Welcome to our Guide for being an Active Player

Bowls is a very social game and is always played in a very friendly way. It is a deceptively simple game!

It can be played as singles, but is usually played as doubles (pairs), triples or fours.

We want you to be able to enjoy playing Bowls at all levels and this Guide is intended to help you. If you are not sure about anything please ask an experienced member who will be happy to answer your question or find someone who can.

Like all games the playing of Bowls is governed by rules. Don’t worry you do not need to learn all the rules when you first start playing. You will gradually pick them up the more you play.

There are, in fact, two sets of Laws of the Game for Bowls in force. These are:

  • EBA (English Bowling Association) aka World Bowls
  • EBF (English Bowling Federation)

Copies of these are quite cheap to buy and are available from any good Bowls equipment supplier. Bourne Town Bowls Club play roll-ups and most of their matches under EBF rules (except for the Peterborough League matches which are based on EBA with some local variations!).

As well as the Laws of the Game there is an Etiquette all bowlers should follow. In some ways this is more important than the Rules especially for new players. Please see below or more about Etiquette.


Also known as ‘woods’ because they used to be made from Lignum Vitae wood but nowadays all bowls are a melamine composite. They come in sets of four bowls. There are different sizes, different weights, different biases (i.e. the amount of bend or curl) and many variations in colour.

New sets of bowls can be very expensive although second hand sets can also be bought at a much cheaper cost. It is better to find your bowl size and weight before you purchase them. We have different bowls you can try out and you might want to talk to other players about the differences in bowls before deciding on spending out!

If you decide that you want to continue bowling then it is advisable to buy you own set of bowls as you will become more familiar with how they ‘roll’ and hopefully become a better player.

It is very important that you wear flat sole footwear – there should be no heel or any ridges on the soles at all. This is to prevent damage to the Green (and incurring the wrath of the greenkeeper!). Footwear specifically for Bowls can be bought at any Bowls equipment supplier. We do have some spare footwear available to borrow.

Dress code for Roll-Ups and social bowling is smart casual. Dress code for League matches is Club shirt and grey trousers.

Some bowlers prefer to use a bowling glove to give them better grip on the bowl. This is a personal preference. An alternative is ‘grippa’ cream that can rubbed on the bowling hand. The simplest solution is a damp towel.


The Mat
At the beginning of the first end the Mat is placed lengthwise on the centre line of the Rink, the back edge to be two metres from the ditch. It is important the the Mat is centred and straight.

In all subsequent ends the Mat can be placed anywhere along the centre line as long as the back edge of it is not less than two metres from the rear ditch and the front edge not less than 25 metres (23 yards) from the front ditch.

When playing in a match or competition your Skip will indicate to you the position on the Mat and subsequent placement of the Jack.

The Jack
Delivery of the Jack must be within the boundary of the Rink and at least 2 metres from the front ditch.
If the Jack is delivered outside the boundaries of the Rink or into the front ditch the opposing Lead delivers the Jack. The original player remains the first one to bowl.

During the Game:

  • The Jack is live if it goes into the front ditch.
  • The Jack is dead if it goes out of bounds of the Rink.
  • It is dead if it rebounds on the rink to less than 20 metres from the centre of the Mat line.

  • A live bowl is one which travels more than 14 metres from the centre of the Mat line
  • A dead bowl is one that travels less than 14 metres from the centre of the Mat line
  • A bowl is dead if it finishes in the ditch without touching the Jack
  • A bowl is dead if it comes to rest so that the whole of the bowl is outside the boundaries of the Rink even if it has been marked as Toucher or has been been knocked outside the boundary by another bowl. (Note: a ‘Toucher’ is a bowl that has hit the Jack and is marked with chalk. This only happens under EBA rules. When playing under EBF rules any bowl which finishes in the ditch is dead).
  • Dead bowls must be picked up and placed on the bank of the Rink.
Players must not disturb live bowls. If a player interferes with a bowl in motion or displaces a live bowl at rest on the Green or a Toucher in the ditch the opposing Skip can choose any of the following:

  • Restore the displaced bowl to its original position
  • Let the displaced bowl remain where it has rested.
  • Declare the bowl dead.
  • Have the end played again in the same direction


Lead (1)
Special responsibility to place the Mat and bowl the Jack.
When an end is finished the losing Lead is responsible to collecting all the bowls and placing them behind the Jack.
Second (2)
Agree number of shots for or against with opposing Second.
Mark Touchers before next player’s bowl comes to rest. (Needs chalk or spray chalk)
Records players names on score card and compares score with opposing Second.
(In Triples matches) Measure all disputed shots. (needs measuring tape)
(In Triples matches) Gives guidance to Skip on bowling options.
Third (3)
Measure all disputed shots. (Needs measuring tape)
Gives guidance to Skip on bowling options.
Has sole charge of the Rink on bowling options and his instructions are to be obeyed by all players
Agrees with opposing Skip on any disputed points.
Issues directions on players regarding their bowls.
Decides tactics and strategy

Position of players during play
All players at the Mat end of the Green, other than the one delivering the bowl must stand behind the Mat.

Possession of the Rink
Belongs to the bowler on the Mat. It does not change until the players bowl comes to rest or if the bowl is a Toucher the bowl if marked.

Playing out of turn
If a player plays out of turn the opposing Skip can stop the bowl whilst it is running and have it played its correct turn. If the bowl displaced the Jack or another bowl the Skips can decide to accept the situation or have the end played again.

Playing the wrong bowl
A bowl played by mistake shall be replaced by the players own bowl.

Often during a game bowls will hit other bowls and ricochet off them. Bowlers call this a ‘wick’. It’s no good asking anyone because nobody seems to know why it is called this, the origins of the word seem to have been lost in the mists of time!


To ensure games run smoothly and are enjoyable for you and your fellow players there are certain rules of etiquette that need to be followed.

Don’t worry, these aren’t as daunting as they look! Most of them will become second nature after you have had a few games.

  • Greet team members and opponents at the start of the game. Congratulate or compliment them at the end of play. Shake hands with everyone at the start of the game and at its conclusion.
  • Dress correctly for all games and arrive in good time.
  • Mobile phones are not to be used on the Green or surrounding areas where they may distract players.
  • Be aware of your role in the team – Lead (1), Second (2), Third (3) or Skip – and what that entails (see ‘Player Responsibilities’ above)
  • Concentrate fully on the game and all the bowls as they are delivered. Remember you can pick up clues to how the Green is behaving for when you bowl
  • Do not talk or make a noise behind the Mat, or move at the Head end, when a player is preparing to bowl. Remain behind the Mat or behind the Head until the player has bowled.
  • Remember that as soon as your bowl comes to rest the possession of the Rink (at both ends) passes to your opponents.
  • Avoid obscuring the Ring number, Rink edge markers or the Jack.
  • When it is you turn to bowl listen to your Skip’s directions and try to bowl to them
Be aware of players on adjacent Rinks
  • Keep to your own Rink
  • Walk down the centre of your Rink when changing ends
  • Don’t walk past the end of a Rink when someone is bowling towards your end.
  • Make sure your shadow does not fall across the Jack, Head or the Mat
  • Ensure your bowls do not interfere with adjacent rinks and players
Once the score for an end is agreed:
  • The winning Lead (1) takes the Mat and places it being aware of the Skip’s directions
  • The losing Lead (1) collects all the bowls and places them behind the Mat. Other bowlers may help collect bowls if necessary
  • The losing Lead (1) puts out the opponents bowl for the next end

  • Be aware that when Drive shots are being played it is essential to keep your eye on the bowls and ensure no one gets hit by flying bowls! This includes stopping any interference with adjacent rinks and players.
It is important to know the laws of the Sport of Bowls, the leagues and the competitions you are playing in. BUT DO NOT WORRY ABOUT THEM! Your more experienced team mates will know and will give you advice and guidance.

The bottom line is for you and you fellow bowlers to enjoy a good game of bowls. ENJOY !