Swimming Relays Rules

Swimming Relays Rules

When people think of swimming, they often think of it being an individual sport. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Some of the most exciting races in swimming history have been relays. A relay is where four swimmers participate in a single race. There are many instances in which a relay can be disqualified. Below are the official USA Swimming rules to prevent your relay from being disqualified.

Types of Relays

There are two types of relays, the medley relay and the freestyle relay. The first type is the medley relay; in this relay, each swimmer swims one of the four strokes in the following order: backstroke, breaststroke, butterfly, freestyle. These typically occur as 200m and 400m races. Each swimmer completes one quarter of the race in their designated sport in the above order. The second type of relay are the freestyle relays; in this race, each swimmer swims a certain distance of freestyle. These races typically occur as 200m, 400m, or 800m races, and each swimmer swims a quarter of the total distance.

General Relay Rules

For both relays, there are lists of general rules that all swimmers must follow. The first major rule is that all relays must have four individual swimmers competing together as a team. No swimmer may swim more than one leg of the race. Furthermore, each swimmer must complete their designated leg before the next swimmer may enter the water. In several meets, additional judges, known as takeoff judges, are placed near the block at each lane. Their job is to ensure that the succeeding swimmer doesn’t leave the block before the swimmer in the water has touched the wall. If the feet of the next swimmer leaves the block before the swimmer in the water has touched the wall, the entire team will be disqualified.

All swimmers must exit the pool immediately after completing their leg of the race except for the last swimmer, who must remain in the water until all swimmers have finished their race. In the rare exception of a swimmer being allowed to do an in-water start, the next swimmer must not be in the way of the swimmer in the water’s finish. Lastly, if any other member of the relay team enters the pool before all teams have finished their race, the team will be disqualified. In the case of mixed-gender relays, the team must consist of two males and two females.

In general, relay teams must represent a club, school, or organization. These relays must consist of swimmers from the same team. If more than one relay team is entered into the race, each team must be designated ‘A’ or ‘B’ in order to distinguish them. Coaches must enter a seed time (the fastest time the team has swum in an event prior to the meet they are presently competing in) for the relays to be properly ordered.

The first and last names of the swimmers must be presented in the order they will be swimming. However, the swimmers on any given team can be switched out in between preliminaries and finals. If a relay team is being switched out immediately before the race, the team must identify the new swimmer to the lane official before the heat starts. Failure to do so will result in the team being disqualified. After the race has started, the team must compete in the indicated order, and no changes may be made. 

Medley Relay Rules

Medley relays are traditionally the more difficult of the two relays, because each stroke has different rules and qualifications to avoid being disqualified. Each swimmer must finish their leg of the race using the correct finish, and the following swimmer may only dive off of the block when the swimmer in the water has properly completed their leg.

The first leg of the relay is backstroke; at the end of the swimmer’s leg, the swimmer in the water must touch the wall on their back. For the two following legs, the breaststroke and butterfly, respectively, the swimmer in the water must touch the wall with both hands simultaneously. For the final freestyle leg, the swimmer can touch the wall below, above, or on the water. Once the final swimmer has touched the wall, the race has concluded. The final swimmer must remain in the water until dismissed by the officials or the race has concluded.