Can you use a snorkel in a Triathlon?


If you are a regular snorkel user during your triathlon training you will probably wonder if you are allowed to use it during a triathlon. The rules are not very clear on the topic. This is why I am going to explain them to you.

Snorkels are legal equipment for use by triathletes in events regulated by the USA Triathlon competitive rules. They are not allowed under World Triathlon (ex ITU) and Ironman rules. To summarise: you can use a snorkel for most triathlons happening in the US.

So let’s dig into the rules of triathlon to find out the answer in detail.

Swimmer using a snorkel

Are snorkels allowed under USA Triathlon rules?

USA Triathlon (USAT) is the National Governing Body for the triathlon in the United States. They are members of World Triathlon which sets the rules internationally for the sport. But USAT has its own competition rules where minor differences can be found with World Triathlon rules.

If you read USAT competition rules looking for the mention of snorkels, you will not find it anywhere. It isn’t directly mentioned as banned. But it is not specifically mentioned either as authorized. So you might wonder if you can take your snorkel on a race under USAT rules or not.

Whether snorkels were really allowed under USAT rules was a big secret until the end of 2018 when a certified official, Tom Reilly, disclosed the information without leaving any doubt:

“Snorkels are legal equipment for use by triathletes under the USA Triathlon competitive rules. USAT rules outline what you cannot do versus what you can do. Swimming conduct is covered under Article IV in the USA Triathlon competitive rules. Nowhere under Article IV is the use of a snorkel prohibited. Note that 4.9 Illegal Equipment under Article IV, several things that cannot be used are specified during the swim. The use of a snorkel is not one of them. However, keep in mind that this applies only to events using USAT competitive rules. Others such as ITU and WTC may not allow snorkels.”

Should you use a snorkel when competing?

If you manage to compete under USAT rules where snorkels are allowed, then take this opportunity to use it! A snorkel will prevent you from turning your head to breathe. So you won’t have to worry about your breathing during the race.

Also, snorkels are great in choppy waters. During a race, you will notice that is not uncommon to have to change your breathing pattern to adapt to the environment:

  • choppy water, waves, can prevent you from breathing on one side
  • mass starts with lots of swimmers make it very difficult to breathe normally and can be quite stressful not to swallow water

Using a snorkel will definitely help beginners in those cases, especially the ones afraid of swimming in a crowd. But please train with it first before bringing it to a race, just so it feels natural to use.

For more advanced swimmers, a snorkel has downsides. Indeed, many pro swimmers testify that snorkel reduces their efficiency to breathe and this is why they use it as a tool for training.

So it all depends on where you are in your triathlon journey. For beginners, this is definitely a help.

If you don’t have a snorkel yet, I particularly enjoy FINIS Original Swimmer’s Snorkel.

Finis Original Swimmer’s snorkel

Would using a snorkel disqualify me from awards?

The USAT states that a snorkel would not disqualify you from awards or rankings in the races they organize. It’s a popular belief from the time the World Triathlon Corporation (WTC) did allow snorkels in their competition but with disqualification for any awards or slots. The WTC no longer allows snorkel nowadays anyway.

In short, the USAT follows completely different rules for this specific topic. They allow snorkels in competition with no trade-off.

Are snorkels allowed under World Triathlon rules? (ex ITU)

World Triathlon is the international governing body for the sport of Triathlon and all related multisport. You probably know them under the name ITU (International Triathlon Union) which was in use till October 2020 and that people still refer to a lot.

World Triathlon has banned the use of snorkels since 2013, as you can see from this extract of their competition rules:

Rule 4.11.e.i: Athletes must not use or wear […] snorkels.

triathlon.org

These rules will apply to most competitions in the world, but specific rules may apply nationwide such as in the USA.

Are snorkels allowed under Ironman rules?

The World Triathlon Corporation WTC (different from World Triathlon) organizes the Ironman Triathlon, a series of long-distance triathlons.

According to Ironman Triathlon rules, snorkels are not allowed as you can see in the extract of their competition rules:

Rule 4.01.c: The use of snorkels, fins, gloves, paddles, or flotation devices of any kind (including pull buoys) is prohibited.

Ironman.com

Actually, they mention it 3 times throughout the guidebook to make sure it is very clear.

Other swim related topics you might be interested in:

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