New FINA Bylaws Take Effect Jan. 1

With the coming of the new year comes the installation of FINA’s updated bylaws, as decided by the swimming federation earlier this year.

Many of the new rules focused on open water swimming, with changes to apparel, team relays and a new mandate on wetsuits in especially cold water.

We covered the changes when they were published earlier this year. You can read that piece here. We’ve also republished some of the major changes below.

The full new bylaws are here. The previous bylaws are here.


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.


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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Get rid of non-continuous/delayed initiated turn!


How does the use/disuse of makeup affect synchro performance for men?


Yes, I would like to hear that as well. Hard to take these people seriously when that is the kind of rule they come up with.

Oli hrafn

18 degrees is not cold water, why force us too wear wetsuit? It means here in Iceland there is no change to hold a open water swim without wetsuits.

Bo Swims

Even when it’s “optional” you better wear it if you want to win. Even a pair of the HUUB neoprene legs kinship would be faster than a high end tech suit.


18 degrees is actually considered cold water for the mass majority of OW swimmers. Folks from Iceland (and other cold climate countries) have a much higher tolerance for lower temperatures due to their ability to train and assimilate with such conditions. This is not the case for the majority of the world and actually poses a major health risk of hypothermia if forced to compete in water temps below 18. This has been proven at several FINA competitions based on the medical DNF withdrawals from cold temp OW races over the last several years. People like Oli have had a distinct advantage over the competition because of his high tolerance level, but this new rule will actually make it a… Read more »

About Jared Anderson

Jared Anderson

Jared Anderson just can’t stay away from the pool. A competitive career of almost two decades wasn’t enough for this Minnesotan, who continues to get his daily chlorine fix. A lifelong lover of writing, Jared now combines the two passions as Senior Reporter for, covering swimming at every level. He’s an …

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