Swim Etiquette For The Pool

Have you ever found yourself swimming laps in a lane, minding your own business when someone runs into you? Chances are that they – or you! – weren’t following proper swim etiquette.

When swimming, it’s important to follow common lap swimming rules to help keep you and other safe. And while you might get lucky with your own lane, chances are you’ll have to share eventually.

Luckily, learning and understanding lap swim etiquette is easy! Here are some common pool etiquette rules for sharing a lane with other swimmers.

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Pictures of pools with text of 'Ultimate Guide to Swim Etiquette
Swim etiquette ensures the safety and sanity for yourself and other swimmers! 🙂

What is Swim Etiquette?

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! 🙂

While most of these rules are universal, I will put a standard disclaimer that some rules vary by location and team.

Pool Etiquette 101: 15 Ways to Share the Pool With Other Swimmers

1. Look for the Least Crowded Lane

When possible, try to find an empty lane first.

Swimmers love having a lane to themselves! Joining a lane with another swimmer when there’s an open lane is a sure way to annoy someone. Chances are, they’ll gather their equipment and move to the empty lane instead!

2. Pick Your Lane Based Off Your Speed

If you don’t have any empty lanes available, find a lane that fits your speed.

This will require you to be honest with yourself, but your fellow swim mates will appreciate it.

Take a moment to judge the speed of the lane before joining or finding a new lane. If you join a lane and realize it’s not your speed, be gracious when you leave.

3. Know the Direction of the Lane

Now that you’ve found your lane, take another minute to determine what direction the lane is swimming in. Your lane will swim in one of the below methods:

  • Circle Swimming: Form of lap swim etiquette where you swim in a counterclockwise circle. You swim down the right-hand side of the lane, complete a flip turn, and return on the right-hand side of the lane. In that, you always keep the lane line to your right side (left when on your back). Typically used when more than one swimmer is in the lane.
  • Reverse Circle Swimming: Swimming etiquette where you swim clockwise. Swimmers swim down the left-hand side of the lane, complete a flip turn, and return on the left side of the lane. In that, you always keep the lane line to your left side (right side on your back). Typically used when more than one swimmer is in the lane.
  • Side Swimming: When two swimmers agree to split the lane. Each swimmer will pick a side of the lane and so that they go down the right side and come back on the left. Or vice versa.
Swim etiquette with swimmers swimming correctly in a pool
Swim etiquette is the proper way to swim in a pool. It keeps everyone swimming safely.

Some facilities will have diagrams to show which direction the lane needs to follow for lap swim.

Most teams and swim facilities in the US follow ‘circle swimming’. However, you might find some locations will alternate lanes with circle swimming and reverse circle swimming.

Related post: Swimming Terminology

Because of this, it’s important to know what direction your lane swims in. Don’t assume!

4. Check in With Other Swimmers

Before you enter the water, you should let the other swimmers in the lane know that you’re joining them.

You can do this by:

  • Waiting on the deck until someone stops and joining then
  • Sticking your legs in the water at the wall so approaching swimmers notice you
  • Enter the water and stand near the corner so current swimmers can see you

When you join a lane with just one other swimmer, don’t assume that you’ll split the lane. Always clarify with your new lane mate before splitting the lane.

If you plan to join a lane with just two swimmers who already split the lane, be sure they know you’ve joined. Usually, someone will stop and clarify the direction of the lane with you and then notify the other swimmer.

5. Don’t Jump on People

This probably sounds silly to say, but I say it because swimmers have done it before!

Check the water before jumping in. When entering the pool, you’ll want to ensure that no one is right where you’re about to jump or dive in.

Jumping on someone doesn’t just hurt. It’s also incredibly dangerous.

6. Don’t Follow the Black Tiled Line

The black line will not lead you to a wizard who will get you out of practice earlier. Instead, it’ll only lead to pain and anger if you swim straight down the middle of it.

When lap swimming you always want to ensure that you’re swimming just to the side of the black line. In that, you’re circling around the black line. See what I did there? 😉

The only time you’ll want to swim straight down the black line is during a race at a swim meet. Otherwise, you’re likely to smack someone with your hands. Or worse, plow right into them.


7. Cutting Off Other Swimmers

If someone is coming down the lane and is five seconds from turning, don’t push off in front of them! Don’t be that swimmer.


Make sure that if you’re leaving the wall, you don’t have another swimmer coming in. If you’re not sure whether they’re stopping or turning, then wait. It’ll only take you a few seconds to know for sure.

Out of all of these rules, cutting off another swimmer is the number one pet peeve of all swimmers. This does happen more at swim meets, however, it can and does happen at practice as well.

Think of it like driving. You don’t like it when someone cuts you off on the road. The same holds true for swimming. Because much like driving, now the person behind you has two options:

  1. Run straight up your leg and give you some nice battle wounds
  2. Slam on the brakes, while trying not to hit you and hoping that the person behind them doesn’t crash into them.

And I’ll be honest, some will feel angry enough that they’ll take the first option out of spite! Then they’ll probably rant about you for the rest of practice and well into the locker room.

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8. Riding Feet

I mentioned earlier that cutting off another swimmer is a huge pet peeve. Riding someone’s feet is also right up there.

What is ‘riding someone’s feet’?

You ride someone’s feet when you consistently stay behind them even though you could go around. This is annoying for two reasons:

  1. It’s like that annoying driver who tailgates when you drive. Even though you’re going as fast as you can, they’re still right on your bumper, despite being able to go around
  2. Drafting. Nothing is worse than giving someone a free or easier ride while you struggle and try your hardest

So what is a swimmer to do?

When you need to pass someone, simply tap their foot once. Just once! Then speed up to go around them.

Note that when you do pass someone, make sure the lane is clear. Otherwise, you risk running into someone.

Alternatively, if someone is riding your feet and you can stop, then stop! It’ll save you some frustration as well 🙂

9. Don’t Stop in the Middle of the Lane

One of the best ways to turn swimming into a contact sport is to stop in the middle of the lane.

The swimmers in your lane don’t expect you to stop and therefore, they’re not looking for obstacles in the middle of the lane. When you stop, you become an obstacle and next thing you know, someone is crashing into you.

It’s a jarring experience for the swimmer because it comes as a surprise. They’re not expecting it and they’re in the zone.

When you need to stop, then take your break on the wall. Never stop in the middle of the lane and clutch at the lane line to catch your breath. This not only makes swimmers mad, but it’ll also make the lifeguards upset as well 🙂

10. Resting

Speaking of taking a break.

When you’re resting on the wall, or letting someone go around you, make sure you stay out of the way. Swim etiquette kindly requests that you move to the side of the lane. 🙂

Related article: Do’s and Don’ts of Swim Etiquette

You’ll want to do this whenever you’re not swimming. Unless you’re getting ready to leave shortly again. Even then, be sure to move into a corner.

Still want to sit in the middle of the wall?

Expect to have another swimmer flip turn on you! And they’ll probably make sure to use your body as the wall instead. Using the squishiest parts of your body to push off. 😉

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11. Don’t Hog the Wall

When you come in and finish your set, move out of the way.

You don’t want to stay in the middle of the wall when your teammates or other swimmers still need to finish.

Once you do finish, just slide down the wall so other swimmers can finish behind you. Should you decide to stay in the middle of the wall, you can expect someone to run into you!

12. Wait at least 5 seconds before leaving behind another swimmer

Ready to leave the wall to start a set?

Make sure you leave at least 5 seconds behind the swimmer in front of you. This helps keep everyone an equal distance apart from one another so you’re not riding any feet.

If you end up catching the person in front of you, then you probably need to adjust the order of the lane. Or, if you can, wait ten seconds instead of five.

13. Cross the ‘T’ to turn

When swimming with a group, you’ll want to make sure you turn correctly. Otherwise, you’ll likely run into the person behind you.

You’ll do this by crossing over the T before you start your turn. This ensures that you’re already on the other side of the lane line and that when you push off, you don’t hit anyone.

If you flip in the corner of the side you swam down, you’ll probably knock shoulders with someone.

For new swimmers, this is probably the hardest part of lap swim etiquette. It will take some practice to learn and figure out the timing of it. But once you learn it, it’ll come naturally 🙂

14. Use your own equipment (and water bottle)

Nothing is worse than coming up to the wall and looking for your kickboard, only to find it missing. 🙁

Swimmers are particular to their specific gear. That’s because we know what works best for us. And chances are, that piece of equipment is set specifically to that swimmer’s body.

Related article: 7 Things Every Swimmer Should Have

Don’t be that swimmer who takes other equipment that doesn’t belong to them. Or worse, drink out of someone else’s water bottle.

Save yourself some hassle by writing your name on each piece of equipment you own. Especially if it’s the same type as everyone else on the team.

Personally, I doodle all over my paddles and on my board. There’s no mistaking who those belong to!

15. Pick up after yourself

And on the topic of equipment. Pick up after yourself!

Don’t leave any borrowed equipment for someone else to put up. Take a moment to collect your workout if you brought one, along with your drink.

In Closing

Proper swim etiquette can make or break your practice. In some cases, that can be literal! Despite the numerous rules though, they’re not difficult and are easy to learn.

You just need to take a moment to watch and learn 🙂 And when in doubt, ask one of your fellow swimmers!

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

As always, to happy swimming!


Bonus Content:

First Day of Swim Practice (And What to Expect): Your first day of swim practice can feel daunting. But with a little preparation, it doesn’t have to be! Knowing what to expect can make the difference between a great first practice or a lousy one

What New Swimmers Should Know About Practice: Headed to your first swim practice but not sure what to expect? Here are six things new swimmers should know about swim practice.

Want to Improve at the Pool?

Join swimmers and swim parents to receive my free newsletter and receive a free Swimming Glossary e-book as a thanks!

Every month you’ll receive tips and coaching to help you find success at the pool.

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