Pickleball line rules: What is “out,” who calls what, and etiquette

Pickleball line rules: What is “out,” who calls what, and etiquette


By Jaclyn Brandt

On: 02/14/2024

Learning your pickleball line rules is an important part of learning how to play pickleball. Although you have a lot of other things to learn right now — rules, scoring, positioning, etc. — line rules are important, not just for your game but also as an important part of the etiquette of playing pickleball.

Pickleball court lines and layout

Pickleball was pieced together from several different sports, including badminton, table tennis, volleyball, and tennis — with the court dimensions taken from badminton.

A pickleball court is 20 feet wide x 44 feet long (22 feet long on either side of the net). The non-volley zone (NVZ, or the kitchen) is seven feet long (from the net to the top of the kitchen line) on either side of the net and 20 feet wide — from sideline to sideline.

The lines that are perpendicular to the net are called the sidelines, and the lines parallel to the net are called the baseline (22 feet from the net) and kitchen line or NVZ line (7 feet from the net).

Are lines in or out?

There is no one answer to whether a line means “in” or “out” in pickleball — because different lines mean different things.

Lines that are considered “in”

  • Sidelines.

  • Baseline.

  • In skinny singles, the center line becomes one of the sidelines and is therefore considered “in.”

Lines that are considered “out”

  • During a serve, the kitchen line is considered “out” or a serve fault.

  • When considering whether you can volley the ball, the kitchen line is considered a part of the kitchen.

Where the ball lands

Where the ball lands does make a difference as to whether the ball is in or out. The part of the ball that actually touches the ground needs to touch the line to determine whether it is in or out. Any part of the ball that occupies the airspace over the line does not determine whether a ball is in or out.

Kitchen line

The kitchen line, otherwise known as the non-volley zone line or NVZ line, is an important concept to learn in pickleball. The easiest way to remember it is that the kitchen line is a part of the kitchen, so when the ball hits the kitchen line, it means the ball is in the kitchen. If your foot is on any part of the kitchen line, it means your foot is in the kitchen.

When serving, the ball cannot land in the kitchen, which means it can also not land on the kitchen line.

Serving

When serving, there are a few things to keep in mind when it comes to line calls.

  • The serve must be made crosscourt, or diagonally across the court.

  • The serve may not land in the kitchen, including on the kitchen line.

  • The serve must land in the playing area, within the outer edges of the sidelines and baseline.

Pickleball line calls

Line calls in pickleball are one of the crucial pieces of etiquette you need to learn when you start playing pickleball. This is because, unless you are a pro or playing in a tournament, pickleball is heavily self-regulated.

“It also requires a code of ethics for line-calling responsibilities when performed by players,” USA Pickleball explains in their official rules. “The line-calling responsibilities of players are different from those assigned to referees or line judges. The officials make impartial judgment calls with all players’ interests in mind. The player, when assigned line-calling duties, must strive for accuracy and operate under the principle that all questionable calls must be resolved in favor of the opponent.”

Calling the ball “in” or “out”

Pickleball players, in both singles and doubles, will call the ball “in” or “out” on their own side of the court. Which means all line calls are done by the honor system. Even if you have a referee, it may still be your responsibility to call the lines. 

Although it is still the responsibility of the players to call a line fault on their own kitchen line, the opposing team may also call line faults on your kitchen line. If this happens and the two teams disagree, the point will be replayed.

Line calls official rules for recreational play (no referees)

Here are some more rules for line calling in pickleball:

  • A call that you are not able to confidently call “out” will be considered “in.”

  • If you cannot clearly see a space between the line and ball when the ball hits the ground, you should not call an “out” call.

  • You must call an “out” call before the ball is hit by your opponent or before the ball becomes dead.

  • If two partners in doubles cannot agree on whether the ball is “out” or “in,” then the ball is considered “in.”

  • You must call “out” by a voice and/or hand signal.

  • Before the ball lands out of bounds, if a player yells “out,” “no,” “bounce it,” or any other communication that may signal to their partner that the ball will land out, it is not considered an “out” call — it is considered partner communication only.

  • When a ball is called “out” after it bounces, play shall stop and the ball is considered dead.

  • If you call a ball “out” on your side, but are overruled by your partner, an official, or even yourself, then the opposing team gains the advantage.

Pickleball line calls

Pickleball line calls, especially in recreational play, will be an important skill to learn — both for the rules and etiquette of the sport. As you begin your pickleball journey, pay attention to the angle, speed, or direction of balls that end up in or out. Knowing your line call rules will help you know what to do during a game and become the best player you can be.

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