Removing a boule for measuring

Sometimes — before the agreement of points — you find yourself in a situation where you know which boule is closest, but you need to make a measurement in order to determine which boule is second. And sometimes you can’t make that measurement because the closest boule is in the way.

Which boule is closer - B or C ?

A has the point, but which boule is second? B or C ?
We must remove A in order to measure the distance to C.

In such a case, you need to mark and remove the first boule (A in our diagram), take the measurement, and then put it back exactly in its original position.

When tolerances are tight, this can be a tricky operation. Your marks on the ground may not be precise enough to allow you to be sure that you’ve put it back exactly in its original position. The traditional solution is “the cup”. This technique involves pushing the boule into the terrain while rotating it a few times (like screwing-in a light bulb) before picking it up. This creates a slight depression or “cup” in the terrain that guides the boule exactly back into its original location when it is replaced. Another traditional way to make a cup is to use another boule to gently tap the top of the boule several times before picking it up.

This technique is without a doubt the most accurate way to mark the location of a boule before removing it temporarily in order to measure. Many umpires, however, hate the cup. They consider it to be disturbing the terrain in an unacceptable way. As Richard Powell, Regional Umpire of the Southern Counties Petanque Association of the English Petanque Association, writes

You should NOT try to push the boule downwards to make a little “cup” in the ground to help with its later replacement, because the “cup” might prevent the moved-and­-replaced boule from moving if any subsequent boule were to disturb it, or may stop any other boule that is moving from going where it would otherwise have gone.

As a practical matter, I think concerns about the effects of the cup are more theoretical than real. Petanque is not played on billiard-table surfaces. The size of the cup is unlikely to be greater than the natural variation of the surface. And the cup is surely a smaller disturbance of the terrain than marks drawn in the dirt, the traditional and accepted method.

Still, this technique does disturb the surface of the terrain, and that’s a concern, at least on a theoretical level. Is there a better method? Here’s a tip that was posted by Colin Stewart last year on the “rules of petanque” forum of

A good method which doesn’t disturb the surface is to use an old shoe lace. Wind the lace around the base of the boule and pull both ends gently until it fits around the point where the ground and the boule meet — but don’t pull so tight as to move the boule, just enough to create a ring that fits closely around the base of the boule.

Lift the boule out carefully and then measure. Replace the boule into the ‘ring’ of shoelace and then carefully unwind the lace from around the boule. The removed boule should be precisely where you left it and no need to scratch marks into the terrain.

This sounds like a great idea. I think I’ll need to practice a few times before I get the knack of it. And I’ll need to add a shoelace to my boules bag.

2 thoughts on “Removing a boule for measuring

  1. Why go to all the bother of such a time consuming technique, when there are some really good smartphone apps out there, such as petanque meter and a qui le point?
    Jules says—
    I agree— If you’ve got a smartphone and one of these apps, use ’em! I can imagine a day when umpires will consider a smartphone a standard part of their equipment, and will leave their wedges and calipers at home. The tape measure will be used only for very long measurements.

    On the other hand, in my experience, smartphone apps are not very reliable. They seem to be affected by where the smartphone is placed and its angle. The times that I’ve tested smartphone apps against a traditional tape measure, the smartphone app has been wrong.

    In any event, we have a short post about smartphone apps for measuring.


  2. I don’t understand why you would need to measure a second boule except when deciding points at the end of the round. While it’s helpful to know, I don’t think you can justify displacing the closest boule when deciding which team has the point. When deciding points at the end of the round, once it’s agreed which boule is closest, move it away and measure for second.

    Jules says—
    You’re thinking only about “scoring” measurement. But this rule is meant for situations involving “tactical” measurement. See our post on the Rules of Petanque web site—

    Here’s an example of what I mean by “tactical measurement”. Suppose team AB owns boules A and B in our diagram, and team C owns boule C. The score is 12-11 in favor of Team C. Team C needs one point to win, and Team AB needs two points. Team C is out of boules, but Team AB still has boules to play.

    If boule B beats boule C, then Team AB has already won the game. If boule C beats boule B, then Team AB faces the difficult decision as to whether or not to try to shoot boule C.

    In such a situation, it would be rational for Team AB to ask the umpire to measure to determine which boule is second, even if that measurement requires moving their own boule A.

    Such situations are the reason for Article 24 – Temporary removal of boules

    In order to measure a point, it is allowed to temporarily remove, after marking their positions, the boules and obstacles situated between the jack and the boules to be measured. After the measurement [has been made], the boules and the obstacles which were picked up are put back in their place.


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