The Game

The game, known as Kayak Polo or Canoe Polo, is played in many countries on all continents, for recreation and competition. The sport has World Championships every 2 years. Internationally, the sport is organized by the Canoe Polo committee of the International Canoe Federation. The game is often described as a combination of water polo, basketball, kayaking slalom (and maybe bumper boats). The tactics and playing of the game are not unlike basketball or water polo, but with the added complexity of maneuvering and tactically utilizing your boat.

The Rules

The ball, a waterpolo ball, is passed from hand-to-hand among the players, with some use of the paddle on the ball also allowed. A player in possession can be hand-tackled by being pushed over on the shoulder or back. (We won’t push you over until you are comfortable with hand-rolling, and even experienced players may ask not to be pushed during practice and informal games.) Players may only have the ball in their possession for a maximum of five seconds. Players can dribble the ball by throwing it one meter or more into the water to reset the count. Most of the rules concern the safety of the players involved.

In particular, it is illegal to place your paddle near another players hand when they are reaching for the ball or throwing. It is also illegal to hit another player’s body with your paddle or boat or ram their boat at high speed at or near a right angle. Only 5 players in a team are allowed at the same time. An additional player on the pitch is considered an illegal substitution (see below). Another rule concerns illegal obstruction; you can’t block or interfere with an opposing player unless you are going for the ball or defending your goal area (within a 6 meter zone). The penalty for a rule violation is loss of possession but may also include goal penalty shots (like goal penalty kicks in soccer) and penalty cards. After a violation, the other team holds the ball temporarily overhead to restart play by either throwing in from the goal or side line or taking a shot on goal (depending on the violation).

Substitutions can be made at any time during the game without notifying the referee, the player leaving has to cross the back line behind his team’s goal before another player can come on. An illegal substitution result in a yellow card and the offending team has to play with one less player for 2 minutes.

The Pitch

Canoe polo is played either indoors in swimming pools or outdoors on a pitch which should measure 35 by 23 meters. The edges of the pitch are marked by the sides of the pool, or better, by floating ropes (similar to lane markers in swimming).


There are two referees (one on each side-line) and they are on foot rather than in boats. The score is kept by the scorekeeper and the timekeeper monitors the playing time and sending-off times. The goal lines are monitored by 2 line judges. Before play commences scrutineers check all kit for compliance with regulations


The goals (measuring 1 by 1.5 meters) are a frame with a net, suspended 2 meters above the water. A player, acting as goalie, defends the goal with their paddle by sticking it up vertically, special rules concern the goalie, such as: the attacking team not being able to interfere with or jostle them. The length of the paddles used by the goalies are often longer than those used by other players.


The game is officially played as a 20 minute game consisting of two 10 minute halves. The teams swap ends at half-time. Each half begins with a sprint where each team lines up against its goal-line and the ball is thrown into the middle of the pitch by the referee. One player from each team sprints to win possession of the ball.

For more information, refer to the Canoe Polo section on the International Canoe Federation website, read Boat, Paddle and Ball a short history of Canoe Polo by Ian Beasley, and download the updated 2019 rules