Gator (game)

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Gator is the name for a swimming pool game, popular in parts of the Southern U.S. and possibly elsewhere. It is related to another popular swimming game, Sharks and Minnows, and probably traces its lineage to playground games such as Red Rover.


The object of the game is to swim across a playing area without being captured.

Playing area[edit]

Usually for the game of Gator, the playing area is a diving well. The diving wells of many neighborhood pools measure roughly 25 feet (7.6 m) wide x 25 feet (7.6 m) long x 12 feet (3.7 m) deep. This is considered optimum for Gator. For younger children, smaller diving wells or pools may work.

Basic game[edit]

At the beginning of the game, one person is chosen to be the first Gator, and treads water on one side of the playing area. The remaining players stand on the pool deck on the side opposite the Gator. These players are prohibited to enter the water until the Gator says the word "gator". Once the word has been said, the players are free to enter the water whenever they wish. Once they enter the water, they must swim to the other side. If the Gator touches (more commonly "tags") any part of the player's body before he touches the other side, he is caught. After all players have crossed to the other side safely or have been caught by the Gator, the round is over. The free players get out of the water and the Gator and whomever he caught swim to the opposite side of the playing area. The caught players become Gators for the next round. In this way, the game gets progressively harder for the players, who have to face increasing numbers of Gators. Then the next round begins.

Once all of the players have been caught, the first player caught becomes the first Gator for the next game.

Note: the entire side wall opposite the players is considered the safe area. The division between the side wall and the bottom in some pools is unclear so some guideline will have to be established.

Optional rules[edit]

Gator, like many childhood games, has hundreds of optional rules. Some of these are categorized below:

Catching variants[edit]

  • Head tag - this popular variant requires that Gators tag a person's head in order to capture
  • First-person anywhere - this exclusion to the head tag rule allows the Gator to capture his first victim with a tag anywhere on the player's body.
  • Above-water tag - this variant requires that Gators tag the player while he is above water, and usually on the head. This usually results in more physical games, as Gators grab their victims from the depths and wrestle them to the surface. This variant is sometimes known as "Whale" rather than Gator.
  • Out-of-bounds - some playing areas, in particular diving wells which adjoin a pool, have a boundary marked by a line or rope. In most cases, swimming outside of this boundary results in the offending player being caught. Other variants allow swimming out of bounds to avoid a tag but not surfacing. Any player surfacing out of bounds is caught.

Rushing variants[edit]

Allowing players to enter the water at any time means that sometimes no one enters for a long time. Rushing rules are meant to speed up the game.

  • Swimming rush - this is typically considered part of the standard game. A Gator may swim across the playing area to the side on which the players stand, causing them to enter the water quickly. If the Gator touches the wall before any players enter the water, then those players are caught.
  • Counting rush - in this variant, a Gator may tread water in the center of the playing area and count to some predefined number. Any players left on the wall when the Gator finishes counting are caught.
  • Voluntary rush - this variant allows non-Gators who have crossed safely to perform a swimming rush. This is usually done to get the game going if the Gator has not caught anyone in several rounds.

Safety variants[edit]

These rules make it easier for players to cross the playing area safely.

  • Drain's base - while a player is in contact with the pool drain, he may not be caught. He is not safe, however, until he reaches the other side.
  • Chains - in this variant, players who cross safely may begin a chain. Subsequent players may become safe if they reach the chain or the wall without being caught.
  • Ferries - Ferries are players who, after successfully crossing to the other side, swim back towards the starting side and 'ferry' a player across. A player in contact with a ferry may not be caught.

Other variants[edit]

  • Voluntary Gator or Suicide - a player may, before the Gator has said "gator", say "voluntary gator" or "suicide" and enter the water, joining the Gators.

Another version of Gator that is commonly played in Metro Atlanta calls for the gator to stand on the edge of the diving board with his or her back to the pool. When the "Gator" hears someone swimming across the pool they jump in and tag the person before they reach the other side. If however the Gator turns around and does not dive in after turning around, or peeks at the pool in any way they must take one step farther down the board away from the water.

This version of gator has also been known to be converted to a game called Torpedo which follows the same basic rules with one exception. The person on the diving board must tag the person while still in motion from their dive. This can lead to injuries however as some players will come in contact with others with a large amount of momentum.


  • Skilled Gator players pride themselves on their diving ability. Because the quickest way to cross is a straight line, players typically try not to swim much, and rely on the momentum derived from the dive. Diving in this game largely determines one's trajectory. A good dive in Gator will propel the player over the water for a good distance before setting the player on a trajectory for the bottom of the opposite side wall. Tricks like faking in one direction and rolling underwater are often employed.
  • Likewise, the Gator may employ deceptive tactics, like performing a swimming rush halfway and then descending to intercept.
  • The players will typically begin their dives from a running start a few paces from the pool edge.