British Swimming Guidance on Wetsuits

Following discussion by the British Swimming – Swimming Officials Group, the following guidance has been provided via in respect of wetsuits at open water events:

It has been brought to the notice of the British Swimming – Swimming Officials Group that there appears to be doubt as to the style of wetsuit permitted to be used in Open Water swimming. To put the matter into context I will reproduce FINA rules and guidance known to date.

In August 2106 FINA issued the following rule changes

  • BL 8.4 For open water swimming competitions, with water temperature from 20 C, swimsuits for both men and women shall not cover the neck, nor extend past the shoulder, nor extend below the ankle. Subject to these specific shape specifications, swimsuits for open water swimming competitions shall further comply with all other requirements applicable to swimsuits for pool swimming competition.
  • BL 8.5 From the 1st of January 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.

In the intervening period to date it has been realised that an insufficient number of wetsuits have been submitted for FINA approval to provide a worldwide choice to athletes. On 11 January 2017, further information was circulated by FINA as follows:

Therefore during 2017, control of wetsuits at the Open Water Swimming competition will be done directly by the Technical Officials prior to the competition. The wetsuits should meet minimum requirements for coverage – wetsuit must completely cover torso, back, shoulders and knees, and shall not extend beyond the neck, wrists and ankles. In addition, the outer surface of the used wetsuits shall not include outstanding shapes, such as ridges, fins etc. Details on exact procedure for control and confirmation of wetsuits at the FINA competition will be available from the official FINA Technical Delegate prior to the competition.

This rule change has been brought about to increase safety for competitors in water between 16 °C- 18°C (compulsory) and 18°C – 20°C (optional). In accordance with other swimsuit rules British Swimming will conform to the intention of the rule. We do not provide interpretation of FINA rules – only FINA as the governing body can interpret their own rules.

However, to provide guidance, the discussion to date has been around what would constitute coverage of the shoulder. An informed view is that to ensure complete coverage of the shoulder the wetsuit must include a sleeve, as a minimum polo or T-shirt length covering the full shoulder and upper arm in order to maintain shoulder cover during swimming, full arm to wrist has been suggested although elbows do not feature in the rule, whereas coverage of knees as a mid-limb joint in respect of leg length of a wetsuit is.

It is expected that officials will apply common sense when dealing with references to neck, wrists and ankles.As in all OW events held in the home countries of England Scotland and Wales the Chief Referee will have responsibility for the overall management of the rules.