Water rescue Basics

So, after another frustration round of training where everybody knows everything and the boss gets shouted to the back row,  I’ve come to a conclusion (again).  You need to have an SOP that outlines what companies should do at different incident types.  Lacking that there should at least be a list of minimum standards.

I’m going to start with water rescue because we just messed this up the other day, at a drill not an incident.   I’ll just list the minimums and you can go from there.

1. PFD, PFD, PFD.  Don’t go near the water without one.  Stay in the spectator area if you are only going to contribute to the crowd.  Otherwise you can/will  fall in and become part of the problem.

2.  If you have a dingy that you toss on top of your apparatus STRAP IT DOWN.  If it’s on a trailer take the extra second to make sure it’s attached correctly to whatever is pulling it.

3. If that dingy has a motor shut the motor off when near people or floaters or whatever.  Don’t operate the blender near flesh.   Send a rescuer to the victim and pull them to the boat together.  If you don’t need to get in the water DON’T.

4.  Don’t let the non-swimmer do a damn thing. Keep them away from the water or they will find a way to add to the problem.  Have them go get towels or something equally useful.

5. Remember water rescue in this order; Teach, Reach, Throw, Go.

Teach: “Hey, stand up!” or “Move that way”

Reach: “Grab the stick, Side of the boat, or That buoy”

Throw: “Grab the rope.” Grab the ring”  Etc..

Go: “Jump in there Jr. Man”  Make sure your guy has a rope on him.  We don’t play the maybe game.  If he goes out, we always have a way to get them back.

At training there should be a safety boat or another dingy that stays out in the water and does nothing but keep an eye on everyone in the water.

I only say these things because we messed most of them up.  How do you do this all the time and still be clueless?  And every time we go out and play in the water someone gets run over by the front of the boat and everybody laughs, me included, because if reinforces so many points

Be Safe


  • Nate Q. says:

    Good points for the basics. That being said, a rescue swimmer should only be attached to a rope by a PFD equipped with an emergency release(If not, you’re asking for trouble. Ever hang on to the water ski rope after falling?)…and it shouldn’t just be “jump in there Jr. man”. I understand the terminology for keeping it simple, but swimming rescues are the most hazardous and should only be performed by someone capable/trained in doing it. I also understand that things change when the s hits the f, but that falls under the “adding to the problem” category.

  • anchorpoint1 says:

    Good point Nate, I think that becomes more an issue in a swift water environment, our water is stagnant and a big issue for us is getting swept out to sea. NFPA does not specify a release, but they do specify helmet. We are lucky to have any but we do have “Gumby” suits and Ice Commanders.
    This was actually inspired by our last round of water rescue drills. I did kind of chuckle when I saw “capable/trained” and I tried to imagine who on my company would qualify for that definition.

  • Nate Q. says:

    Sounds cold in your neck of the woods (or should I say coast?), so I’m assuming your water scenarios are somewhat different than ours. You bring up some good points (we actually just did our surf drill also on the day you posted, and went over the post after). I also agree that the release is more for the swift water environment. That being said, if you’re concerned about getting swept out to sea, your water isn’t stagnant. I understand the reason for wanting a tagline on the rescuer, but again it comes down to training level/experience in that field (we’re fortunate to have several of us that were longtime ocean lifeguards before snapping to our senses and choosing the right career).

    To expand on your points, and from a surf rescue standpoint, there are several factors to consider before putting a rescuer in the water:

    1.) The surf environment is one of the most dangerous places to attempt a swimming rescue (rips, waves, rocks, lateral currents, etc.)

    2.) Emotions run high with bystanders and even us…”don’t just stand there, do something”. I’ve pulled in many would-be rescuers over the years. Think about it, we wouldn’t let a cop throw on an airpack and make entry, would we?

    3.) If your rescuer is getting pulled out and wearing a PFD, they probably aren’t going to drown (beat up…yes). A watercraft is a better option for retireving the member (assuming one is available). The tagline is also going to add more weight/drag to the swimmer than many realize and poses a potential for entanglement. Another thing to consider, is how much rope you have on hand.

    Again, my experiences and opinions are based on the surf/ocean environment, so some things may be different. For instance, by policy we only let personnel qualified/experienced in such make entry, and do so after exhausting other options. Most of our incidents are rip current rescues after lifeguard hours, so we stay quite strict on who makes entry (night shift guards with a jet-ski are about 15-20 min. out). Equipment used includes a pretty much just rescue can (a PFD inhibits swimming capabilities, speed, and the ability to dive under large surf), lack of tagline, and possibly a rescue board (big surfboard). You definitely need to know what you’re doing, and have done it before. We also set up command, use the other crew member as a spotter, and depending on surf size, will put up the aerial to maintain visual contact, along with adding an additional unit to the assignment…and ALWAYS make sure Beach Patrol (one of the best in the nation) is on the way.

    Thanks for the discussion, I look forward to hearing about the incident types you respond to, and some of the techniques and equipment involved.

  • anchorpoint1 says:

    Nate, we have a protected harbor so not too much with the rip currents or waves for that matter. We have extensive docks like every other harbor city in the country. We generally have tourists and drunks that fall in and then cannot find any sort of way out of the water so I think rescue should be rephrased as removal. There are only a few spots for us to put in, but we can send a swimmer from most places. We have Coast Guard and State Police that like to give us a run for our money and keep us honest.
    As for life guards, we only have 2 places where swimming is allowed in the harbor. We have rivers and ponds but I think the rivers might qualify as ponds because the water does not move very fast.
    On the docks and boardwalks we have had some success with putting a roof ladder at the tip of one of our tower units and letting the person and swimmer climb out (only in the summer). The tower is designed for that purpose.
    I like your idea of a high point.
    When we send a swimmer we attach them to a 200′ floating rope. We attach them abput 10′ from the end on a carbiner and there is another carabiner attached at the very end to put around the victim so the rescuer does not need to worry about losing the victim.
    We cannot seem to do it the same way twice, which is a source of frustration to me. It works out and that’s all our department cares about. I prefer that it works because it’s designed to work and because we are professionals. My standards might be a little high.
    Oh yeah, all companies that are first due to a water hazard have a dingy. All of them train differently, which just adds to the amazing.
    Be Safe

  • Nate Q. says:

    Thanks for sharing. I can see where your methods are well-suited for your area and typical incidents. Your description painted a much better pic than the one I was imagining. I especially liked the simple rig to secure the victim…one less thing to worry about. I think you’re just fine calling it rescue, too, cause if they can’t get out, it’ll eventually be a recovery 🙂 Good luck with getting everyone on the same page, too. Our training officer put out a fairly specific plan for our drill, and it seemed as though every crew and shift still did it differently…nice to know it’s somewhat of a common frustration (definitely reinforces your previous sentiments about having SOPs in place).

  • Nate Q. says:

    Hope your weekend was safe with Earl in town, he gave our guys a pretty good run…300 rescues, 2 near-drownings (critical), and 2 shark bites (sad that the sharks got more attention than the exhausted lifeguards).

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