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Understanding Disqualifications (DQs)

A false start or any violation of the stroke rules, witnessed by an appropriate official, results in the disqualification (DQ) of the swimmer. A disqualification has relatively severe consequences. Unlike some other sports, where a rule violation results in an incremental or temporary disadvantage to the offending individual or team, a DQ in competitive swimming nullifies a swimmer’s (or relay team’s) official result entirely, as if the swimmer never competed in the particular event in which the DQ occurred. This severity serves as a very effective deterrent, and the frequency of DQs drops rapidly with a swimmer’s age and skill level.

DQs are a crucial part of swimmers’ development. They strictly enforce proper stroke technique and should be considered educational not punitive. It is extremely rare to see a DQ result from a young swimmer’s intentional effort to gain unfair competitive advantage (except perhaps in the case of a false start). The vast majority of DQs result from unintended mistakes, which are caused by lack of knowledge, proficiency, strength, concentration, or some combination of these factors. The Coaches use DQs to refine practice plans and training not just for the individual swimmer, but the age group and team generally. Even when a swimmer disqualifies, an accurate time is usually recorded. Although unofficial, such a time may serve as a gauge of swimmer improvement.

Officials and Procedures

Stroke and Turn Judges are responsible for the enforcement of stroke rules. If a Stroke and Turn Judge witnesses a clear violation, he/she must raise an open hand. The Referee then asks the Judge what he/she witnessed. If the Referee confirms that a violation occurred, then a DQ slip (form) is written up and signed by the Judge and Referee. One copy of the form is submitted to the Data Table for recording and one copy is submitted to the Team Representative who subsequently informs the Coach.

The Referee and Starter share responsibility for ensuring a fair start to each race. A false start occurs whenever a swimmer starts prior to the starting signal. If the false start is declared before the starting signal is given, the swimmer is removed from the race prior to it starting. If a false start is declared after the starting signal is given, the race will continue and the swimmer(s) committing the false start will be disqualified at the conclusion of the race. The Referee and Starter must both independently observe a violation for a false start declaration.

Relay Take Off Judges ensure that relay exchanges are fair. A fair exchange occurs when the departing swimmer is in contact with the pool deck when the incoming swimmer touches the end of the pool. Two Judges are assigned to each lane and both Judges must independently observe a violation (dual confirmation) for a disqualification to be declared.

Officials are trained always to give the benefit of the doubt to the swimmer. Any violation called by an official is an "I saw" not an "I think I saw."

Common DQs


Failure to touch the wall at the turning end of the pool.

Walking on the bottom or pulling on the lane lines.

DQs are rare in freestyle.


Not staying on back.

Improper flip turn.

Completely submerged at finish.


Non-simultaneous 2-hand touch, or 1-hand touch at turn or finish

Incorrect kick such as scissor or flutter kick

Arm pull past waistline.

Two arm pulls without intervening kick


Arm(s) under water during recovery, judged at the elbows.

Non-simultaneous 2-hand touch, or 1-hand touch at turn or finish

Incorrect kick, flutter kick, breaststroke kick, non-simultaneous leg movements during kicks

Non-simultaneous arm movement.

Relay Races

Any stroke violation above

Swimmer leaves the deck before the previous swimmer touches the wall.

Running start, or swimmer is pushed at start.

False Start

Swimmer starts the race before starting signal is given.

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