Swimming Officials Roles And Duties

Swimming Officials Roles And Duties

Swim meets are a great time for the swimmers in the water. However, no swim meet would be complete without swimming officials. The officials are there to ensure that all swimmers are complying with the USA Swimming rules, but they’re also there to ensure the safety of the swimmers. Read on to learn all about the roles and responsibilities of swimming officials.

Who Are Swimming Officials?

There are several officials that are vital to a swim meet’s success. They include the starter, chief, place judge, stroke judge, turn judge, relay take-off judges, and finally, the referee. A typical swim meet will have one referee, one starter, three timers per lane (or one minimum, if automatic touch pads are used), one clerk, one place judge, two stroke judges, and two turn judges (or two stroke and turn judges). Additionally, the swim meets will have four relay take-off judges (two on each side) and at least two marshalls.


The referee is the highest-ranking official at a swim meet. They enforce all the rules of a swim meet and make any ruling related to meet conduct and placements. They have the ability to overrule any of the other meet officials on rule decisions and can make a judgment on any incident they have witnessed. Furthermore, they have the ability to disqualify any swimmer for violation of the meet rules.

The referee also signals the starter to begin a race once all other officials are in position. Referees make modifications for any swimmer with a disability that needs accommodations. If the automatic touch pads were to fail, the referee is the one that determines what place the swimmer finished in based on the timers, and also determines if the swimmer finished correctly or if the touch pads simply malfunctioned. 


Starters are vital to swim meets in that they are responsible for signaling swimmers as to when the race has officially begun. The starter stands on the starting end of the pool and waits until the referee gives the signal that all other officials are in place. The starter will then say, “Take your mark!” and wait until the swimmers have assumed the starting position. For backstroke races, the starter will announce, “Place your feet,” after which the swimmer will use the hand grips and place their feet in the backstroke starting position.

If a swimmer fails to take the starting position, the starter will have all the swimmers stand and reset the start. After all of the swimmers have assumed the starting position, the starter will signal that the race can begin.


There are a number of judges who are vital to the success of a swim meet, including:

  • Chief Judge
  • Place Judges
  • Stroke Judges
  • Turn Judges

Chief Judge

The chief judge assigns the location of all stroke, turn, and place judges. A chief judge may act as a go-between for these judges and may serve in a judging capacity if needed.

Place Judges

Swim meets can have either one or two place judges. Traditionally, the place judge is stationed near the finishing end of the course. Their jobs are to record the finishing places of the swimmers as they complete the designated distance. If there are two place judges at a meet, they are supposed to each write down the order they witnessed and compare later. If a place judge can’t determine a place distinction, the place judge will record a tie.

Stroke Judges

Stroke judges are placed on parallel sides of the pool. There should typically be two stroke judges, and their job is to walk along the swimmers as they complete their race. They are meant to judge all stroke races aside from freestyle races to ensure that the swimmer is complying with the USA Swimming stroke guidelines. If the stroke judge notices a violation of these rules, the judge is to either notify the referee or document the event, heat number, and lane number of the infraction. 

Turn Judges

Turn judges should be located at the start and turn ends of the pool. Their jobs involve ensuring that, after the start, all turns are completed legally and that the swimmer is performing the turn according to the USA Swimming guidelines. Similar to a stroke judge, a turn judge should report violations to the referee or document the event, heat number, and lane number in which the infraction took place.

The jurisdiction of both stroke and turn judges is determined by the referee. As turn and stroke judges are tasked with ensuring a swimmer’s compliance with stroke or turn rules, they often must work together to ensure that all guidelines are being met. Often, stroke and turn judges will coordinate their efforts and make a final decision with the referee; this is to ensure a fair meet. 

Relay Take-Off Judges

The job of a relay take-off judge is to ensure that relay starts are legal. For a start to be legal, the swimmer in the water must have touched the wall prior to the succeeding swimmer’s feet leaving the starting block. These judges are meant to determine whether the succeeding swimmer’s feet are still touching the platform when the swimmer in the water touches the wall, as relay starts often involve such strong momentum that they can sometimes cause a swimmer to jump early.

In some meets, two take-off judges are used. One is placed behind the starting block, and the other is placed on the side of the pool. In this case, the relay time will only be disqualified if the start judge has declared the take-off illegal and the side judge agrees.

Automatic take-off equipment can also be used, replacing the need for take-off judges. In that case, the system will print out information regarding the legality of the starts. The use of this system also involves backup timing cameras, which are reviewed by the referee and used to confirm the system’s results.

Swimming Officials Summary

  • There are multiple types of officials at a swim meet, including the referee, the starters, the chief judge, the place judges, the stroke judges, the turn judges, and the relay take-off judges.
  • The referee is the highest-ranking official.
  • Referees enforce all the rules of a meet and supervise the other judges.
  • Starters give out the signals for a race to begin, along with giving commands for the swimmers to prepare to start.
  • The chief judge assigns the location of all stroke, turn, and place judges and supervises their officiating.
  • The place judges record the finishing places of the swimmers at the end of a race.
  • The stroke judges judge the swimmers’ compliance with the forms of their stroke, watching for errors in their stroke.
  • The turn judges judge the quality of the swimmers’ turns at each end of the pool.
  • The relay take-off judges determine whether the changes in swimmers during a relay race occur correctly.