Paintball is a fun and generally safe game, but that wouldn’t be true if it were a free-for-all. Various paintball venues will have their own unique mix of house rules, but there are near-universal safety rules that you’ll find across the world. Before you step foot on any paintball field or even pick up a marker, make sure you’re familiar with these precautions.
The Marshal is God
The paintball marshal enforces the rules of the match and all safety regulations. If the marshal gives you an instruction or makes a ruling, don’t argue with them. If you have a complaint, it can be dealt with after the game and outside of the playing field. If you disobey, or confront a marshal directly, you could be kicked out permanently even if the marshal made a mistake. There are channels for complaints at any proper paintball venue. Use them.
Blindfire is a “technique” where a gunman fires their weapon from cover without revealing themselves. You see it in movies and video games, but in real life it doesn’t really serve any purpose.
In paintball, firing your marker blindly is a good way to get yourself banned from the venue. Thanks to the aforementioned movies and games, some people think that blindfire is an effective form of suppression. The truth is that it only means you’ll be shooting in all directions other than where the opposing team is. At the same time, you could hit anything, including umpires or players who have surrendered. The rule is simple: don’t fire your paintballs at anything you can’t see.
You’ve probably seen the big bright plugs that paintball markers have stuck in their barrels. These barrel plugs should be in place whenever the marker is not being used in active play. The main function of the barrel plug is to break any paintballs that are fired by mistake. So if your marker goes off for some reason while you’re not within the playing field, then no one will actually get shot. Yes, it creates quite a mess, but this is in the interest of everyone’s safety. In any event, misfires are pretty rare unless caused by negligence. The bottom line is that you should use a barrel plug (or a barrel sock) whenever you’re not actually playing. If you don’t, you’ll get the riot act read to you toot sweet.
In general, paintball markers use CO2 gas as a propellant. The gas is stored in a compressed cylinder attached to the marker. When that propellant is used up, the canister is refilled or swapped out for a full one.
Any compressed gas canister should be treated with respect. Improperly using the canister or neglecting its maintenance can lead to an explosion or sudden gas discharge, with the potential to cause serious injury. I know of one occasion it was even fatal.
Inspect your CO2 canister for any obvious defects or damage. Have it refilled only at a reputable shop or venue. Make sure you have an o-ring seal in place when fitting the canister to your marker. Never try to fix or work on a canister, unless you are certified to do it and have the right equipment.
Specially tuned and modified paintball markers can fire their ammo at incredibly high speeds. Some markers are even designed to have variable velocities. Most formal venues have a limit on how fast markers are allowed to shoot: generally between 285 and 300 feet per second. If you bring your own marker, you’ll likely be required to perform a test fire into a special measuring device to ensure it isn’t firing at too high a speed.
Even relatively soft paintballs can do some serious damage if fired quickly enough. Some players like to play hardcore paintball in private, and that’s their business. But you’ll get no sympathy on this matter from venues trying to preserve safety and fun.
There are all sorts of ammo types that will fit in a paintball marker. Paintball markers have been used in security venues for years now as a less-than-lethal solution. So you get pepper balls, solid stinger balls, and other things you don’t really want to get hit with at 300 feet per second. Suffice it to say that these types of ammo should not be anywhere near a paintball field. Use only ammo that has been specifically sanctioned by the venue in question. You should also avoid cheap, substandard paintballs – they can make a real mess of your equipment, but that’s a conversation for a different time.
This is as true of paintball markers as it is of real firearms – keep your finger OFF the trigger. Only put your finger on the trigger if you intend to fire your weapon. People get into the habit of leaving their finger on the trigger all the time; that’s how you get unintended discharges. Instead, rest your finger on the trigger guard. That way you can quickly fire if you need to, but it is virtually impossible to fire by accident.
Getting hit by paintballs on bare skin hurts! Trust me, I’ve been a victim of this many times. Thick overalls are the preferred paintball uniform, but whatever you decide to wear, make sure it is a tough, thick material that doesn’t leave any gaps of open skin. Being nailed on your ankle bone sucks, so try to show as little skin as possible. Wearing gloves is also a good idea. I took a short-range shot to the base of the thumb once and couldn’t hold a weapon for days.
In some cases you might want to consider extra padding or clothing with strategic armor pads. Protecting your crotch from paintballs is an obvious choice, but many female players like to have a spongy pad to protect their chests, since their upper bodies have a few sensitive areas.
While this technically falls under the same category as protective clothing in general, paintball masks are so important they deserve to be discussed on their own.
You should never play paintball without facial protection. A paintball hits with more than enough force to break your nose or take out an eye. So whenever you are in the playfield, your mask should be on and down. If you have any sort of issue with the mask, you should leave the playing field to fix the issue or get assistance.
When you are eliminated, immediately stand up with your marker raised high above your head. This is a sign to everyone else that you are no longer in the game and are leaving the play area. No one will shoot at you, at least if they too are respecting the rules. On that point, please don’t shoot at eliminated players. Not only will that get you a penalty, it’s incredibly unsportsmanlike.
When you are at close range to your target, you should give them a chance to surrender rather than fire at them, sparing them the pain of a close-range hit. If the person does not respond by raising their marker above their heads, you can shoot them once. They might not have seen or heard you, but a marshal won’t take it too kindly if you don’t provide the chance to surrender in these situations.
Think Before You Shoot
This is another safety rule that comes from real firearms. The main principle is that you should always think about the target that you are shooting at and what the consequences of pulling the trigger will be.
Obviously you don’t have to think much at all when shooting at a properly clothed opponent in a game. However, there is almost no context in which it is acceptable to fire at an animal, vehicle, building, or non-players. Paintball has gotten a bad rap because of hooligans who use paintball markers to deface public spaces. It’s not only a safety risk but something that hurts the reputation of the whole hobby.
Miscellaneous (and Obvious) Safety Rules
Some safety rules seem so obvious that no one thinks of writing them down, but there’s always somebody just champing at the bit to do something ill-advised. So here are some examples of things that you obviously should not do.
First of all, if you are not actively using the marker, engage its safety. Don’t shoot at targets not part of the actual paintball game. Definitely don’t look down the barrel. Never shoot anyone (including yourself) in order to test our your marker.
Also, paintball is played in complex environments. This means there’s always a chance that you could trip over something, run into something, or otherwise hurt yourself. When you are playing paintball you need to pay attention to your surroundings at all times.
Safety is Fun
One of the reasons paintball attracts so many fans is that the game feels a little dangerous. Getting hit by a paintball stings, and you have to actually run and clamber over things (meaning you can trip or be hit by twigs). Injuries do happen, but with less than a 0.05% risk that it’s so bad that you need treatment, it only adds to the excitement.
Paintball isn’t actually all that dangerous, mainly because the safety rules strike a balance between excitement and safe play. Keep in mind that observing safe play isn’t just about keeping you safe, but about helping other players feel safe too. It’s a team effort, just like the game itself.