Glossary of Lifesaving and Water Safety

This page has a comprehensive glossary of professional lifeguards, lifesaving, and water safety. Other glossaries on this website include the First Aid/CPR glossary and the Swimming/Water Safety Instructor glossary.

A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z

A

abandonment
Abruptly ending the assessment and care of an ill or injured patient without stabilizing the patient or being relieved by someone of equal or greater training.
active drowning victim
A person exhibiting the instinctive drowning response, universal behavior that includes struggling at the surface in a vertical position and being unable to move forward or tread water.
aquatic environment
Any natural body of water or artificial basin or tank of water suitable for swimming, diving, or recreational water activities.
aquatic safety team
A network of lifeguard co-workers and other staff combined with emergency medical services (EMS) personnel who work together to respond to emergencies that take place at an aquatic facility.
area of responsibility
The zone or area in which a lifeguard conducts surveillance.
ashen
A grayish color; the equivalent to pale for patients with darker skin.
assess
To examine a situation carefully.
asthma
A condition that narrows the air passages, making it difficult for a patient to breathe.
automated external defibrillator
A battery-powered, electronic device used to assess an unconscious patient’s heart condition and, if an abnormal heart rhythm is detected, to deliver a shock to convert the abnormal rhythm to normal sinus rhythm.

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B

backboard
A long, rigid, rectangular board, constructed of wood or plastic with straps, hand holds, and a head immobilizer, used to secure a patient with a head, spinal, pelvic, or femoral injury so the patient can be transported without futher injury. The patient is strapped on the backboard in supine position from shoulder to legs, and then the patient’s head is secured using the head immobilizer and a head strap across the forehead. Once the patient is completely secured on the backboard, the patient can be moved (e.g., from the water to the deck, dock, or shore).
bag-valve-mask (BVM) resuscitator
A handheld breathing device, consisting of a self-inflating bag, a one-way valve, and a resuscitation mask, used to administer supplemental oxygen to a breathing patient or ventilations with or without oxygen (by squeezing the bag) to a nonbreathing patient.
blind spot
A portion of a lifeguard’s area of responsibility that cannot be seen due to an obstruction, glare, shadows or poor lighting, refraction of light created by water and ripples at the surface, etc.
blood-borne pathogen
A bacterium or virus present in blood and capable of causing disease in humans through direct and indirect contact.
blood-borne pathogens standard
A federal regulation designed to protect employees from on-the-job exposure to blood or other body fluids that may contain pathogens.
body substance isolation precautions
An approach to infection control that considers all body fluids as potentially infectious.
buddy board
A safety system consisting of a board mounted at the entrance/exit of a camp swimming pool or waterfront with numbered tags on hooks assigned to all participants. When campers enter the area, they move their assigned tag from Out to In; when they exit, they move their tag from In to Out. An attendant at the entry/exit point ensures that tags are moved accordingly. If a child is unaccounted for, the buddy board can be used to determine if the child was lost in the swimming area.
bulkhead/dt>
A structure that extends across the width of a swimming pool to divide the pool into sections and to provide a walkway for lifeguards, aquatic program coaches/instructors, and sport officials.
buoy
A floating object in a bay, lake, ocean, or river moored to the bottom to mark a channel or something (as a shoal) lying under the water.
buoyancy
The upward force exerted by water or other fluid on a body immersed in the fluid. The buoyancy applied to an object is equal to the weight of the fluid displaced by the object.
buoyant
The characteristic of an object that tends to float in water or other fluid.
bystander
A person at the scene of an emergency that has no duty to respond or provide care.

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C

carbon dioxide
A colorless, odorless, tasteless gas produced by humans and animals as a waste product of respiration.
carbon monoxide
A deadly, colorless, odorless, tasteless gas produced by internal combustion engines and the incomplete burning of various fuels, including charcoal, coal, kerosene, oil, wood, etc. To read more about the dangers of carbon monoxide poisoning, go to the CPSC’s Carbon Monoxide page.
cardiac arrest
A condition in which the patient’s heart stops or beats too ineffectively to generate a pulse.
catch pool
A small pool at the bottom of a water slide used to cushion the landing of participants coming out of the slide.
chain of command
The hierarchical structure of employee and management positions within an organization.
consent
Permission to provide care given to a rescuer by a patient or a minor patient’s guardian.
critical incident
An emergency or disaster that causes rescuers, victims, and bystanders to witness death, severe injury, devastation, or other tragic results.
critical incident stress
The physical and psychological response to a tragic event, usually lasting between two days and about four weeks. The signs and symptoms of critical incident stress can be physical, cognitive, emotional, or behavioral. For example, individuals may experience fatigue, chills, headaches, dizziness, confusion, nightmares, poor concentration, grief, fear, anger, chronic anxiety, inability to rest, antisocial behavior, increased alcohol consumption, loss/increase in appetite, etc.
cross bearings
A technique for determining the position of a submerged victim performed by two rescuers who each take a sighting from different points along the shore so that the sightings cross at the point the victim went underwater.
current
A channel of fast-moving water.
cyanosis
A bluish or purplish discoloration of the skin and mucous membranes due to lack of oxygen in the blood.

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D

daily log
A written journal kept by the management and lifeguards of an aquatics facility, consisting of a daily account of program attendance, safety precautions taken, maintenance tasks performed, rescues and incidents, and other significant events.
deep-water line search
A search pattern performed by swimming rescuers looking for a submerged victim in an area of murky, deep water. To perform the search, rescuers line up, perform a surface dive to a position near the bottom, swim a predetermined number of body length while searching the bottom and the water around them, and then surface. At the surface, the rescuers line up again with the rescuer who is farthest back, move back at the surface a few more feet, and then surface dive again to continue the search. This search pattern is continued until the entire area has been searched.
defibrillation
An electrical shock delivered by an automated external defibrillator (AED) to disrupt the abnormal electrical activity of a heart in ventricular fibrillation (V-fib) or pulseless ventricular tachycardia (V-tach) long enough to allow the heart to spontaneously develop an effective rhythm on its own.
direct contact transmission
The transmission of disease-causing pathogens in the blood or other body fluids of an infected person through physical contact.
disability
The loss, absence, or impairment of sensory, physical, mental, or emotional functioning.
disorientation
A state of confusion or lack of awareness about one’s identity, location, or activity/purpose.
droplet transmission
The spread of disease-causing pathogens by inhalation of body fluids (i.e., saliva, mucus, etc.) coughed or sneezed into the air from an infected person.
drop-off slide
A water slide that ends several feet above a deep-water catch pool so sliders feel a sense of falling before they land in the water.
drowning
The process of respiratory impairment that occurs as the result of prolonged submersion/immersion in liquid. Drowning victims can fully recover; survive with complications, such as severe respiratory problems; or suffer permanent brain damage or death.
drug
A substance other than food with medicinal, mood altering, intoxicating, performance enhancing, or other effects when taken or put into the body. Drugs can be abused or misused.
duty to act
A legal responsibility, usually defined by job description or statute, to provide care or take other action in an emergency.

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E

elevated lifeguard station
A raised chair, stand, or tower near the edge of the water used by a lifeguard to scan the swimming area of a beach, pool, waterfront, or water park. Elevated stations provide a better, less refracted view of people or objects in the water, including people or objects at the surface, under the water, and on the bottom.
emergency
A situation that poses an immediate threat to the health, safety, property, or the environment.
emergency action plan (EAP)
A written description of roles, actions, and resources used to respond to an emergency.
emergency back-up coverage
Surveillance by lifeguards during an emergency rescue designed to cover the entire facility/swimming area, including the area(s) vacated by the responding lifeguard(s).

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F

facility layout
A simple map of a building or swimming pool that displays the location of first aid equipment, fire alarm boxes, fire extinguishers, automated external defibrillators, locker rooms/bathrooms, exits, evacuation routes, etc.
facility management
The individual or group responsible for the daily operation and maintenance of a facility, such as a swimming pool or sports complex. Facility managers of swimming pools include aquatic directors/coordinators and pool managers.
facility-related emergency
An incident (e.g., a bomb threat, civil disturbance, earthquake, fire, power failure, etc.) affecting the safe operation of the amenities, equipment, or resources of a swimming pool or other recreational, commercial or institutional center. Facility-related emergencies often require evacuation.

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G

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H

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I

instinctive drowning response
Behaviors commonly exhibited by active drowning victims, including vertical position with head back, thrashing arms, ineffective or nonexistent kicking, wide eyes and fearful facial expression, and inability to call out or wave for help.

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J

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K

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L

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M

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N

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O

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P

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Q

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R

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S

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T

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U

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V

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W

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X

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Y

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Z

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