There is no time limit in beach volleyball matches. In general, matches last about 30 to 60 minutes but they can last longer. The match ends when one team has won two sets. This results in a maximum of 3 sets per match. The first two sets are played until one team reaches 21 points and has 2 points more than the other team. For example, if both teams have 20 points, they have to keep playing until one team has 2 points more than the other team. The minimum score will be 20 points for one team and 22 points for another. Sets continue until one team has at least 2 points more than the other team. There is no cap on the number of points that are needed to win.
If there is a third and final set needed to select a winner, there are only 15 points needed to win. Again, the winning team needs to have 2 points more than the losing team. There is no maximum of points, so a set continues until one of the teams gets a two‑point advantage. It is possible that local tournaments have different rules but these are the rules that have been set out by the International Volleyball Federation (FIVB) and these are used in a lot of competitions and tournaments.
There are several things that can make a game last longer:
Long rallies: if both teams are great at defending, the ball can go back and forth quite a lot before it lands on the floor. Rallies can sometimes last several minutes before one of the team’s scores a point. If teams are able to stack a lot of long rallies after each other, the match can last a long time.
Tiebreaks: if both teams have 20 points, they keep playing until one team has a 2 point advantage. This can take quite a long time as teams can keep scoring points. There is no cap on the number of points that the teams can score during a set. In most instances, teams don’t play much longer than 25 points per set given the fast-paced nature of the game.
Switching sides: Teams have to switch sides every 7 points during the first 2 sets and every 5 points during the third set. This makes sure that both teams have the same advantages and disadvantages as the wind and sun can turn during a match. Teams should switch sides immediately. However, in reality, this can take some time as players need to walk to the other side of the court and get positioned.
Time outs: Each team has one time out per set. This is tracked to make sure that teams don’t request more than one per set. There are no substitutions in beach volleyball so this doesn’t take up time.
Technical timeouts: the teams get an additional 30 seconds timeout during the first 2 sets if they have scored a total of 21 points. This makes sure that players get enough rest during the match. It also provided TV channels with the opportunity to show some ads. Sponsorships are essential in professional sports and this additional timeout allows the broadcasters to earn money.
Pauses: between sets, there is a 1-minute pause (also called an interval). Players are able to sit down and have a drink during this period. They are not allowed to leave the sports arena.
Accidents: if a player is hurt, the match is paused and assistance can be requested. This can last a maximum of 5 minutes after the assistance has entered the court.
Serving: the player has 5 seconds after the whistle to restart the match with a serve. Some players want to clean the ball and get a feel for it. In beach volleyball you don’t have a lot of time for this and the game has to restart quite fast.
Delays by players: if the players are too slow, they can get a delay warning. If they do it a second time, the other team gets a point. Typically players will get a warning if they slow down the game by more than 12 seconds. Players might be really tired at the end of the game and try to get a rest by trying several tactics to delay the game to catch a breath. This is not allowed in beach volleyball and players will get a time penalty for doing this. Players have to accept the decision of the referee and can’t waste time by disputing the decisions. In some sports, a lot of time is wasted with this but not allowed in beach volleyball.
Weather–related events: beach volleyball is played outside so the weather can affect the match. If there is a big hail storm or big winds, the match can get canceled or postponed. The referee and organizer can wait up to four hours before restarting. If this is not possible, the match has to be replayed at another time.
External events: if someone walks on the court or another interruption happens, the rally has to restart. This shouldn’t happen too often during a match and will only happen in exceptional situations.
Tossing: if there is a third set, the referee will toss to find out which team gets what court by tossing a coin in the air. This makes sure that there is no discussion afterward.
To conclude, we can say that it is quite difficult to say in advance how long a volleyball game will last. It can be as short as 30 minutes if one team wins after two sets. It can also last longer than an hour if the rallies are contested and teams have to play a tie-break. There are a lot of other actions that can prolong a match. Therefore it is hard to estimate how long the match will last. Some days players can have a bad day and the outcome of the match can be completely different than expected. This keeps beach volleyball exciting and unpredictable. We have outlined the other rules of beach volleyball here.