Identifying the Different Types of Officials in Competitive Swimming

Identifying the Different Types of Officials in Competitive Swimming

Posted by Goggles N More on 11th Aug 2014

Did you know there are over half a dozen different types of  officials in competitive swimming? Newcomers to the sport often assume there's a single referee who calls the shots.

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Officials in Competitive Swimming

While the referee has a major officiating role in competitive swimming, there are several others worth noting as well.


The single most important officiating role in competitive swimming, the referee has full control. He or she is responsible for enforcing the rules, settling disputes between coaches and other officials and calling swimmers to their respective blocks. When the referee is preparing to start the swim, he or she will blow a short whistle blast to tell swimmers to stand next to their blocks. The referee will then blow a longer whistle blast to tell swimmers to stand on their blocks.


He or she is responsible for sending swimmers off the block and making sure each swimmer leaves on time. If a swimmer jumps early, the starter may penalize him or her for a false start. The starter controls the swimmers from the time the referee turns them over to when the race begins.

Clerk of course

This person is also referred to as a bullpen, this official organizes the competitive swimmers before the race based on their heat times (qualifying swims). While there are always exceptions to this rule, most heats in competitive swim are seeded from slowest to fastest.


As the name suggests, timekeepers are responsible for recording the time of the swimmer(s) in his or her respective name. There are typically two timekeepers for each lane, each of which uses a stopwatch to record swimmers' times.

Inspector of turns

He or she observes swimmers during the start, finish, and turns, ensuring they follow all rules and regulations. There are two inspector of turns used in most competitive swims: one at the front-end of the pool and another at the rear. If a swimmer makes a violation during a turn, the inspector of turns must create a “disqualification report” for the chief inspector of turns, who then hands the report to the referee.

Judges of stroke

They're responsible for observing swimmers' style to ensure they are using proper technique. Judges of stroke may also assist inspector of turns during the start and finish.

Finish judges

This official identifies which order swimmers finish, and that swimmers finish using the correct style (e.g. competitive backstroke swimmers must finish on their back).

Note: if any of the previously mentioned officials catch a swimmer using the wrong stroke/style, he or she may be disqualified on the spot.

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