5 Do’s and Don’ts of Swim Etiquette

Written By: Chevron/Wandering Swimmer

If you’re new to swimming, chances are you may have heard a reference to ‘proper swim etiquette’. But no one will tell you what exactly it is.

Swim etiquette, in short, is the rules and unspoken agreements to swim with others in a generous manner. This ensures the safety and sanity for yourself and other swimmers! 🙂

I’ve trained, swam, and raced all around the country and world during my 20 years (and counting!) of swim experience, and while most of these rules are universal, I will note that they can vary from place to place.

Related article: Ultimate Guide to Swim Etiquette

In general though, these 5 dos and don’ts for lap swim etiquette are pretty standard and should get you by and pretty much any pool.

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Picture of a pool background with a yellow text box that reads 5 Do's and Don'ts of Lap Swim Etiquette
The top 5 Do’s and Don’ts of Swim Etiquette.

Do’s of Swim Etiquette

1. Wait at Least 5 Seconds Between Swimmers

When swimming in a lane, you always want to make sure you leave at least 5 seconds behind the swimmer in front of you.

This ensures that you’re a safe distance away to avoid getting kicked. Either in the hand or the face or even another body part.

It also helps keep the tempers down in the pool. When swimmers follow too closely to another swimmer, it tends to irk the other lap swimmer. To avoid causing a scene, wait at least 5 seconds before leaving after another swimmer.

You can use any clock in the pool area to keep track of your five seconds. If they don’t have a clock, I’ve found it’s just as easy to count to five. I just have to make sure I’m not counting too quickly!

I would also recommend that if there’s only one or two other swimmers in the lane with you, it wouldn’t hurt to wait ten seconds. Especially if you suspect that you’ll catch the swimmer in front of you. This really helps keep enough space between swimmers and no one gets overly annoyed.

The only time I would discourage leaving ten seconds instead of five is

  • If the swimmer in front of you will catch you
  • The lane has more than three swimmers

2. Know the Direction the Lane is Swimming

When I went to Budapest, Hungary for the 2017 FINA World Masters Championships, I was surprised to see some lanes swimming in opposite directions than I was used to! This is a bit more normal in European countries compared to America where all lanes swim in the same direction. But it does have some safety measures behind it.

Despite what it might look like from the outside, swimming has set structures designed to protect swimmers. Swimming in various directions is incredibly dangerous. I should know, I’ve had other swimmers crash into me while swimming and I can say it’s not a fun experience.

Typically in American pools , you’ll find that the direction of the lane follows what’s known as ‘circle swimming’. This means that from the wall, you always keep your right arm facing the lane line (when swimming freestyle).

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If you’re watching from the deck, swimmers going away from you will swim on the right side of the lane. While swimmers coming towards you will be on the left side of the lane.

If they’re doing the reverse, then they’re reverse circle swimming.

Regardless of what type of circle swimming they’re doing, you must always swim in the direction that the lane is swimming. Much like driving a car, you need to go with the flow of traffic. Or in this case, the flow of the lane!

Correct circle swimming helps protect swimmers from injury. Make sure you take a few seconds to verify the direction the lane swims in before joining the group.

3. Communication

Yes, even in swimming, communication is important. 🙂

Part of proper swim etiquette is communicating with your lane mates. Whenever I’m on the wall with teammates or others in my lane, I take the time to verify the following with the people swimming in my lane:

  • Lane order: Who will lead the lane, who will go second, etc.
  • When to change the lane order: Because everyone has the good and bad strokes
  • Clarifying what strokes everyone will swim: Everyone will swim their best and favorite strokes. You’ll want to make sure a breaststroker isn’t leading the lane of freestylers
  • Who is on rest and if it’s okay if I go

While simple in nature, communication makes all the difference between a frustrating workout and a smooth one. It’s also the best way to have good lap swimming etiquette.

4. Move Out of the Way

When you finish a set or if you need to stop for a break, make sure you’re not in someone else’s way.

You can do this by moving to the side of the lane when you finish. If you hang in the middle of the wall, you can expect someone to run into you. Or even flip turn on you. And yes, I’m 100% guilty of flip turning on someone because they didn’t move when I was coming into the wall.

Rude? Perhaps. But It’s also rude to stand in front of someone who is trying to workout. So I guess we’re both being rude and bad lane mates!

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This rule holds true for both swimming in a busy public pool or during swim practice. No matter where you’re swimming lap swimming etiquette helps keep everyone safe.

5. Treat Other Swimmers With Respect

This extends not just to your teammates, but any swimmer you share a lane with. Such as those at a swim meet or a local gym.

And this extends beyond your lane or your pool. It should also extend to the pool deck, the locker and weight room, and even away from the pool itself.

You wouldn’t like if someone else treated you poorly. So be sure you don’t treat others as less.

Don’ts of Swim Etiquette

1. Don’t Cut Off Other Swimmers

Probably one of mine and other swimmer’s biggest pet peeves is when another swimmer cuts me off. This typically happens when I’m coming into the wall and planning on turning. But right as I go to turn, the swimmer on the wall pushes off in front of me.

And typically, they’re going slower than what I’m going, which makes me slow down.

You may be anxious to go or to start your next set, but it shouldn’t come at the cost of ruining someone else’s swim. Remember that you’re sharing the lane with other swimmers.

It won’t hurt to wait another 5 seconds to let them flip before starting your own set. You wouldn’t like it if someone did it to you. So don’t do it to another swimmer.

Seriously, don’t be that swimmer.

2. Don’t Ride Someone’s Feet

Just like you shouldn’t tailgate when you drive, you shouldn’t ride someone’s feet.

Chances are, they know you’re behind them and they’ve given you a chance to pass. If you’re hanging on their feet though and playing taps instead of moving, that’s on you.

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Tapping someone’s feet (just once!) is the best form of swim etiquette in terms of passing. It gives the swimmer a heads up that you’re coming up alongside them. This way, they can adjust their stroke for when you pass.

It’s better for both you and the swimmer in front of you to pass instead of hanging behind. Because believe it or not, it’s just as frustrating for them as it is for you.

That said, if you can’t safely pass someone because the lane is too crowded or perhaps you can’t see, it would be better to back off and not pass at all. This allows you to give the swimmer in front of you some space and keeps you safe as well.

My advice is to give yourself some more, if you can, between them and you the next time you leave the wall.

3. Don’t Join A Lane That’s Not Your Speed

This goes for both slower and faster lanes.

It doesn’t do anyone any good for you to run over everyone in your lane. No one wants to swim with your ego. Just as no one wants to get run over just so you can show off.

Likewise, it’s just as annoying to constantly have to pass you because you can’t keep up.

There’s no shame in picking the lane that best fits you. Instead, it allows you to work at the speed that best suits your current times. And, it gives you something to work towards and show you how far you’ve come.

4. Don’t Steal Other Swimmer’s Equipment

And don’t borrow either!

Unless that swimmer gave you permission, you should never take or borrow someone’s gear or equipment. This doesn’t just extend to the gear on deck, but also towels, goggles, caps, suits, and clothes.

You wouldn’t like it if someone took your belongings. So do everyone else a favor and don’t take theirs!

Now, if you grab a kickboard or fin by mistake that’s not yours, be sure to apologize. Gear can look the same, especially through foggy goggles. But own the error and apologize when you give it back.

5. Avoid Running Over Other Swimmers

Just like in driving, you want to make sure you’re not sprinting over other swimmers.

If you’re coming up on another swimmer, don’t just run them over. It’s rude and you run the risk of hurting yourself and others. Instead, take a second to assess the lane and see if you need to move to a different one.

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Remember to pick your lane that best fits your speed and your workout. Don’t get into a lane with slower swimmers just to make yourself feel better. Or to show off. We promise you that you’re not impressing anyone. You just look like a jerk instead.

In Closing

Proper swim etiquette sets the stage of who you are as a swimmer. You’ll either be the swimmer that’s inconsiderate to everyone and no one wants to be around.

Or, you’ll be the swimmer that shows respect to other swimmers. The one that others don’t mind.

Between the two, you’ll find that the latter goes further at the end of the day.

Take a moment to review your own swim etiquette. Do you follow these already? If not, what can you start working on improving? If so, great! Keep it up and remember that we appreciate you for following these rules.

Knowing proper swim etiquette is crucial to being a better swimmer. Both for yourself and others.

As always, happy swimming!


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Chevron is a current competitive swimmer with almost 20 years of experience at the local, national and international level. A current USA Swimming and US Masters Swimming athlete, she’s committed to providing guidance to all levels of swimmers and believes that everyone should know how to swim.