What Is A Bulkhead?

 A bulkhead is a structure that can separate a pool into different sections.  Typically these structures are moveable in the United States to allow the pool to be adjusted to accommodate different field of play (Yards and Meters).  For example, in a 50 meter pool with 2 movable bulkheads there can be as many as 19 different course configurations that can support swimming, water polo and synchronized swimming.  For NCAA swimming, race courses that utilize a bulkhead as a turning surface must be Certified for each session of a competition.  Courses with two hard walls require certification only once.  In the United States movable bulkheads are typically 4 or 6 feet wide. 


Bulkheads that are designed to move typically rest on the pool gutter.  There are either skid plates or wheels on the bottom of the bulkhead that role along the pool gutter lip.  Many of the bulkheads that are designed to move have the ability to be filled with air to minimize the weight impact when moving the structure.  Some are completely buoyant.  Other manufactures provide a power driven solution.  When the bulkhead reaches its new position it is secured in place with a mechanism to confirm the proper dimension for the activity.  If air was used to move the bulkhead it would be removed to add stability to the structure during programming. 

Switching a pool between long course and short course can be very time consuming.  Nonetheless some facilities switch back and forth daily.  In the United States where 25 yard courses are important many 50 meter pool have a 25 yard with.  This allows switching from 50 meters to 25 yards without relocating bulkhead(s).  Most world markets only swim in a metric format.  In these situations a retractable bulkhead can be used that recesses into the floor.  This allows for the pool to be shorter since the width of the bulkhead does not need to be taken into account in the 50 meter dimension.  This is the solution that is uses at the London Olympic Facility. 

Alternatively, some bulkhead manufacturers can provide passages through bulkhead for the 50 meter lane lines.  With this approach the pool can go from long course to short course without moving lane lines.  

Bulkheads are typically made out of fiberglass or stainless steel.  Issues that may impact material selection may include ability to easily move the bulkhead (weight), durability and maintenance requirements. 

For competition swimming the end of the pool (or bulkhead) must be rigid enough and wide enough to accommodate officials, lap counters, etc. But, for training all you really need is a rigid turning surface.  For this reason a submersible swim wall could be considered.  This approach is very popular in Australia and the benefits are obvious.  First of all the pool can go from long course to short course very quickly by simply raising the swim wall from its resting place on the pool floor. Air is added to the swim wall to raise it and released to lower it.   Another benefit is that swim walls are typically the width of two lanes and can be raised individually in about 1 minute.  This allows a single 50 meter pool to offer short course and long course swimming at the same time!  Some pools in Australia have traditional bulkhead for competition and swim walls for daily training.     

An economical version of a movable swim wall is basically a turning wall that simply attaches to the floating lane lines.  They are very affordable, surprisingly stable and easy to install/remove.       

Thank you for use of the above photos from Stark Industries, Vario Pool, Anti Wave International, Finis USA, Neptune Benson


8 Comments to What Is A Bulkhead?

  1. Kevin McCarthy
    July 23, 2012 at 5:21 pm | Permalink

    Hi Scott:

    Moving Bulkheads are great for racing training but vital for SKWIM® Tournaments! 50 meter pools with multiple bulkheads allow for better division between games and better officiating, affording the refs the ability to walk the lagoon at the middle of the pool instead of trying to officiate from one end. http://www.skwimusa.org; http://www.skwiminternational.org

    Keep up the great work at your firm!

  2. July 24, 2012 at 11:46 am | Permalink

    In the UKI have recently viewed a 25 mtr pool with length boom and moveable floor pool tank base to surface on one side this provides massive flexibility in the 8 lane pool with 2 mtr 4 lane swimming on one side and a range of swimming at shallow depths on the other. Flexibility in use and multiple groups are catered for. Income streams have increased proportionately

  3. Ryan Baggett
    July 24, 2012 at 2:26 pm | Permalink

    Great article. I’ll be sure to share it on Natare Corporation’s Facebook page. Of course, Natare sticks by our Stainless Steel Bulkheads, which won’t sag in the middle as the years and decades add up. We’ve been making these since the 1970’s for competition and training pools all over the world.

    Recently, Natare has started using our exclusive GPM Grating for the top and side surfaces of our steel bulkheads. This marine-grade polymer is superior to fiberglass and PVC grating in numerous ways. Not only will it outlast the competition (you can’t even hurt it with a hammer), but the GPM Grating can also be customized with team colors or engraved with beautiful, detailed logos and lettering as the client wishes. That is a new and unique tech in the industry.

  4. July 25, 2012 at 8:18 am | Permalink

    NIce post guys.
    FYI, in Europe – especially France – you see more 50m pools having a hinged bulkhead which rests on the bottom of the pool when not in use. This is a simple and effective solution can also be supplied in a split version having two individual sections. This allows the pool to be divided on one side and still have 50m lane swimming on the other. More information can be found here if you are interested :
    http://www.variopool.nl/en/bulkheads. All the best.

  5. Charles Logan
    July 25, 2012 at 3:08 pm | Permalink

    Our facility here at the University of Texas has two unique 9′ wide bulkheads that are stored in our ceiling. Motors are pneumatically powered. Come by and see them next time you are in Austin!

  6. July 25, 2012 at 8:47 pm | Permalink

    Steve and I were discussing the feedback we have received on this topic so far. We were brainstorming on other ideas. What if a pool cover was housed in the bulkhead. This would allow the pool cover to be rolled out through the bulkhead when not in use. What are your thoughts?

    • August 15, 2012 at 8:42 am | Permalink

      We have done this once before in an outdoor pool in Holland. It does work but adds some significant weight to the bulkhead. As a result moving it can no longer be done pneumatically but this one is motorized running along the pool bottom and the gutter.
      You can see some pictures if you search using the words ‘bulkhead’ and ‘cover’ in flickr.com.

  7. Matthias McManus
    June 30, 2018 at 9:05 pm | Permalink

    I would like to know how much it would cost to build and put in a bulkhead for 25 m pool to turn it into a 25 yard pool 6 lanes Pool

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