Swansea Canoe Polo Club

Basic Rules & Common Misunderstandings

With many new players joining the club recently, John (JG) has kindly written some basic rules and common misunderstandings to help everyone get a better understanding. Have a read…

The following are just a few of the more essential rules which may be useful for newcomers to the sport, but may also give clarification on some issues to more experienced players.

[NB – This is meant as a very basic guide and it is the interpretation of the person preparing the note. It will not cover all situations and technicalities]


  • A team has up to 8 players. During the game 5 players are on the water at any given time, with up to 3 (rolling) substitutes. (A squad for a league involving a number of “rounds” is normally 10 players but only 8 of the can attend any single event).
  • Timau may be allowed to play with less than 5 if they are short of players but cannot then compete for the ball at the beginning of the game / second half. The opposition automatically has possession at the half way line at the start of the game / second half.

Start of the Game

  • All players must have the stern of their boat on or behind the goal line (which is an imaginary line running across the pitch line with the front of the goals) or against the back of the pool if required by the referees in certain situations e.g. short pool size).
  • The ref starts the game (or second half) by blowing the whistle and then throwing the ball into the water at half way.
  • Only one player from each team can sprint for the ball when thrown in by a ref at the start of the game. However, team mates can move forward in support of the “sprinter” provided they are not within 3 meters of them (a full boat length).
  • The game starts when the ref blows the whistle – not when the ref throws the ball. The sprinter should therefore set off once the whistle is blown even if the ball has not yet landed in the water.
  • If you are sprinting but it is obvious your opponent is going to get to the ball first, take care not to collide with them at speed as you may be penalised for a kayak foul. You can of course continue paddling at pace to get into position to tackle them / defend once they have the ball.


  • There are two referees, one either side of the pitch, although in some competitions there are additional officials e.g. to monitor the “goal line”.
  • Referees are not perfect and – like players – can make mistakes, but players should NEVER argue with a referee as they will almost never change their minds and it could result in a sanction (e.g. a Yellow Card)! Some refs may be okay with a captain POLITELY querying a decision but others may not! Its best to just get on with the game – and get into position to defend!
  • Sometimes referees disagree between themselves as to what has taken place, and may briefly stop the game to discuss. This is not unusual.

The Whistle & the Ref's Arm

  • When the ref blows the whistle during the game to stop play this normally means either
    1. The half is over (the refs cross their arms to signify end of the half).
    2. The ball has gone out of play e.g. into touch or over the “goal line”.
    3. An offence has been committed.
    4. The ref is calling a “time out” – the ref makes a “T” signal and blows 3 blasts of the whistle.
  • In the case of (2) and (3) the ref will extend their arm in the direction of play i.e. the team playing in that direction gets possession. So, if the ref is pointing towards your goal the opposition will have the ball *SO GET INTO A DEFENDING POSITION IMMEDIATELY NO QUESTIONS, NO ARGUING!
  • If the ref’s “pointing” arm is horizontal i.e. parallel to the water, it means it is a free throw so the player cannot take a direct shot at goal without first playing the ball e.g. dribbling a metre then shooting – or more likely, passing to a team mate.
    NB. If the player mistakenly takes a direct shot at goal without playing it first, the goalie should NOT try and save it in case it glances off their paddle into the goal.
  • If the ref is pointing upwards towards the goal, then the player can take a direct shot. (there is a different signal and procedure, if a penalty is awarded – penalties are not dealt with in this note)
  • NB – the ref will use their “non-pointing” arm to signal why the whistle has been blown e.g. ball in touch, foul play etc. (the different signals are not covered in this note)
  • Similar to football, if the defending player (or their boat/paddle) is last to touch the ball before it goes over their own goal line, the attacking team are awarded a corner throw. The same principle applies when the ball goes over the side / touch line.

Starting Play after the Whistle

  • The ref will only blow the whistle to start / restart the game in the following circumstances
    1. Starting the game / second half.
    2. Starting play after a goal has been scored (the restart is at the halfway line).
    3. Restarting the game after a time out.
    4. For a penalty shot to be taken.

      ** In all other circumstances e.g. a corner, the whistle is not blown.

  • In all cases, the player with the ball will restart the game by momentarily raising the ball to approx. shoulder height (known as presenting the ball) and then immediately passing it, dribbling it or if it is “direct” (point 4 above) taking a shot at goal.

    NB – Failure to “present” the ball at a restart is an offence and the opposition get possession.

  • The player taking the restart has 5 seconds to bring the ball into play or they are penalised. The 5 seconds starts as soon as the player is in position and has the ball available to them – not when the ball is presented, so do not delay.

Common Offences

  • Paddle Foul
    Essentially, if your paddle touches or is within touching distance of an opponent’s hand / body or used to deliberately hold / fend, the opponent’s paddle or boat, it is a paddle foul. Solution – do not put your paddle anywhere near an opponent, especially if they are reaching for the ball in the water.
  • Obstruction
    Put simply, this is where a player blocks an opponent that does not have possession of the ball. NB, if you are static, you do not have to move out of their way but if you are in motion that will be penalised even if you are not actually paddling. Similarly, you will be penalised if you get in the way of an opponent when one of your own players is already competing with them for the ball.
  • Bumping the Goalie
    Nudging the opposition goalie or driving a defender into the goalie is an offence (although the defender has a duty to try and hold their position and prevent themselves hitting their own goalie). The slightest contact on the goalie is enough to be penalised. If you are the goalie shout “obstruction” to draw the ref’s attention.

    [You can however block or drive an opponent out of the way if you are both inside the “zone” which is the area of the pitch between the goal line and an imaginary line 6 meters out from the goal line.]

  • Illegal Kayak Tackle
    You are NOT allowed to bump or “drive” an opponent’s boat unless they have the ball OR you are both inside the goal “zone”. You are also not allowed to do it with force when coming in from the side, particularly in the area of the spraydeck. If you end up on top of an opponent’s boat in their spraydeck area, stop paddling and carefully push yourself off.
  • Illegal Hand Tackle
    You can only push an opponent on their back or on their arm/shoulder from the side. Never push them from the direction they are facing i.e. on their chest or front of shoulder as pushing their upper body backwards could injure their back. You will be penalised.
  • The “5 Second” rule
    If you are holding the ball, or the ball is next to your boat in the water within hand’s reach, then you are in possession. You only have 5 seconds to use the ball – either by shooting, passing, dribbling forward or throwing it a metre away and then retrieving it again e.g. with your paddle.
  • Preventing Ball Travelling 1 Metre at restart
    If an opponent is for example, taking a corner, touch throw or similar (essentially restarting play) it is illegal to block or even TRY AND BLOCK, the ball from travelling a metre horizontally. So – do not wave your paddle in front of the opponent closer than at least a metre or you will get penalised.

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