Like many sports, safe participation in paintball requires observance of proper safety procedure. When safety rules are followed, paintball is extremely safe.
The most important rule in paintball is that all players must wear a protective goggle system or mask at all times when they are playing or near other people who are playing. While paintballs will not cause permanent injury to most areas of the body, the eyes, and to a lesser extent the ears, are vulnerable to serious injury if hit by a paintball. Paintball masks are specifically designed for the sport, and the goggles are capable of withstanding a direct hit from a paintball traveling at well over 300 feet per second (90 m/s), the safety limit adopted by paintball marker manufacturers. The lenses of the goggles are composed of either single sheets of tough plastic, or thermal lenses, which cut down on fogging. Most masks have flaps that protect the ears, and some include a visor to shade the player from sunlight. Some players use masks that cover the entire head for maximum protection, while the majority of tournament-level players choose smaller masks that offer a wider field of view, better hearing, vocal communication and more venting. Recently, small timers were created to fit in the goggle, alerting the user to a certain time in the game.
In addition to the mandatory use of masks, paintball markers must not fire paintballs that exceed a certain velocity. The velocity limit at Baja Paintball is a maximum velocity of 285 FPS (feet per second).
Even slower speeds can be painful over short distances and should be avoided where possible. Players sometimes wear thicker jackets and gloves to cover all the skin.
A safety device comprised of a cloth or neoprene pouch placed over the opening of the barrel and attached to the marker via a cord. These are usually required by commercial fields, to be used whenever the player is not on a field. They prevent an accidentally discharged paintball from leaving the barrel and causing injury. Forgetting to replace it after leaving a game and entering a safe zone will usually earn a warning. Repeated infractions will often result in ejection from the site. This is done for liability reasons and to lower possibility of unexpected injury to anyone around, especially important when involving eye safety.
Players eliminate each other from the game by hitting their opponents with a paintball that breaks upon impact and leaves them visibly marked with paint. Rules on how big a paint mark must be to count as a hit vary, but a paint mark from a paintball that breaks on some other object before striking a player, referred to as splatter, generally does not count as a hit. Once a player has been marked, they are eliminated from the game.
Most fields consider hits on any body part, clothing, gear, or object the player is carrying or wearing as an elimination. This includes the marker, backpack or an object picked up from the field, such as a flag or a pod. Some fields do not count hits on the marker or head or both, or other areas of the body as an elimination, such as anywhere but the torso, or require more than one hit in certain areas for elimination. These special rules are usually found in scenario paintball games. Wearing baggy clothing helps reduce the chance that a paintball will break on you.
If a player is uncertain whether a mark they have received is a valid hit or not, possibly because the mark is from the spray of a paintball breaking on another nearby object, they cannot see the part of the body where they have been struck by a paintball, or because the paintball may have been shot by a player who had already been eliminated, the player should ask a referee or a nearby teammate to determine whether or not the player has a valid hit. This request is commonly referred to as a ‘paint check’, and is most often requested by the player yelling the words ‘paint check’ to a nearby referee. Some game rules allow a referee to call a player ‘neutral’ during a paint check so that the referee can more closely inspect a player. If a player is called neutral, they must discontinue play while being checked and opponents may also not fire or advance on the neutral player.
Players may also be eliminated from the game for reasons other than being hit by a paintball, including calling themselves out by saying “I’m hit!” or “I’m out!”, from paint marks from paint grenades or paint mines in games where such equipment is allowed, or due to a penalty, such as stepping out-of-bounds or leaving the starting station prior to the beginning of the game. Because players who call themselves out are eliminated even if they are not actually hit, players should always check to see if a paintball that has hit them has indeed left a mark. A paintball may simply bounce off a player’s body without breaking, which does not count as a hit. Players may also call for a paint check on another player if they believe they have marked an opponent to ensure the player is promptly eliminated from the game, especially if the opposing player may not be aware they are hit or may be attempting to hide or remove a hit. Removing a hit and continuing to play is a severe form of cheating commonly known as ‘wiping’ and can result in severe penalties, including being permanently banned from the playing location at a recreational or commercial facility. In tournaments, a “3 for 1″ penalty may be called, where the offending player and an additional three teammates are eliminated from play.
Recreational fields often suggest a player within a certain distance of an unaware opponent, usually 10 to 15 feet, should offer the unaware player’s surrender by yelling “Surrender!” (or Point Blank or freeze) before they may open fire. If the opponent complies, either verbally or by raising their hand or marker, they are considered marked and are out of the match. However, if they refuse or attempt any hostile action, such as turning to fire, the challenging player may fire upon them. Getting hit by a paintball from close range can be painful, and it is considered polite and good sportsmanship to offer an opponent the opportunity to surrender when possible instead of unnecessarily shooting at close range. It is also good policy to fire at their foot so as not to cause pain because of their boots.
This “rule” is subject to great interpretation between fields, and even between players, for a variety of reasons. A common field interpretation of the surrender rule is not to prevent two players in a heated exchange from shooting each other close range, but rather from having an experienced player mowing down a first-timer who is in shock and hiding in a bunker. Interpretation at the other end of the debate often stipulates an automatic elimination for any move where a surrender would be offered, such as surprise or bunkering. This strict variant is often called a “bunker tap rule,” to differentiate it from a more lax interpretation.
New players can become packed with adrenaline in such situations, and often attempt to fire out of reflex. Thus, experienced players often decide to offer a surrender only in situations where the opponent is completely off guard, and will be too shocked to make any reflex action. For these reasons, when a bunkering move is executed, even in recreational play, a surrender is rarely offered unless field rules absolutely require it.
In tournament play there is no enforcement of a surrender rule. When a player catches an opponent off guard, they will fire until they see that the paint breaks, or until a referee calls the opponent out. Moves such as a ‘run through’, where a player runs down the field shooting opponents as he passes them and continuing on, have developed over time and are now important plays. Another popular move is “bunkering”, where a player charges up to the bunker or barricade that an opposing player is behind and shoots them from over the top or around the side of the bunker. Players also sometimes call themselves out if they are the last player, just in plain fear of getting hit.