top of page
  • Glanville

Measuring - it's everything!

Determining which boule is closest to the jack is at the heart of pétanque. So, what's the best method? Here's an extract from an interesting article we found. There are several different ways to measure, as you'll learn but there are some basic rules that are worth keeping in mind as you read this:

  • When in doubt, measure

  • The most common tool for measuring is a retractable steel tape measure

  • String measures are not reliable (apparently)

  • Don’t be afraid to declare that two boules are equidistant from the jack. If both teams measure, and neither team is sure that one boule beats the other, then let it be. Agree that the boules are equidistant

But who should measure, you may ask? Well, the FJPIP* say in Article 26:

The measuring of a point is the responsibility of the player who last played or by one of their team-mates. The opponents always have the right to measure after one of these players.

Now, back to the how...


First thing is we need to understand the 'tilt factor'. In petanque we measure the shortest distance between two objects. It's easier when they are far apart but when they are close we need to understand that the differing size of the jack and boule means the shortest distance is “tilted”.


When the distance is short and the plane of measurement is tilted, you need to use a set of callipers to measure.


Rather than declaring two boules to be equidistant from the jack, an umpire will resort to feeler gauges to find that one boule is closer to the jack than the other. This makes ordinary players in friendly games wonder how precise their own measurements should be.


(2.1) VISUAL INSPECTION (aka “eye-balling”)

Visual inspection - not using any measuring device - is the technique of first resort. The trick to being able to tell which of two boules is closer to the jack lies in where you stand. Don’t stand directly over the boules, looking down on them. Stand back from the boules a meter or more, so that you are the same distance from each of the boules. Look across the boules at the jack. Imagine a line between the boules, and imagine a second line extending out from centre of that line. You will probably be able to see that the jack falls on one side of that second line; that is, you will probably be able to see that the jack is closer to one of the boules than the other.

Visual inspection is fast and there is no danger of accidentally touching and moving anything. But it is not precise!! When two boules are almost the same distance from the jack, it may not be possible to tell which is closer. Sometimes if you look across the boules to the jack, one boule looks closer… but if you walk around to the other side and look across the jack to the boules, the other boule looks closer. That is when you need to remember the old adage— “When in doubt, measure.”


We can use a physical object whose length can be adjusted to compare the distances between the boules and the jack. A telescopic metal rod like an old radio antenna or a pointer will also do the job nicely and our very own HPC member, Sean, uses that method.


Another traditional technique is to use a piece of string, as in the picture below. This article suggests it is not a reliable technique. It's fine for our purposes isn't it though?


This articles suggests that one of the best tools is a folding ruler with an extendible end piece. The correct way to hold the rule is with the butt against the boule and the slider extension toward the jack.


The most common tool for measuring is a retractable steel tape measure. The proper way to use a tape is to measure across the top of the jack to the boule. Make sure that the end of the tape is positioned at the middle of the boule; if it is too high or too low, the measurement won’t be accurate. Keep the tape above the jack, without touching it. Look straight down at the jack, and measure to the edge (not the top) of the jack.

Measurement requires strong legs, steady hands, and good eyes. It is difficult to do (just watch our very own Glanville in action and you'll get the drift). It requires squatting or kneeling and holding the tape measure steady, with two different parts of the tape microscopically close to boule and jack, then reading the numbers on the tape to the precision of one millimetre. And of course, it creates a danger of bumping and moving the boule or the jack.


81 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page