Winter Swimming World Championship Rules

1. General Rule Scope

1.1 Swimmers compete within age categories. The age categories for events of the season are determined by the swimmers age based on the season’s second year (i.e. if it’s season 2023-2024, your age is determined by the year 2024)

1.2 At the starting line, competitors will receive the following commands (with the following intervals):

  • Take off your clothes
  • Get in the water (five seconds). Timing may differ depending on race (i.e. swimmers of higher age categories require more time to get into the pool).
  • On your marks (three seconds)

1.3 As competitors enter the water they must get into the start position. The start position is required by the command “On your marks”. Competitors must hold the start bar (a clearly marked designated step of the ladder) with one hand and put their front shoulder under the water, with their feet placed on the stairs. In case there is no start bar, competitors are allowed to place their hand on the stairs.

Not completing the command “On your marks” may result in a 5-second penalty added to the race time. Movement in water is allowed while remaining static position-wise.

1.4 The start signal is given 3 seconds after the “On your marks” command.

1.5 Swimming underwater after starting for longer than 5 meters from the start wall (when the swimmer is completely submerged and no part of the swimmer is breaking the surface of the water) is strictly forbidden and will result in a 5 seconds penalty added to the race time. The swimmer’s head is considered to be the body part breaking the surface of the water.

1.6 False starts will not be called back. Blatant false starts will result in disqualification. Minor false starts will result in a 5 seconds penalty added to the race time. The decision of the race referee or referees will be final.

1.7 Tumble turns are strictly forbidden. Before making a turn, swimmers must touch the end of the pool wall with at least one hand.

1.8 Swimming under the water after completing a turn for longer than 5 meters from the turn wall (when the swimmer is totally submerged and no part of the swimmer is breaking the surface of the water) is strictly forbidden and will result in a 5 seconds penalty added to the race time.

1.9 Swimwear must be non-transparent. Swimming without a bathing costume or women swimming topless is not permitted. Except when related to the water performance teams, swimsuits may not go beyond the knee or past the shoulder.

  • A total of one swimming suit (women’s two-piece swimming suits are counted as one) and one or two swimming caps are allowed.
  • Additional gear (gloves, hats, fins, hand paddles, etc.) is not allowed.
  • Neoprene-based swimming suits are not allowed.

1.10 To finish the race, a competitor must touch the end of the lane by touching the wall, not the steps.

1.11 The heat results will be final (no extra final heats).

1.12 Competitors must leave the water immediately after the race. They should retrieve their clothes from the provided baskets and should immediately leave the pool area.

1.13 In case the competitor has breached the cut-off time or broke the rules in any form, the result will be classified as one of the following:

  • DQ – Disqualification
  • OTL – Over Time Limit
  • DNF – Did Not Finish

2. Rules for 25, 50, 100 and 200 Meters Breaststroke

2.1 The only permissible stroke for breaststroke races is head-up breaststroke. The top of the head must not be submerged during the race, except before the first stroke within the 5-meter zone of the start or turns (when water overflow through the head is permitted) – for all swims and age groups. If the top of the head submerges during the race when it is not allowed, the swimmer will receive a 5-second penalty that will be added to their race time.

2.2 For 100 and 200-meter breaststroke swims, water overflow above the swimmer’s head is permitted during the whole course of swimming.

2.3 See paragraph 1 for general race regulations.

3. Rules For 25, 50, 100 and 200 Meters Freestyle

3.1 Swimming style is freestyle, meaning any style is permitted.

3.2 See paragraph 1 for general race regulations.

4. Rules For 25 Meter Ice Butterfly

4.1 Swimming style is a regular butterfly swim.

4.2 From the first arm stroke and after each turn, the swimmer’s upper body must be kept above water. Touching the wall during a turn or finish with one hand is allowed.

4.3 Both hands must simultaneously slip forward over the water. 

4.4 All leg movement should be done simultaneously throughout the entire race.

4.5 See paragraph 1 for general race regulations.

5. Rules For Relays

5.1 The swimming distance is 4 x 25 meters.

5.2 Each team must be of mixed gender and consist of 4 swimmers in total (i.e. three male swimmers and one female swimmer).

5.3 Each team must have a team captain. It’s advised for the team captain to register a team, providing details of all team members.

5.4 Team members must agree on their start order prior to registration.

5.5 Each team may participate in one breaststroke relay and one freestyle relay.

5.6 When called to the pool area, team members will be instructed to take their position at the team’s lane according to their start order. The first and third swimmers take the start end of the lane, while the second and fourth swimmers take the turning end of the lane.

5.7 A team must follow all rules of paragraph 1.

5.8 The first swimmer starts as described in paragraph 1.

5.9 No extra signal. Swimmers start when the teammate before them touches the wall. Be ready in the water as your teammate finishes.

5.10 A team finishes when the fourth swimmer touches the wall at the end of the lane.

6. Rules for Breaststroke Relay

6.1 The only permissible stroke is head-up breaststroke. All swimmers of a single team must follow the general rule scope for this style of swimming mentioned in paragraph 2.1.

6.2 See paragraph 1 and 4 for general race regulations.

7. Rules for Freestyle Relay

7.1 Swimming style is freestyle meaning any style is permitted.

7.2 See paragraph 1 and 4 for general race regulations.

8. Rules for Endurance Swims (200, 450 and 1000 meters)

8.1 The minimum age for an endurance swimmer is 18 years at the date of signing an AFFIDAVIT form. The time required for each distance is as follows:

  • 200 meters – 8 minutes (with 100 meters being completed in 4 minutes);
  • 450 meters – 15 minutes (with 225 meters being completed in 7 minutes and 30 seconds);
  • 1000 meters – 30 minutes (with 500 meters being completed in 15 minutes).

Medical checks are required for the 450 meter and 1000 meter endurance swims. A swimmer may be stopped by the race organizers at any point based on danger of health and other safety reasons.

8.2 When collecting swimmer passes, swimmers registered for an endurance swim must present the following documents:

  • Electrocardiogram (ECG).
  • AFFIDAVIT form.

8.3 Endurance swimmers must have a registered assistant – a trusted person who knows the swimmer and can confirm the swimmer’s ability to swim the endurance distance, and is able to provide the needed support to the swimmer until he or she is fully recovered.

The assistant must:

  • follow the swimmer to the pool area,
  • stay at the start end of the lane all the time during the swim,
  • signal the judge to halt the race if a swimmer’s behavior raises safety concerns. Stop the swim if necessary to ensure their well-being.
  • support the swimmer after the swim and during recovery procedures until they are fully recovered.

8.4 It is highly recommended that endurance swimmers have a personal insurance policy providing coverage for extreme sports.

8.5 Mandatory briefing for endurance swimmers will be held according to the event schedule. All endurance swimmers must attend the meeting. A failure to appear at the briefing will result in disqualification.

8.6 Endurance swimmers must undergo a medical exam set by the event organiser, including blood pressure and drug/alcohol tests. Any medical restriction will prevent participation.

8.7 In case of severe weather changes posing risks, organizers may reduce or cancel the endurance swim for safety. Their decision is final.

8.8 Judges can halt a swimmer’s race if they suspect inadequate behavior jeopardizing safety and well-being.

9. Rules for 200 Meters Breaststroke and Freestyle Endurance Swims

9.1 Swim duration is limited to a maximum of 10 minutes per heat.

9.2 See paragraph 1, 2, 3 and 8 for general regulations.

10. Rules for 450 and 1000 Meters Endurance Swims

10.1 Swimmers must possess relevant qualifications to participate. For the 450 meters swim, they need to have completed a 200-meter swim in water no warmer than +5ºC. For the 1000 meters swim, they must have accomplished a 450-meter swim in water no warmer than +5ºC. Alternatively, swimmers can register for the 450 meters swim by completing a 200-meter endurance swim, and for the 1000 meters swim, they need to successfully complete the 450-meter endurance swim to confirm their registration. These qualifications must be presented during registration along with the documents listed in paragraph 7.2.

10.2 Swimming style is freestyle meaning any style.

10.3 Duration of the swim is limited by 15 minutes for 450 meters and 30 minutes for 1000 meters swim.

10.4 See paragraph 1 and 8 for general regulations.

11. Rules for Polar Bears, Seals and Young Seals

11.1 All swims are non-timed.

11.2 Swims permitted in this category as follows:

  • Young Seals: dip
  • Seals: 25 meter freestyle swim
  • Polar Bears: 50 meter freestyle swim

12. Rules For Water Performance Teams

12.1 A water performance team may have between 3 and 20 members.

12.2 At least 3 members of the team must enter the water during the performance.

12.3 Performance must last a minimum of 2 minutes, but no longer than 5 minutes (including time for entering and leaving the water).

12.4 Participants may use a swimming suit of their choice as long as it is appropriate and non-transparent. Performing without a swimsuit or women swimming topless is not permitted. Performers are allowed to use decorations and man-powered devices.

12.5 Teams can use the event’s sound system if available to provide their own music.

12.6 Humorous performances are encouraged.

12.7 The jury awards points for originality, technical quality, and artistic impression. The team with the highest total points wins the contest.

13. Awards

13.1 All participants will receive a general certificate and a memory medal or similar of their participation in the IWSA World Cup.

13.2 Top three competitors in each age category will receive medals and diplomas for their achievements. The event organizer is responsible for the design, creation, and distribution of the medals and diplomas.

14. Protests

14.1 Protests can be filed against a decision of the referee or if an official fails to comply with the event rules.

14.2 Protests must be supported by reasonable factual evidence and should not be vexatious or trivial.

14.3 Protests must be in written English and submitted to the event race office within 30 minutes of the decision or race end.

14.4 The fee for submitting a protest is determined by the event organizer.

14.5 If the protest is upheld, the fee will be refunded.

14.6 The event director will be the final adjudicator of any protests and must provide reasons for his or her decision.

Appendix 1: Age Categories

Competitive disciplines (25 to 100 meters, all styles)

A114 and younger
B20 – 29
C30 – 39
D40 – 44
E45 – 49
F50 – 54
G55 – 59
H60 – 64
I65 – 69
J70 – 74
J175 – 79
J280 – 85
J385 – 90
J490 and older

Competitive disciplines (200 to 1000 meters, all styles)

EA18 – 19
EB20 – 24
EC25 – 29
ED30 – 34
EE35 – 39
EF40 – 44
EG45 – 49
EH50 – 54
EI55 – 59
EJ60 – 64
EJ165 – 69
EJ270 – 74
EJ375 – 79

Breaststroke relays

CategoryTotal age of the team, years
BR 1150
BR 2151 – 200
BR 3201 – 250
BR 4251

Freestyle relays

CategoryTotal age of the team, years
FR 1150
FR 2151 – 200
FR 3201 – 250
FR 4251

Age restrictions

Swim TypeAge
Non-competitive swims8 – 10 y.o.
25-meter (only) competitive races and relays10 – 14 y.o.
All races under 200-meters (excluding 200-meter races)15 – 18 y.o.

Appendix 2: Start Position


Appendix 3: Head-up Breaststroke Position


Appendix 4: Swimwear