Abridged Water Polo Rules

(The full rules are available here)

Water polo matches are made up of four periods (quarters) – the time period varies depending upon age and competition.  The objective is to score a goal.

A team consists of 13 players. There are 6 outfield players and 1 goalkeeper in the water at any time.  Substitutions can be made at any time, by swimming to the corner of the pool by the team bench – but usually only after a goal.

There are four kinds of fouls:
  • Ordinary (sometimes called a minor foul)
  • Exclusion (sometimes called a major foul)
  • Penalty
  • Reverse
Referees are encouraged to let the game flow, by playing the advantage rule.
 Ruling Referees Whistle

An Ordinary Foul will be called against a player for:
  • Holding the ball underwater
  • Standing on the bottom of the pool while playing in the game
  • A player touches the ball with both hands (except the goalkeeper)
  • Hitting the ball with a clenched fist
  • Being closer than two-meters to the opposing team's goal
  • Hindering the movement of an opposing player who does not have the ball.
  • Throwing the ball out of the pool

An Ordinary Foul results in a free throw for the team that did not commit the foul

One short blast on the whistle for an ordinary foul to the attacking team.

An Exclusion foul will be called against a player for:
  • Deliberately splashing water in an opposing players face
  • Holding up a free throw, corner throw and goal throw
  • Deliberately or deliberately trying to kick or hit an opposing player
  • Holding, pulling or pushing an opponent who does not have the ball
  • Refusing to comply with the instructions of an official or acting in a disrespectful manner toward an official
  • Committing an act of brutality or violence
  • A minor foul inside 5 metres that prevents a probable goal

The offending player is excluded from the water and can only go back into the game after one of the following has happened:
  • 20 seconds of playing time have gone by
  • the excluded players team gets the ball
  • a goal is scored

Three short blasts followed by a longer blast for an exclusion foul.

A Penalty Foul result in a penalty throw for the team that was fouled.
  • A penalty is given when a defensive foul takes place in the five-meter zone when a goal was about to be or most likely would have been scored.
One long blast for a penalty


A Reverse Foul is essentially an ordinary foul committed by an attacking player resulting in the defending team being given possession of the ball.

In addition, a Reverse Foul will also be given against an attacking team who hold on to the ball for more than 30 seconds without taking a shot on goal.

One short blast followed by a longer blast to reverse play.


Two short blasts for a goal

(Abridged by Colin Robbins)