How to Pass a Slower Swimmer

Common sense and common courtesy make the foundation of a good lap swim outing. When passing slower swimmers, always communicate effectively, be considerate, and try to follow the common conventions and etiquette of the locals. Make sure that once you complete the pass, you will still be able to maintain a faster pace than the other swimmer. There are few things more annoying than a passer who slows down as soon as they get in front of you.

When to Pass Another Swimmer

The safest place to pass another swimmer is at the wall. You are simply far less-likely to have a head-on collision with another swimmer there. That said, if for some reason, you can’t make passes at the wall, you can always go around someone mid-pool. Just try to do so earlier in the lap, rather than later, so that you both have enough time and space to turn at the far wall.

The Right-of-Way

When two swimmers of different speeds are sharing a lane, who has the right-of-way? Does the slower swimmer have to yield to the faster swimmer and let him pass? Or does the faster swimmer have to yield to the slower swimmer and just go around him when the opportunity arises? Of course, the answer depends on who you ask.

Hot Tip: Swim Teams

Masters swimmers sometimes disagree even among themselves about who has the right-of-way. If you are joining a Masters team, ask your lanemates what the convention is, and go along with it. Remember, when you swim with the same people every day, Tuesday’s fast swimmers may be Friday’s slow swimmers, and vice versa.

Most pool rules and recommendations include some version of the “faster swimmer has the right-of-way” principle. The vast majority of organized practices tend to give the right of way to faster swimmers. When it comes to open lap swimming, who has the right-of-way depends on what pool you are swimming at, and who you end up sharing a lane with.


First, make sure the slower swimmer knows you are there. Probably the most effective and least annoying way to announce your intention to pass someone is to gently tap their foot once (and only once) when you are about 5 yards from the wall (just before the flags). That said, if you are passing the same person repeatedly, tapping gets old very quickly.

Not every swimmer appreciates being tapped on the foot, especially if you are passing the same person over and over. If you find yourself in a situation where you are significantly faster than your lanemate(s), either try to find a more appropriate lane or skip this step and be extra-careful making the pass, particularly in a crowded lane.

Pass at the Wall

Hot Tip: Be Alert

If the swimmer you are passing is either not aware of, or simply not observing, the same etiquette as you, he or she might ignore your tap. If your lanemate is ignoring you, pass the swimmer mid-lap. Next time you are both stopped at the wall together, decide on a way to communicate that you—or they—want to make a pass.

After you have gently tapped the slower swimmer’s foot, make sure there is no one else pushing off the wall. Then, accelerate and move to their left. You and the slower swimmer will be swimming side by side. If the swimmer you are passing is aware of (and observing) friendly lap swim etiquette, he or she will do one of three things: slow down, pause briefly mid-turn to let you push of first, or yield completely by stopping at the wall. Simply, conduct your turn on the left side of the lane, and you will be in front of the slower swimmer.

Pass between the Flags

Depending on how many people are in your lane and the relative speeds of the faster and slower swimmers, it may also be safe (or necessary) to pass someone between the flags. When you decide that it is safe to pass in the middle of the pool, there is no need to tap the swimmer in front of you. They will see you soon enough!

Accelerate, and swim around them to the left. Move back to the right side of the lane as soon as possible. When you pass someone mid-pool, be very “head’s up” (pun intended) for swimmers coming from the far end of the pool.

If You Still Want to Know More

For more on lap swimming etiquette see How to Be Passed and the Dos and Don’ts of Lap Swimming.

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