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Waterpolo Rules


The following rules below are just a summary and are hopefully written
in plain English!




  • 13 players in each team. 7 players per team in the water at any one time.

  • Played over 8 minute (actual play) quarters.

  • Players are only allowed the use of one hand (except for the goalkeeper)

  • Players are not allowed to stand on the bottom of the pool. In shallow pools standing is permitted at the referee's discretion, but no advantage should be gain by anyone player over another.

  • A player can only be tackled when they have hold of the ball.

  • The ball is not allowed to go under the water when tackled.




Should be 30m long and 20m wide and have deep water throughout.

Most pools have one deep end goal and one shallow end goal instead and are 25m long by the width of the pool.

Markings provided on the side of the pool indicate the 2m and 5m and represent that following;_


  • Red = 2m (off side and corner throw line)

  • Yellow= 5m (penalty and foul line)

  • White = Centre of pool




  • Size 4 = Ladies and Junior ball

  • Size 5 = Mens ball

  • Predominantly yellow but now in a range of alternatives.




  • Traditionally blue (away) or white (home), with the goalkeepers wearing red. However other colours can be used.

  • Hats are number 1 to 13, with1 being the Goalkeeper and have ear protectors.

  • A player is not allowed to change cap number during a game except with the permission of the referee and notification of the scoring table.




  • Usually, normal costumes are worn as a 1st layer then rubbers (specialist waterpolo costumes) on top and possibly a ‘box’ in between for men.




  • There are 7 players per team, including the goalkeeper.

  • The total squad for a game can have a maximum of 13 players.

  • Unlimited substitutions takeplace throughout the game.

  • Teams change ends at the end of each quarter (or half in an all deep pool).

  • If a change is made during play, the re-entry area must be used and the incoming player must not enter the pool until the exiting player is completely out of the water or in the lane-roped substitution area (if the pool has one set up). Get out anywhere else during play and you will be sent to the dressing room.





Normally games require two referees (one at each side of the pool) and 2 no timekeepers (game time and shot clock) and 1 no secretary (records game events) to run the table.

Referees decision is final. Any chat back will result in an exclusion foul for disrespect.

 Referees use a whistle and a number of hand signals to communicate
their decisions.


A full list is given in the FINA rules but make sure you know
the basics which are;


  • Freethrow ordinary foul short whistle and hand point in the direction of play to indicate who has possession

  • Exclusion foul one short whistle and finger pointed at the offending player,f ollowed by the hat number represented by appropriate digits on the hands.

  • Penalty one short whistle and hand with fingers splayed moved downwards.

  • Corner– one short whistle and two fingers moved towards side of pool from which the corner throw should be taken.




  • Four periods or quarters of 8 minutes actual play (clock is stopped when play stops).

  • Two minute interval between periods

Normally a shot clock is used requiring the attacking team to have a shot on goal within 30 seconds of taking control of the ball. This clock is reset to 30 seconds if ;


  • a shot is taken and rebounds back to the attacking side or is put out by the goalkeeper.

  • an exclusion foul is given against the defending team.

  • the attacking side lose control of the ball.

  • A shot clock is only practical when there are at least 3 table officials present. IF less than 3 then time keeping and event recording take president.




  • Before start, captains toss coin to choose the starting end.

  • At the start of each period, players take up positions on their respective goal lines, with only 2 players within the goal mouth.

  • The whistle commences play and the ball is released by the referee at the half way mark.




  • Each team is allowed one 1 minute timeout per Quarter.

  • Timeouts should only be called by the Coach or Captain and when their team has possession.

During a timeout players must stay in their own halves. On the referees first whistle players can take up any position in the field of play.


  • Play is restarted on the secondwhistle by the team in possession at the half way.




  • The whole ball must cross the goal line!

  • You can not score directly from a free throw unless it is an immediate shot from outside the 5m mark (yellow marker).




  • After goals all players return to their respective halves and the team who conceded the goal ‘kick-off’ from the half way on the referees whistle.




  • Awarded only when the ball is deflected or put out by the goalie or put out (not deflected) by a defender.

  • Taken on the 2m line (red marker) on the side nearest to which the ball crossed the goal line, as indicated by the referee.




  • Usually awarded if;

  • At the start of the period the ball has fallen in a position to the definite advantage of one team.

  • When the referee can not tell which team should be awarded the foul

  • At neutral throws, one player of each team attempts to gain control of the ball thrown in by the referee.




  • Awarded for an ordinary foul or exclusion foul or goal throw.

  • Must be taken from where the foul was committed or just behind.

  • You cannot score directly from a free throw unless it is an immediate shot from behind 5m (yellow marker). Otherwise the ball must be passed at least once before a shot can be taken.

  • Free throws can be taken to yourself.  If so, the free throw should be taken in a manner to enable players to observe the ball leaving your hand.

  • If a free throw is not taken without undue delay then the possession will be reversed.




Awarded as a free throw for the following simple definitions;



  • Holding/pushing off goal posts.

  • Standing (to gain an unfair advantage in shallow pools over an opponent).

  • Pushing ball under water when being tackled

  • Using two hands or blocking with two hands.

  • Being within the defending teams 2m area and receiving a pass (AKAoffside).

  • To impede or otherwise prevent the free movement of an opponent who is not holding the ball.

  • To push or push off from an opponent who is not holding the ball.

  • Timewasting.

  • Ball leaves field of play.

  • Shot clock is run down.

  • Instead of awarding a foul advantage may be played by the referee.



Awarded as a free throw, Majors awarded for the following reasons


  • Interfering with taking of the free throw/corner

  • Intentionally splashing opponent

  • Hold, sink or pull back opponentnot holding the ball

  • Kicking and hitting opponents (brutality)

  • Misconduct, foul language, violentor persistent foul play

  • If committed, the referee will blow the whistle once while pointing at the offending player, then blow it again while indicating with his hand the direction of the re-entry area and the number of the offending player.

  • Whilst swimming to the re-entry area, the player must not interfere with play.

  • Players move to the re-entry corner and sit on the poolside until instructed to return to the water.


The excluded player is permitted to re-enter after the earliest occurrence of one of the following;


  • When 20 seconds of actual play has elapsed

  • When a goal is scored

  • When the excluded players team has retaken possession of the ball

  • When the excluded players team is awarded a free throw/goal throw

  • Do not push/jump off the wall when re-entering

  • The substitution of the offending player is permitted where the new player enters the water in place of the offending player once instructed to do so.



  • Awarded if the following happens (a red flag will be shown from the table)

  • Player has accumulated 3 majors

  • Committed a serious major foul, such as brutality, leaving the field of play in the wrong place or continual misconduct.

  • In this case, player is sent off the poolside for the rest of the game (a substitution can take place, but not if player has been sent out for brutality)




Awarded as a penalty on the 5m line (yellow marker) for the following reasons;



  • When defender commits a foul where goal would have probably resulted.

  • When goalkeeper or defending player takes the ball under water when tackled within the 5m area

  • When excluded player re-enters improperly.

  • Penalty taken in one movement towards the goal on the referees whistle.

  • All players must be outside 5m area and at last 2m from penalty taker.




  • If a player has the ball in his / her hands the defender is entitled to try and get the ball.

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