Basic Triathlon Rules

While we encourage everyone to read (and obey!) the full ITU Rules, the basic rules below are a good place to start:


  • No headphones in any part of the race.
  • No glass containers can be used at any time during competition.
  • If a race number is provided, you must wear it so that it is visible on the front during the run. You must not alter it in anyway.
  • You must not receive assistance of any kind other than the help provided by the race organizers. It is the athlete’s responsibility to know the course at all times. You may leave the course at any time, but must re-enter the course at the same location. Race directors are required to provide you with maps prior to the event. Know the course.


  • You may use any stroke, tread water, float, stand or rest on an inanimate object at any time. You may not use the bottom or other objects to move forward.
  • You cannot wear fins or snorkels, but may wear a wetsuit if it falls within specified guidelines.


  • You must obey the rules of the road unless directed by police/RCMP or a certified official. This includes riding as far right as is possible, stopping at stop signs and obeying traffic lights. In addition, do not cross the centerline of the road at any time.
  • Helmets must be fastened at all times while you are in possession of your bike. (Don’t take your bike off the rack until your helmet is fastened; don’t undo your helmet until you’ve put your bike back.) Your helmet must also be worn any time you are on your bike at the race site, even during warm up or riding to the race.
  • You cannot follow within 10m (30ft) of another bike (drafting) and may not ride within 1.5m (5ft) to the side of another bike (blocking). You may break these rules only to pass and have a maximum of 15 seconds to enter the 10m/1.5m zone and complete the pass on the left and be out of the 10m zone. The cyclist who has been passed (or a person who attempted and failed a pass) must immediately drop out of the draft zone before they attempt the pass again.


  • You can run or walk, but they don’t let you crawl.


  • You must rack your bike in a designated space. Be aware that you will have a limited amount of space for personal effects. Officials will normally point this out during the briefing.
  • Bikes cannot be ridden in transition and you will be instructed to mount and dismount your bike at a designated location known as the mount/dismount line.

If you break a rule at any point during the event, an official will blow a whistle, say your race number and ask you to safely come to a stop for further instructions. When you oblige, the official may:

  • Give a verbal warning and/or penalty;
  • Give you a warning/penalty and a time penalty to be served on the spot;
  • Give you a warning/penalty and a time penalty to be added to your final time;
  • Give you a disqualification and remove you from further competition;
  • Give you a disqualification and allow you to continue to race pending your ability to appeal the disqualification; or
  • Remove you from the competition for medical/safety reasons.

You have the right to appeal or protest the ruling. You may also protest things like the course and another competitor’s conduct. There are time limits and protocol to follow, but you do have rights and should know them.

Each race has a pre-race briefing and this is an excellent time to hear the rules and special rules that may apply on the day. When in doubt, ask an official for clarification. If you really want to know your stuff, Triathlon Nova Scotia offers several level 1 & 2 officials clinics each year. They are free, so take a clinic, volunteer and learn by doing!