Basic Water Safety Equipment

Basic water rescue equipment include devices that extend the rescuer’s reach while allowing the rescuer to maintain a position of safety.

These devices can be used by the general public with little or no training. Lifeguards and swimming instructors must also be able to use these devices and teach their use to others.

The Old, Familiar Axiom

For years, the axiom given to the general public about water rescues was “reach, throw, row, tow, go,” meaning that the rescue techniques with the greatest positions of safety (i.e., reaching assists, throwing assists, etc.) should always be attempted first. While this was generally a good rule of thumb, it created a few problems:

  • “Tow” and “go” rescues are risky for untrained bystanders.
  • Since this axiom was given in general terms, many agencies attempted to apply this rescue hierarchy to lifeguards, suggesting that they “go” as a last resort instead of making the most direct rescue immediately.

Eventually, as the roles of lifeguards and lifesavers became differentiated and more clearly defined, new guidelines for water rescues came into being.

  • For the general public: “Reach or throw, don’t go.”
  • For lifeguards: “Make direct rescues with equipment.”

These new guidelines suggest that untrained bystanders, regardless of swimming ability, should maintain a position of safety on land, in a boat, or in shallow water while using equipment to extend their reach or throw a flotation device to the victim. Even trained lifeguards familiar with the aquatic environment must make direct rescues (i.e., rowing, towing, and going rescues) with equipment as well.

For more information about lifeguard rescue equipment, go to the Lifeguard Rescue Equipment page. For information about innovations in rescue equipment and emerging technologies, go to the Rescue Equipment Innovations page.

Self-Rescue Equipment