Marking the locations of balls

In petanque, there are only a few things that can legally move a boule or jack. It can be thrown by a player. It can fall onto the terrain and bounce or roll. It can hit or be hit by another ball in the game. And that’s about it. On the other hand, there are a lot of non-legal things that can move a ball. The wind. The shoe of any human being. A zombie boule bouncing back onto the terrain. A child or an animal or a football crossing the terrain. Being thrown “contrary to the rules”. In such non-legal events, the default course of action is to leave everything where it is and carry on with the game.

The FIPJP rules mention another option— to put the ball back in its original location if that original location was marked. Some players take the repeated references to marking the balls as an indication that they should always mark the locations of everything. That’s nonsense.

  • In normal play nobody does it.  On Youtube you will not find a single petanque video in which the players routinely mark even the jack.  (Marking the location of the thrown jack is an old custom, but one that faded a long time ago.)
  • It would slow down the game tremendously while offering very little in real benefits. That’s why nobody does it.
  • Marking everything is a terrible idea.  There were enough problems with circles drawn on the ground, back before plastic circles appeared in 2005. If you tried to mark the location of every ball all of the time (including erasing and creating new marks when a ball is hit and moved) there would be so many marks on the ground that, if you wanted to return a moved boule to its original location, you wouldn’t be able to find that location in the crowd of marks on the ground.  To control the mess, you’d need to sweep the terrain after every mene.

So always marking the locations of balls is a bad idea. On the other hand, the wise player will mark the locations of balls when there is an increased likelihood that they might be moved illegally.

  • On a windy day: mark the jack in case it might be moved by the wind.
  • If another game moves into a position where its boules might come onto your terrain: mark the locations of your balls.  
  • If the jack is located close to a wooden sideboard: mark the location of the jack and close-by boules. That way, if a thrown boule hits the sideboard, bounces back in-bounds, and illegally moves something, you can put the illegally-moved balls back.

So if you’re out playing with your friends, and nothing is marked, and a ball is moved in some non-legal fashion, you have two options. The first is simply to leave everything where it is and carry on. The second (sometimes) is to put it back.


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