hog line nearest to the house in use also has some significance during a throw. If a stone does not cross this line before coming to a stop, it is considered a “hogged stone” and is removed from play. It is important to remember this rule when throwing a guard stone so that the stone is not discarded.

4. Burning a Stone

curling Burning a Stone

In curling, the phrase “burning a stone” refers to the act of touching a stone and thereby altering its path after it has left the thrower’s hand. This is fairly common when sweeping for the stone. When a stone is burned, it is usually recognized and called out by the person who committed the infraction.

The position of all affected stones are then reconciled according to the referee (or, if there is no referee, the skip of the non-offending team). This can include leaving them where they are, putting stones back in their old spots, or removing them from the ice to make the fairest situation possible.

In some official competitions, there are strict codes to enforce when and how play should continue after a burned stone, depending on where and how the stone was touched.

5. Tee Line Rule

Curling Tee Line

While sweeping is one of the most essential parts of curling, there are certain restrictions on who can sweep and where. The most basic of these rules involves the tee line.

The tee line dissects the center of the house on the ice. The delivering team may sweep for one of their team’s stones during a throw, but only in between the tee lines.

Once the stone passes the tee line, one player from each team is allowed to sweep it. The delivering team’s sweeper still gets first priority for sweeping position, but they must give room for the non-delivering team’s sweeper as well (which must be either the team’s skip or vice skip). All sweeping that occurs after the front of the stone crosses the tee line must be done behind the tee line.

6. Five Rock Rule

Curling Five Rock Rule

One of curling’s more complicated rules is the free guard zone rule, more commonly known as the “five rock rule”. The five rock rule asserts that no stone in the free guard zone (the space between the house and the hog line) may be removed until after five rocks have been thrown. This means that if one of the first four stones is knocked out of play, it is replaced at its old spot.

The five rock rule was put into effect in the 1990s in response to “peeling”, a common practice that involved one team building an early lead and trying to kill off the game by knocking all stones out of play. This strategy depleted the other team’s chances and made curling much more boring. Thanks to the five rock rule, it is much more difficult to win a game just by knocking out everyone else’s stones.

7. Scoring Rules

Curling Yellow Team Wins End 1 point

The object of curling, of course, is to score the most points. Points are scored by throwing stones as close as possible to the button (the center of the house).

Only one team can score in each end of curling. The team that earns points has a stone closest to the button, also known as the shot rock. For every stone that is closer to the center than the non-scoring team’s closest stone (2nd shot rock), the scoring team is awarded a point.

A curling team earns a point for each of their stones that is closer to the center than their opponent’s best stone.

Each round can end with one or both teams scoring nothing, but both teams cannot score in one round. The game ends at the conclusion of the tenth end in men’s and women’s and the eighth end in mixed doubles.

An “end” in curling is like an “inning” in baseball.

Some traditional curling scoreboards will show the number of points in the middle and the number of the end that each team reached that score on each side. Modern scoreboards are much simpler, though, showing the number of points scored for each team in each end.

8. Time Limit Rules

Curling Time Limit Rules

Curling matches can last a very long time, which can be problematic for curlers and fans that have multiple games to play or watch.

In international men’s and women’s curling matches, there is usually a thinking time limit of 38 minutes per team over the course of the ten ends. In mixed doubles, teams will typically receive a 22-minute clock. The clock for a team begins when their opponent's stone comes to a stop and pauses when they push out of the hack. Additionally, each team gets two one-minute timeouts per game, and an extra 10 minutes and another timeout each if the game goes to overtime.

One common general rule is that no throw should take longer than three minutes.

The time limit rule is designed to keep teams from taking too long, but only as a means to progress the game, not hurry it. Teams generally take a lot of time to contemplate strategy and prepare themselves to execute it, so the time limit serves as a subtle reminder to get things going.

9. Conceding a Game

curling conceding a game

When a team believes the game is out of reach, they may elect to concede a game instead of dragging out a loss. This often occurs when a team knows they are overmatched and do not want to waste anyone else’s time with a non-competitive game.

A competitive curling game technically ends when the opposing team does not have as many rocks as they need points, this is known as “running out of rocks”.

Sometimes there are restrictions on when a team can concede. Many competitions stipulate that both teams must play a certain number of ends before conceding. 

This forces teams to give their best efforts before conceding a game.

10. Sportsmanship and Rule Enforcement

Curling Sportsmanship

Although curling is itself a very unique sport, the most interesting aspect of the sport may be the attitudes of those who play it. While highly competitive matches are played for gold medals and thousands upon thousands of dollars, the prevailing attribute of those who participate in curling is that of sportsmanship and respect toward one’s opponent. The scope of this feature is not seen nearly as much in any other sport, and it is a sort of pride that is pervasive throughout the curling community.

All disputes are up to the skips to handle, and all scoring is done by both vice skips. In official competitions, there may still be an official, but their primary job is usually to measure the closeness of two stones.


What happens if you run out of time in curling?

While the rules involving thinking time in curling vary depending on the tournament or organization, a team who runs out of time will generally forfeit the match. In some cases, when a team runs out of time, the non-offending team will be allowed to throw their remaining rocks in order to take the lead or tie a game. No matter the scenario, once a team runs out of thinking time they are no longer allowed to throw any rocks. 

What determines who goes first in curling?

The method used to determine who throws first is most commonly a coin toss. In some cases, teams will each throw a single stone with the team closest to the center gaining the advantage to go second.

How many ends are played in curling?

There are ten ends in a typical game of curling; however, mixed doubles curling only features eight ends. Regardless of how many ends there are in a curling game, the goal remains the same: to score as many points as possible before the final end is over.