Swimming Timing Rules

Swimming Timing Rules

In terms of a swim meet’s technical aspects, there is nothing more important than timing. Swimming is a sport that relies heavily on a swimmer’s personal time, and one-hundredth of a second can be the difference between first and second place. If the times are not accurately recorded, not only will the scoring be off for that meet, but it also alters the swimmer’s seeding in future meets. Read on to learn what guidelines USA Swimming has in place to ensure that the races are timed accurately.

Performance Requirements

An official time can be earned at any USA Swim meet and may be achieved under a certain set of circumstances, which include: any heat, a swim off, the lead leg in a relay (however, the rest of the relay team’s times don’t count as an official time), a split time of an official event from start to completion, or a time trial/record attempt.

Official times can only be earned in that particular stroke’s event. Any time earned in a freestyle event will not count as an official time for that stroke, and only freestyle times will be counted for a freestyle event. Additionally, all timing systems, which includes manual watches, must have a resolution of one-hundredth of a second as times from all the systems are usually measured to this. 

Timing Systems

All races must be timed with at least one of the following systems, though most swim meets utilize more than just one. Automatic timing systems are systems that are activated by a starting device and stopped when the swimmer touches the wall at the completion of the race. Semi-automatic timing systems are those that are activated by a starting device at the beginning of the race and stopped manually by the timers using a button at the completion of the race.

Manual timing systems involve individual lane timers that use a stopwatch and are started and stopped by the timer at the beginning of the race and completion of the required distance. For manual timing systems, only hand-held, battery-powered, digital readout watches may be used for this type of timing system. 

Primary, Secondary, and Tertiary Systems

Primary timing systems are typically used to determine the official time of each swimmer. The only exception to this would be if the primary and secondary times differ so greatly that there was a clear malfunction of the system. The primary system has a preferred order of automatic timing, semi-automatic timing (with 2-3 buttons per lane that are operated by separate timers), and manual timing (at least three watches per lane).

So long as manual timing systems are not the primary timing system, then a secondary timing system is necessary. The secondary system must be of equal or lower precedence of the primary system, meaning that two automatic systems may not be used, but an automatic and a manual system may be used. Secondary systems may also include overhead cameras that record at least 100 images per second. If the camera system is used, it must be fully integrated with the primary timing system.

Similar to the secondary timing systems, as long as manual timing or the camera system are not the secondary timing system, the tertiary timing system of manual timing should be used. In this case, there should be at least one manual timer but most swim meets have at least two manual timers. 

Determining Official Times

In the case of automatic timing, the timing recorded by the system should be documented as the official time. In the case of semi-automatic timing or manual timing, there are a few conditions that determine the official time. If ⅔ of the times are in agreement, that will be the official time. If only two valid times are available, the time shall be the average of the times. The digits representing thousandths of a second shall be dropped with no rounding. If only one time is available, the time of that system will be the time for that timing system.

Determining Results

The official times will be used to determine the final rankings during a swim meet. If two or more swimmers have an identical time down to the hundredths place it is considered an official tie, and a swim-off will be utilized to determine qualifiers if the meet is a championship meet or if there are preliminaries and finals.

Judging may be used to determine official results if the swimmers competed in the same heat, an automatic timing system is not available for use or if the place judges recorded a different order of the conclusion of the race.

If judging results in a change of the order of finish, the change in placement must be noted that it was changed by a judge’s decision. In preliminary meets, a swimmer with a faster time can’t displace a swimmer who was judged to have placed ahead of him. If this results in a disqualification, the swimmers will have to compete in a swim-off for the disputed places.