What makes a competition pool a competition pool?

ramaker insights

What makes a competition pool a competition pool?


usa swimming certification for competition pools

As we inch closer to the Tokyo Olympics, we’re hoping for fast pools and record-breaking performances. If recent history is any indication, we think the pools in Tokyo will produce more than a few memorable moments.

The Ramaker team has been thinking a lot about competition pools lately. Over the past year, we’ve partnered with local municipalities, high schools, and universities not only to design new pools but also to verify that their existing pools align with USA Swimming’s regulations and standards. At the beginning of these competition pool surveying projects, the same question seems to occupy the minds of aquatics managers: What makes a competition pool a competition pool?

According to USA Swimming, it takes more than the presence of a few swim teams to call a pool a certified competition pool.

Grab your goggles and plug your nose. It’s time to plunge into the deep end of pool surveying. Why is it important? What is the certification process for competition pools? We’ll take on these topics—and more—over the course of this post.

Why certifying competition pools matters

The answer is relatively simple: USA Swimming certification is good for competition.

Swimmers competing at a certified site can rest assured that the pool doesn’t give any competitor a unique advantage over the rest of the field. All lanes meet length requirements, no starting blocks are illegally positioned, and backstroke platform grips are stationed at regulation height.

Plus, certification protects potential records. Swimmers can enter meets knowing that their potentially record-breaking performances won’t be ignored due to irregularities in pool design. Just think about it. Although an inch or two discrepancy between lanes may not seem like a big deal, that distance adds up over the course of a longer race—and such an advantage could produce surprising results!

Although USA Swimming technically doesn’t require pools to be certified before hosting sanctioned meets, certification preserves the integrity of the sport. That’s why municipalities, high schools, and universities partner with pool surveying specialists to make sure their pools meet regulations and are safe for competitions.

What makes a competition pool a competition pool?
Trimble pool surveying equipment at the University of Wisconsin's Soderholm Family Aquatic Center.

How to measure competition pools

The USA Swimming certification process requires licensed surveyors to do more than make sure racing course dimensions meet standard length requirements for competition pools (25 meters or 25 yards for short course pools and 50 meters for long course pools). These professionals also evaluate starting platforms, water depth, backstroke flags, 15-meter markings, and much more.

How does the pool surveying process begin? Surprisingly like how a swim meet starts.

Licensed surveyors begin with the starting blocks—not to race but to record measurements. USA Swimming requires these platforms to be flush with the end of the pool and stand between 0.5 meters and 0.75 meters above the water’s surface. Surveyors also confirm that non-slip material covers the blocks and make sure that each block’s slope does not exceed 10 degrees.

These platforms should also have backstroke starting grips located between 0.3 meters and 0.6 meters above the water’s surface and parallel to the end of the pool. Like the platforms, these grips should be flush with the pool wall.

Next comes water depth. Per USA Swimming, “minimum water depth for racing starts during practice and competition shall be measured for a distance 3 feet 3½ inches (1.0 meter) to 16 feet 5 inches (5.0 meters) from the end wall.” Licensed surveyors should not only evaluate the pool’s water depth but also confirm that local, state, and municipal statutes do not conflict with USA Swimming’s requirements.

While we still have our toes in the water, it’s worth noting that USA Swimming also regulates lane width (a minimum of 2.5 meters or 7 feet), the diameter of floating lane dividers (between five and 15 centimeters), water temperature, and the placement of markers that help swimmers determine their place in the pool, such as backstroke flags and 15-meter markings.

The point here is that competition pool surveying is a highly specialized job. USA Swimming expects most design elements of competition pools to meet meticulous standards. In fact, we’ve only provided a broad outline in this post. Want to dive even deeper into the world of competition pool certification? You can find a complete list of USA Swimming’s guidelines here.

What makes a competition pool a competition pool?
Ramaker designed the competition swimming and diving pool at the Beloit College Powerhouse.

Does your pool meet USA Swimming standards?

Whether or not you’re planning on hosting a USA Swimming competition, having your pool certified protects the integrity of race results. Swimmers aren’t just racing against each other. They’re racing against the clock too. Inconsistent lane lengths may give some contestants a competitive advantage over the field and jeopardize potential records.

But why should you partner with professional engineers for competition pool surveying services? The short answer is that USA Swimming requires it. Recording accurate measurements in an aquatic environment is very difficult. It takes more than a tape measure to do the job well.

Contact Ramaker today to schedule your USA Swimming pool certification. Our deep expertise in both aquatic engineering and surveying has established Ramaker as a valuable partner for municipalities, high schools, and colleges in Wisconsin and across the Midwest.

A photo of Eric Kaul


Service Group Leader — Aquatics, Civil, Surveying

Eric’s career at Ramaker began in the Land Surveying department while he attended college for his Bachelor of Science degree in Civil Engineering. Now, Eric and Daryl lead the ACS team. Eric’s surveying expertise and familiarity with the aquatics industry have been instrumental to developing and providing competition pool certification services.

A photo of Daryl Matzke


Aquatics Market Leader

Daryl contributes 35 years of experience in the Aquatics industry. His specialty lies in managing large-scale, multi-discipline projects. His areas of expertise include master plan development and calculation review, regulatory review and permitting, project management, construction inspection, contract administration, and quality control.

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