Understanding the 15 Meter Underwater Rule in Swimming

15 meter underwater rule in swimming

No competitive swimmer wants to experience a 15-meter violation. To keep that from happening, you’ve first got to understand the 15 meter rule.

What is the 15 meter underwater rule in swimming? According to the NCAA, it’s a rule that says a swimmer must break the surface of the water at the 15-meter mark — both after the start of the race and each turn. If this rule is broken, swimmers can be disqualified from the race.

This rule is followed by:

  • FINA
  • USA Swimming
  • NFHS
  • ISA Swimming

It’s also important to note that swimmers must follow this rule when swimming the freestyle, backstroke, and butterfly.

We know for a fact that the NCAA is serious about this rule. In 2019, the NCAA Playing Rules Oversight Panel approved the use of video review to verify whether potential 15-meter violations are called accurately in both men’s and women’s swimming.

What is the 15 Meters Mark in Swimming?

The 15 meter distance must be clearly marked on both ends of the pool. Swimmers need to be able to quickly detect when they’re reaching the 15 meter mark. The best and most common way to showcase this is with a resurfacing marker on your swim racing lane lines. To provide a resurfacing marker for swimmers, make sure the race lane lines have a distinct color (different from the rest of the lane line) at 15 meters from both ends of the pool.

Why is the 15 Meter Rule Needed?

Now for the ultimate question: Why do swim competitions have the 15 meter rule, anyway?

The rule was created to reduce unfair competition. Staying submerged underwater reduces drag and makes swimmers faster. But every person differs when it comes to how long they can swim underwater without coming up for air. By requiring all swimmers to break the surface of the water by the same distance, it makes the competition more equal.

It’s a fact that those who swim underwater for the full 15 meters usually have faster starts, turns and overall race times. Staying underwater beyond that, however, breaks the 15 meter rule and gets you disqualified from the race.

Overall, the 15 meter rule is needed to ensure fair competition. It’s an important rule that all swimmers — from beginners to advanced — have to remember to follow during races.

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