Even More Information on Timing

This page has more specific information on timing for those of you who like to feel as prepared as possible before timing at a swim meet.  The Chief Timer and Lane Timer jobs are further detailed below.  Timing is not difficult, but there are things you should know...

Timing Tips

  • As a general rule, swim meets are WET. Sandals, sports shoes, or flip-flops are recommended and wear nothing that will be damaged by pool water. 
  • When you are timing, it is very important that you stand at the edge of the pool looking straight down the wall to see the swimmer actually touch the wall in order to get an accurate time.
  • It is best to push the buttons with your index finger, not your thumb. Your index finger has the fastest and most consistent reaction time of all your digits.
  • When operating a stopwatch, always start and stop the watch with the same finger.  That way no matter what your reaction time, it tends to balance out.
  • When starting a stopwatch at the beginning of a race, always start it on the flash of the strobe on the top of the starting horn. Starting lines, especially during relays and enclosed facilities, are noisy places and it is very easy to miss or be late on the horn.
  • Most importantly, have FUN, encourage all of the kids (even from other teams), enjoy the front row!!!



  • Help recruit timers for each session and verify that all lanes have timers, working stopwatches and buttons, clipboards, pencils, and heat sheets.
  • Become familiar with timer instructions, and make certain that you and timers attend the Timer Briefing, usually held in the classroom about 45 minutes before each session.
  • After the briefing, provide lane timers additional training, as appropriate.

THROUGHOUT MEET                                                    

  • Periodically check that the Block Button Timer is writing the time in the right place/ format (no rounding to the 100th decimal place e.g., 2:28.32) on the heat sheet.
  • Remind timers with vacant lanes to start their watches, too.
  • Watch for timers that may be trying to get your attention.  They may need your help.
  • Ensure that the area behind the blocks is calm and uncrowded by controlling traffic.   This helps swimmers focus on their upcoming event.
  • Only the next competitor may go in front of timers after the current race or leg of a relay has begun.
  • Make sure all timers can see starter’s strobe light while seated.  Timers’ line of sight to the strobe must be unobstructed by swimmers, other timers, or officials.
  • If necessary, remind all timers to remain seated, except during the last length of the current race when they should lean over the wall to see and time the touch.
  • Remind timers to kindly instruct later swimmers to stay behind them.


  • At the beginning of each race, start your two manual stopwatches and immediately observe stopwatch timers for problems (raised hands indicating a malfunction, etc…).
  • If a stopwatch timer malfunctions, temporarily move a stopwatch timer from a vacant lane to the malfunctioning lane.  (Make sure they know to come back to their lane immediately at the end of that heat.)
  • If there are no vacant lanes, deliver one of your watches to the malfunctioning lane.
  • Be on guard for inattentive timers.  (For example, after multiple heats of 100 Yard events, you may need to alert timers that do not approach the wall after the turn of a 50 Yard event that this is a 50 Yard event.)


Before Meet

  • Attend Timer Briefing! (Listen for announcement of time/location-usually 45 minutes before session in the classroom.)
  • Decide which timer will use stopwatch and which timer will use block button/hold clipboard.

  • Read instructions below, and become familiar with stopwatch and block button.

  • Write your names and lane on top of first page of Heat Sheet.


During Meet

  • Pay attention to type of event, COUNT lengths of the race, and know when your swimmer makes their final turn.

  • Be dignified, professional, and impartial! You are an official. Cheering gives the impression that you favor certain swimmers causing some people to infer that your timing might not be fair.

  • Help the swimmers by maintaining a calm atmosphere around you.  This may require traffic control. 

  • Stay seated during the meet (except after your swimmer makes their final turn at which time you may approach the wall to observe their touch and get their time).  

  • Allow only the next swimmer to race in front of you - AFTER the current race has begun.  You should only have one swimmer in front of you at a time. This ensures that timers further down the line can also see the strobe light and helps maintain an orderly and calm area before each race, allowing the swimmers to focus on their event. 

  • Raise hand to alert Chief Timer of any problems.


Stopwatch Timer

Block Button Timer

Start stopwatch when the strobe light flashes, or at the sound of the starting device, even if your lane is vacant.  (Be prepared to move temporarily to a “malfunctioning” lane, at the Chief Timer’s request.)

After each heat starts, ask the next heat’s swimmer their FULL name and make sure it matches the heat sheet.  You may now allow that swimmer in front of you!  If time permits, you may line swimmers up behind you several heats ahead to prevent delays.

Approach the edge of the pool only after your swimmer makes their final turn.

Approach the edge of the pool only after your swimmer makes their final turn.

Lean over the edge to observe any part of the swimmer’s body touching the pad or wall, and press stopwatch button at the swimmer’s touch.

Lean over the edge to observe any part of the swimmer’s body touching the pad or wall, and press the block button at the swimmer’s touch.

Return to your seat and share with the other timer the stopwatch time for them to record on heat sheet. Clear stopwatch after other timer records time.

Return to your seat and record time from stopwatch timer on heat sheet (hundredth place, no rounding, e.g., 2:22.22 or 22.22)