FINA Bylaw Changes Modify OW Team Races, Mandate Wetsuits Below 18°

Some updates to FINA’s bylaws will turn open water team races into true relay events at the World Championships and mandate the use of wetsuits when racing in water 18° C or below.

You can find the full 71-page bylaw document here. The latest version was approved by the FINA Bureau as of August 29, 2016. The most recent set of bylaws prior to that point were approved as of January 30, 2016, and you can view the old bylaws here.

Comparing the two documents comes up with a short list of modifications, mostly dealing with open water swimming. The two biggest changes involve the team open water events and the use of wetsuits in cold water.


A new bylaw addition not only allows the use of wetsuits in cold water, it sets a temperature threshold for when the use of wetsuits is actually compulsory for FINA events. The exact wording of the new rule:

BL 8.5 From January 1, 2017, for open water swimming competitions in water with temperature below 20 C, men and women may use either swimsuits (BL 8.4) or wetsuits. When the water temperature is below 18 C, the use of wetsuits is compulsory.

For the purpose of these rules, wetsuits are swimsuits made of material providing thermal insulation. Wetsuits for both men and women shall completely cover torso, back, shoulders and knees. They shall not extend beyond the neck, wrists and ankles.

The previous bylaws had no mention of wetsuits. The rules governing wetsuit coverage (how much of the body the suit can cover) are slightly expanded from racing suits. In FINA open water events, a racing suit can’t extend past the neck, past the shoulder or past the ankle. Wetsuits are governed the same way, except that they can extend past the shoulder and cover the arm, all the way down to the wrist.

Team Relays

Previously, the team open water events at World Championship meets featured three swimmers – two men and a woman – swimming together over a 5-kilometer course. But the new rules will turn the team event into a true relay, with four swimmers – two men and two women – each swimming a 1.25-kilometer leg individually, with a changeover in place of a relay start in pool swimming or a baton pass in running.

That change comes in bylaw Each relay is allowed to swim in whatever order it chooses as long as all four swimmers swim one lap. FINA says there will be a “change-over zone” where one swimmer finishes their leg and another swimmer begins theirs. The exchange involves an “obvious visible touch between the swimmers making the change.” That system was already in place for the Open Water Junior Championships this past July, but will make its World Championships debut at the 2017 World Championships in Hungary.


A few other brief changes from the old bylaw document to the updated version:

  • Bylaw includes a clarification on the new rules requiring relay alternates to compete. 2016 saw the advent of a new rule in which any nation bringing more than 4 swimmers for any one relay was required to have all of their swimmers compete in either prelims or finals or be disqualified. Hungary took a pair of relay DQs in Rio for violating the rule. The update clarifies that if a relay-only swimmer could swim in more than one relay and doesn’t compete in either, the final relay will be the one disqualified.
  • A few different updated bylaws (8.7, draw up stricter rules for caps in open water events. It’s worth noting that appears to say that caps meeting the pool swimming specifications are “not acceptable” in open water competition. 8.7 also notes that swimmers in open water team races must all have caps of the same color.
  • Bylaw 8.8 adds some extra restrictions on swimwear for men in synchronized swimming, noting that those suits can’t extend above the navel or down past the upper thigh and that men are not allowed to wear makeup. But don’t worry, synchro men: hair gel and mustaches are still expressly permitted under the new bylaw.
  • A lengthy addition in bylaw 10.5.3 adds a more detailed schedule for water polo tournaments at the Masters World Championships.

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George Taylor

I wonder how much the wetsuit manufacturers lobbied FINA with $$$ to get this rule change? 16C would be a much better standard.

About Jared Anderson

Jared Anderson

Jared Anderson swam for nearly twenty years. Then, Jared Anderson stopped swimming and started writing about swimming. He's not sick of swimming yet. Swimming might be sick of him, though. Jared was a YMCA and high school swimmer in northern Minnesota, and spent his college years swimming breaststroke and occasionally pretending …

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