Canoe Polo


At a starting signal, players charge out from behind their goal-lines to gain possession of the ball placed by the referee at the centre of the play area. With paddles as their lances and kayaks (canoes) as their steeds, they hurtle towards each other in a contest for dominion over the bright yellow ball bobbing idly in the water. A ferocious clash of kayaks ensues, making for a stark contrast to neat and graceful paddle flicks as the combatants seek to gain control of the ball.

First introduced to tertiary institutions in the 1980s, canoe polo has expanded its base among those who are keen for new challenges. A hybrid sport that marries kayaking with water polo, a canoe polo playert requires strength, agility and a gamut of psychomotor skills to manoeuvre and paddle the boat with ease, to control the ball and to shoot it at goal.

This fast-paced sport is played by two teams of five players. Opposing teams start off in their individual kayaks at both ends of the play area which measures 35m long x 23m wide. The ball is tossed into the centre by the referee and a player appointed by each team will try to outrace another to gain possession of the ball first, with the rest of their teammates following closely behind.

There are no fixed positions for players, but they are usually divided into chasers (attackers) or zoners (defenders).

The objective of the game is to put the ball into the goal frame either by throwing it in or batting/flicking it in with the paddle. The goal frame is a rectangle 1.5m wide x 1m tall and suspended 2m above the water surface.

Movers and shooters

A good player requires a combination of three distinct sets of individual skills involving kayaking techniques, ball control and paddling techniques.

In canoe polo, players use boats (known as kayaks) which are 2.1m to 3.1m long. The kayaks are made shorter and more streamlined than the conventional ones to increase maneuverability. The players must possess advanced kayaking skills in paddling and in recovery by executing rolls to upright themselves if they do capsize (a frequent occurrence with hand tackling). It is also important for players to be able to turn their bow around very fast and control it to surround and block their opponents when they have possession of the ball.

A good team of players also needs to hone their ball skills to play the ball around tactically and to shoot at any angle from any position.

As for paddling skills, players they need to be able to use the paddle to sprint and breakaway with explosive bursts of speed, to play with the ball, to catch and to block the opponent’s ball.

Clean contact

Protective gear must be worn as there can be quite a lot of body contact in canoe polo. For the safety of players, they are shielded largely by their protective gear like helmets with full face guards and protective vests.  Such protection to their face and bodies are necessary as they could be hit by paddles, high speed ball or rammed by charging kayaks. This safety factor minimizes injuries to players.

There are strict rules, regulations and guidelines on equipment specifications as well as rules governing proper play in which body contact is disallowed.

For instance, no sharp edges are allowed for any of the equipment and both ends of each kayak are secured with soft paddings.

In cases of rough play, the referee will stop the game to give a penalty for foul-play if he observes any potentially harmful act such as the paddle being too close to the opponent’s body, hand or face. Yellow or even red cards are also dished out to players who foul their opponents deliberately. However, players can use their hands to push his/her opponent’s arms in order to regain possession of the ball (hand tackling).


Expanding the pool

In Singapore, with the support of Sport Singapore and SCF, the popularity of the discipline is growing in terms of the number of teams. In the past, there were about 6 active teams playing in the tournament but now, there are more than 40 teams participating in the tournament held annually around August – September.

A quick guide to canoe polo

  • Players are not allowed to hold on to the ball for more than 5 seconds. They either throw it to their team mates or toss it into the water a metre away from them within that time.
  • Players can try to wrestle the ball away from an opponent provided there is no body contact. They can also do a hand tackle – push opponents on their arm to tip their kayak over – to make their opponents lose the ball.
  • After a team scores, the opponent restarts the game from the centre of the pool.
  • Each team has three substitutes and the teams can make substitutions anytime and any number of substitutes during the game.
  • Teams play 10-minute halves with a three minute interval in between.
  • Penalties for foul play are also given. Illegal tackles or illegal use of paddle is disallowed. (e.g. when a player uses his canoe to crash into his opponent’s body or when the paddle is adjudged to be too close to the opponent’s hand or face).
  • If the player deliberately engages in rough play, a yellow card is given and the cautioned player has to sit out the next two minutes of the game. The offender may be given a red card, if the foul is serious enough to have him/her to sit out the remainder of the game.
  • If the foul is committed within the defender’s zone and a potential goal was prevented, the referee will then award a penalty – to be taken at the 6m line from goal, without any goalkeeper to block the attempt.