(Adapted from FINA's "Manual for Officiating at Swimming Events," February 1999 edition and USA Swimming's "Officiating Swimming Manual," June 1999 edition)


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The Referee is responsible for all aspects of a swimming competition. That includes control and continuity, emphasizing judging all Protests related to the competition in progress and proper procedures for the commencement of an event. Therefore, the Referee must be a leader whose natural inclination is to serve. The Referee leads by example in showing respect for swimmers, coaches, officials, parents and others; honesty; fairness; integrity; and responsible behaviour that characterizes authentic fair play.

Swimmers and Coaches have a right to expect Meet Officials to know the Rules and interpret them correctly, fairly and courteously. The Referee provides the example to the swimming community through his or her commitment to the sport. As Referee, he or she should be committed to:-

  • Ensuring the integrity of the sport and the profession of officiating.
  • Conducting him or herself with dignity and good humour, while ensuring fair and equitable conditions for the competition.
  • Remaining impartial, while maintaining positive relationships and building trust from within the swimming community.
  • Maintaining a current understanding of the Rules and their application.
  • Fostering growth in the expertise of all officials through teaching, Officials' Clinics and working with trainees and other officials on the pool deck. The Referee is the primary leader and educator for both new and experienced officials.


Accordingly, the BSF has designed this Manual with two main objectives in mind:

  • Discuss the technical requirements and expectations of the Referee.
  • Review the qualities and techniques of "good refereeing."

The BSF has designed this Manual to provide a tool for rudimentary learning of the duties and responsibilities of the Referee; to establish consistency in the art of refereeing swimming competitions throughout The Bahamas; as an auxiliary to the training programme for trainee Referees; and as a foundation for the application of personal judgment within the parameters of the Rules of Swimming. Use it in along with the BSF Handbook of Rules and not as a standalone document.


One quickly realizes the multiplicity of duties and responsibilities that the Referee has by reviewing BSF Competition Rule CR18.1:

The Referee:

  • Has full control over all Meet Officials, approves their assignments, and instructs them regarding all special features or regulations related to the competition; enforces all rules and decisions of the BSF; and decides all questions relating to the actual conduct of the meet, event or competition, the final settlement of which is not covered in the Rules (Competition Rule CR18.1.1); can overrule any Meet Official on a point of rule interpretation, or on a judgment decision pertaining to an action by a swimmer personally observed by the Referee; may also disqualify a Swimmer for any violation of the rules that he or she personally observed or an authorized official reports (Competition Rule CR18.1.7).
  • Before the start of each race, signals the Starter that all officials are in position, that the course is clear and that the competition can begin for each race.
  • At the commencement of each event, the Referee signals the competitors by a short series of whistles inviting them to remove all clothing except swimwear. A long whistle follows this, indicating that they should take their positions on the starting platform (or, for backstroke swimming and medley relays, to immediately enter the water). A second long whistle brings the backstroke and medley relay competitor immediately to the starting position (Competition Rule CR18.1.5). When the competitors and officials are prepared for the start, the Referee gestures to the Starter with a stretched out arm at shoulder height. This indicates that the competitors are under the Starter's control. The stretched out arm should stay in that position until the start signal (Competition Rule CR18.1.6) but dropped if the Referee decides to abort the start.
  • Decides any point where the opinions of the Judges differ (Competition Rule CR18.1.9); has the authority to intercede in a competition at any stage, to ensure that the meet host observes all conditions (Competition Rules CR18.1.3).
  • For records only, may assign 3 additional Timekeepers on request to time a record attempt.
  • When using Automatic or Semi-Automatic Officiating Equipment and an apparent malfunction occurs, it is the Referee's responsibility to immediately investigate (1) whether the Swimmer finished each length of the race according to the Rules of the stroke; and/or (2) if there was an actual equipment malfunction.
  • May prohibit the use of any bell, siren, horn or artificial noisemaker during a competition (Competition Rule CR21.1).
  • When the Meet Sanction allows conducting the events by starting them from the alternate ends of a 50-metre course, the Referee must establish the necessary administrative and officiating procedures.
  • The Referee cannot change the order of events as published but heats and/or events may be consolidated with the approval of the Referee (Competition Rule CR4.5). For distances of 200 metres/yards or longer, the Referee may permit any combination of strokes, ages, sexes and/or distances in the pool simultaneously. Leave one empty lane between competitor(s) of different strokes, ages, sexes and/or distances (Competition Rule CR4.6).
  • Once the Meet has commenced, and conditions prohibit safe, fair and equitable competition, the Referee may postpone or cancel the meet. This is subject to agreement by the Meet Director/Meet Management Committee (Competition Rule CR4.7.2).
  • Only the Referee can consider protests against judgment decisions of Meet Officials (Competition Rule CR20.1).


The Referee should have mastered everything concerning officiating swimming meets and should have served in most Meet Official capacities. The Referee should be familiar with:

  • Timing procedures, timing equipment, and the specific rules which apply to each type of equipment used.
  • Place judging procedures.
  • Check-in and seeding procedures.
  • Starting procedures, Rules, and instructions.
  • Recording procedures and timing adjustments.
  • Most important, Referees must be proficient in both stroke and turn judging. The Referee is the final authority on judgment calls. Referees must have mastered the application and use of the starting, stroke, and turn rules, their fair enforcement and appropriate judging.
  • The Referee is responsible for the effective functioning of the Meet. He or she monitors and helps, as necessary, all Meet Officials in performing their functions to ensure they give the participants a quality competitive swimming environment.
  • The Referee may, either through observation or rule interpretation, and believing a Swimmer has been unfairly disqualified, overrule a disqualification reported by any Meet Official.


Applicants for certification as a Referee must:

  • Train and understudy a certified Referee for at least 2 meets/4 individual meet sessions;
  • Be a certified Stroke and Turn Judge and judge at a minimum of 4 meets/8 individual sessions since becoming certified; and
  • Be a certified Starter and start at a minimum of 2 meets/4 individual sessions since becoming certified; and
  • Serve as a certified Stroke Judge, Turn Judge or Starter at a minimum of 1 individual session of the National Swimming Championships annually; and
  • Serve as a certified official at a minimum of 6 meets/12 individual swim meet sessions

within the 2-year period before the date of the application; and

  • Pass a written test for the position with a grade of at least 90%. Each applicant is entitled to use a copy of the BSF Handbook of Rules while taking the test; and
  • Attend a minimum of 1 Officials Clinic for the position,

within the 6-month period before the date of the application.

A Referee who is inactive for a year or more and allows his or her certification to lapse must re-certify for the position. This entails attending an Officials Clinic for Referees and passing the BSF's Officials Test for Referees. This ensures that the Referee is current on the Rules, techniques and procedures of the sport of swimming at the time of recertification.

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