Polo Rules

Basic Kayak Polo Rules:

Hand Tackling

  • You can hand tackle (attempt to push over) a player who is in possession of the ball.  Recall that possession means that the player is either holding the ball, or has it within arm’s length on the water.
  • You hand tackle by pushing an opposing player with an OPEN hand on the side, back, or upper arm.
  • It is illegal to:
    • Hand tackle someone who doesn’t have possession of the ball.
    • Push someone over onto another boat, the side of the pool, or any other hard object.
    • Pull someone towards you.
    • Fend off a hand tackle by pushing back with your hand, arm, or elbow.
    • Grab an opponent’s body, gear, or boat to stop them from moving.
    • Prevent someone from rolling or righting themselves after a flip.

Boat Tackling

  • You can boat tackle an opposing player by ramming or pushing their boat with your boat.
  • You may boat tackle:
    • An opposing player who is in possession of the ball
    • An opposing player within the defensive zone around goal when you are set up on defense, whether or not the opposing player has the ball.
  • It is illegal to:
    • Hit another player’s body or cockpit area with your boat.
    • Hit another player’s boat straight on at a 90-degree angle.

Paddle Use:  You can use your paddle to block a pass or a shot, or retrieve a ball floating on the water.

It is an illegal paddle foul to:

  • Strike any part of an opponent’s body with your paddle.
  • Retrieve a floating ball with your paddle if someone is reaching for the ball with their hands.
  • Block within arm’s reach of a player who has the ball, such that their hand could strike your paddle when they throw.
  • Throw your paddle.
  • Wind up and swing at the ball with the paddle (as though you’re batting a baseball).
  • Push or brace off of another player’s boat with your paddle or hands.  (We might let you get away with this if you’re a new player and it keeps you from swimming.  🙂 )
  • In general, do not use the paddle in such a way that you might hit someone with it.

Goalies:   The goalie sits in front of the goal and blocks shots with his/her paddle.  Once the goalie reaches for the ball in an attempt to gain possession, the goalie becomes an ordinary player and can be tackled.  Avoid touching your team’s goalie because it will knock him/her out of position.  It is a foul to:

  • Push or touch the opposing goalie.
  • Push another player of either team into the opposing goalie.
  • Prevent the opposing goalie from getting into position under his or her goal.

Possession (5-second rule):  A player may have possession of the ball for only five seconds before s/he must dribble, pass, or shoot.  You have possession if you’re holding the ball or if it’s on the water within your arm’s reach.  In order to dribble, you must throw the ball out of arm’s reach, then paddle to it.

Out of Bounds:

  • Out of bounds at the sideline:  If you’re the last person to touch the ball with your hand, paddle, or boat before it goes over the sideline or touches the side of the pool, the opposing team gets the ball at the point on the sideline nearest where it went out.
  • Out of bounds over the goal line:
    • Goal Line Throw:  If an offensive player throws the ball out of bounds over the goal line without the ball being touched by the goalie or another defensive player and without making a goal, the defense takes the ball from the goal line.
    • Corner Throw:  If an offensive player shoots on goal and is blocked by the goalie or another defensive player and the ball lands out of bounds, the offense takes the ball from one of the corners of the goal line.

Sprints:  At the beginning of each half, the referee throws the ball into the center of the court, and ONE player from each team sprints for it.  Other players may back up the sprinter, but only one player from each team may sprint directly for the ball.

Presenting the Ball (Restarting Play): 
When a foul, out of bounds, goal, or other break in play occurs, you must signal the restart of play by holding the ball at arm’s length above your head (presenting the ball) before throwing it back into play.


  • If there are more than 5 players on a team, the extra players wait behind the goal line of the goal they are defending.
  • One of the active players can substitute out and one of the waiting players can substitute in at any time.
  • When substituting in, you must wait until the entire boat of the player coming off the court has passed over the goal line before any part of your boat enters the court.
  • It is generally best to sub when your team is moving forward on offense rather than leave holes in your team’s defense, and paddle hard when subbing out so that the other player can come in quickly.
  • Remember to substitute frequently so that players stay fresh and nobody gets left sitting out for a long time.