Tag Archives: rescue tube

Define Water Safety Supervisors Carefully

Supervision is an essential aspect of water safety. Parents and other guardians supervise their children, group leaders watch over their participants, and operators of swimming pools, beaches, and water parks hire lifeguards to scan swimming areas. All these types of supervision can be equally effective despite using different methods to ensure water safety.

Supervision by Parents/Guardians

Let’s start with parental supervision. Parents, guardians, babysitters only need to keep track of a few kids. Easy, right? Wrong! Children of all ages can quickly get in trouble. Small children often escape parental supervision and find themselves near the water unsupervised. Even when children are in the water under parental supervision, they can get into trouble with just one bad decision about diving, exploring deep water, etc. Here are some tips:

  1. Very young children need to be supervised at all times. They can reach the water and drown in the time it takes to answer the phone or flip a couple burgers.
  2. Use layers of protection to keep children safe. Contrary to what some swim schools might tell you, learning to swim at 3 months is not as important as constant adult supervision at the pool and in the home and barriers (e.g., fences, covers, locks, etc.) to water sources inside and outside the house. Other supplemental layers of protection include alarm systems, supervisor knowledge of water safety and CPR/first aid, and swimming lessons.
  3. When in the water with a young child, keep that child within arm’s reach at all times. Use a U.S. Coast Guard life jacket if necessary, but do not trust floaties, water wings, plastic rings, etc.
  4. For children old enough to read and understand rules, walk them around the pool and show them the posted rules and markers. Discuss why each rule is important. Be emphatic, not dramatic.
  5. When you are acting as a supervisor for your child, do not read, sun bathe, or visit with other adults. Keep eyes on your children at all times.
  6. Have children swim in a designated swimming area where lifeguards are on duty, but do not rely on lifeguards to watch your children. This is your responsibility.
  7. Watch for currents at beaches and rivers that can move children into dangerous water or out of your sight.
  8. Protect your children from the sun, the weather, and water contaminants.

Group Leader Supervision

Supervision by swimming instructors and coaches often goes unmentioned. The absurd conventional wisdom goes like this: “Since lifeguards cannot divide their attention between surveillance and a secondary task like teaching, it follows that instructors and coaches cannot teach and supervise their classes.” Right? Wrong!

The first responsibility of any instructor is to provide for the safety of all participants in their group. This is accomplished through supervision and otherwise accounting for participants in their class. The following tips apply to swimming instructors, WSIs, coaches, etc.:

  1. Obtain rescue and first aid/CPR training.
    1. If you swim well enough to get a lifeguarding certificate, do so. Some states consider a swimming instructor or coach with lifeguarding qualifications who supervises his/her group as providing lifeguard services.
    2. If you cannot swim well enough to be certified as a lifeguard, take a Red Cross Basic Water Rescue course, a Safety Training for Swim Coaches course, or equivalent with first aid and CPR.
  2. Dress appropriately for class. Be ready to enter the water or use equipment to make a rescue and to give care. Consider having oxygen, an automated external defibrillator (AED), a backboard, a first aid kit, reaching and throwing devices, a rescue tube, resuscitation mask, etc. accessible for your use. When in the water with your class, wear the rescue tube.
  3. Make sure the pool is free of hazards and ready to be used safely. If you cannot see the bottom, if broken glass is in the area, or if chemicals are out of balance, you cannot hold class in the water.
  4. Remove all pool covers from the pool before allowing participants in the water. Never hold class in a partly covered pool.
  5. Make sure your group is not too large to supervise. If it is, get help in the form of more staff or divide the group so that half the group is in the water and the other half is doing a land-based activity in the bleachers.
  6. Test all participants and decide where they can be in the facility. Remember that most skills can and should be taught in shallow water first.
  7. Position yourself so you can supervise the entire group. Even the strongest swimmers need your supervision.
  8. Teach corresponding water safety information with swimming and water-contact activities.
  9. Follow, don’t flout, the rules. They are appropriate for even the strongest swimmers.
  10. Take attendance before going in the water and again after class before leaving the pool area.
  11. Check the bottom of the pool before replacing pool covers or leaving the area at the end of class.
  12. Develop and practice an emergency action plan for your program.

Lifeguard Supervision

Lifeguards have specialized training to provide supervision of a swimming area. Since lifeguards provide surveillance of an entire area, they cannot focus attention on secondary tasks like swimming lessons, facility maintenance, cashier duties, etc. Tips for lifeguards include:

  1. Get proper training that includes lifeguarding, first aid/CPR, AED, and oxygen administration. Keep your training up-to-date and look for opportunities to take part in refreshers, staff training, etc.
  2. Have proper equipment on hand or accessible, including a rescue tube, a resuscitation mask, first aid equipment, backboard, etc.
  3. Come to work well rested, well hydrated, and mentally and physically ready to work.
  4. Position yourself where assigned or where you can keep constant surveillance of your entire area. Be mindful of blind spots, glare, and water conditions that affect your ability to see everything in your area.
  5. Program your mind with the victim characteristics, rule violation behaviors, hazardous conditions and practices, etc. so you will recognize them when you see them. Do not focus on scanning patterns or become distracted by the activities or people in the water. You have to see people and analyze activities, but do not become lost in the moment and forget to keep supervising.
  6. Scan appropriately and continuously. Perform visual sweeps of your assigned area, looking at the surface, middle, and bottom of the water, going from side to side, top to bottom, and point to point in your area.
  7. Inform, educate, and enforce safety rules in the area. Alert instructors of unsafe conditions or unsupervised participants.
  8. Activate the emergency action plan when your respond to an emergency and make a rescue in the most direct way. You have a duty to act appropriately in each situation.
  9. Take charge of emergency care until relieved by someone of equal or greater training.

All Supervision Is Good Supervision

Each of these supervisors uses different methods to get the job done. In some cases, the coverage of two or more supervisors may overlap and offer layers of protection. Remember all supervision is good supervision if it is adequately and continuously applied by the proper person.

Also remember that children can be taught swimming and water safety so that they can begin, as they grow older, to make good water safety decisions, thereby providing an extra layer of protection: a growing awareness of water hazards and self-reliance in the water.


Equipment-Based Rescues: Nearly 20 Years Later

In 2015, it will 20 years since the American Red Cross changed their policy for lifeguard training to equipment-based rescues (i.e., the rescue tube, etc.). Although this move to the rescue tube was initiated by Jeff Ellis and his National Pool & Waterpark Lifeguard Training course more than 5 years earlier and followed a few years later by YMCA On the Guard Lifeguarding, the change in 1995 by the American Red Cross saw equipment-based rescues become accepted almost universally at pools and waterparks throughout the United States.

Rescue tube 10Strategy for Introducing the Rescue Tube

Since this was such as major change, the American Red Cross selected 10 people to training as a National Faculty to teach rescue-tube rescues and the other changes to the rest of the country. The Red Cross had never done this before nor have they done it since.

I was fortunate enough to be selected as a National Facility member. We were charged with bringing the program to all other American Red Cross Instructors and Instructor-Trainers. I led trainings in Massachusetts and throughout Northern and Southern California.

Resistance to Change

There was some resistance to this change, especially from Los Angeles City and County (who do not use rescue tubes for pool lifeguard service to this day). They had some valid points for their objection:

  • Having the rescue tube on a tower can be dangerous if the lifeguard does not control the tow line. (I have actually seen a lifeguard get snagged by the tow line as she was entering the water and subsequently injured by being pulled back and striking the tower and side of the pool.)
  • Swimming with the rescue tube underneath the lifeguard slows the approach to the victim.
  • Use of the rescue tube lowers the skill level of the lifeguard.

There were even predictions that the use of the rescue tube would so weaken lifeguard abilities that lifeguard service with rescue tubes would prove totally ineffectual. That, of course, has not happened.

How Lifeguard Service Has Improved

Most of today’s swimming pool and waterpark lifeguards were not alive when the cross-chest carry was. In those days, we learned a set of skills (e.g., the hair carry, the underwater approach, etc.) that were often not needed to effect swimming pool rescues. In most cases, a rear approach and an armpit carry was all that was needed. Adding the rescue tube simply added a barrier between the lifeguard and the victim and buoyancy to make handling the victim easier.

In fact, in the 25 years since the Jeff Ellis gave rescue tubes to his lifeguards and the nearly 20 years since the American Red Cross made the rescue tube essential and universal for lifeguard service in swimming pools and water parks in the United States, this service has remained strong (and, in some ways, has even gotten stronger).

After so many years, there can be no doubt that the rescue tube is an effective tool for the lifeguarding:

  • It provides support and protection for lifeguards in deep water while transferring buoyancy to one or more victims.This prevents injury to the lifeguard as well as to the victim(s).
  • For short distances, the extra time it takes with the rescue tube to reach the victim is negligible. For longer approaches, allowing the rescue tube to trail makes the approach nearly as fast.
  • Returning with the victim on the rescue tube is faster and easier due to buoyancy cancelling some of the victim’s weight.
  • Using the rescue tube for support helps during deep-water passive victim rescues, multiple victim rescues, spinal victim support and backboarding, and rescue breathing in the water.
  • Use of the rescue tube also helps support swimming instructors while they work with learners in deep water.

Even the argument that the rescue tube allows less skilled swimmers to work as lifeguards ultimately supports the position that the rescue tube is beneficial. Swimming pools in many sizes and shapes require lifeguard service; less experienced and/or skilled lifeguards gravitate to smaller and shallower pools because they do not do as well on the swimming tests provided by pool operators. Still, these individuals find work at facilities where their swimming skills are more than enough, and the rescue tube still benefits them.

Old School and New

Now that a generation of equipment-based rescues has come and gone (and the world of lifeguarding has not come to an end), it may be important to remember that there are times when a lifeguard may be separated from his/her rescue tube and should know what to do. For example:

  • When towing a victim back to safety, the lifeguard may lose the rescue tube. The lifeguard either retrieve and reposition the rescue tube or may elect to continue swimming the victim to safety.
  • When making a submerged victim rescue or submerged spinal victim rescue, if the lifeguard must submerge deeper than the towline allows, the lifeguard must take it off completely. When the lifeguard brings the victim back to the surface, he/she may not be able to reach the rescue tube. If a second lifeguard is not available to reposition the rescue tube, the lifeguard should move to safety without the tube.

All swimming pool lifeguards should master a few basic skills to assist them when separated from the rescue tube. For example, repositioning the rescue tube, inserting the rescue tube under the armpits of another lifeguard, escapes, dive to the rear, towing techniques without the rescue tube, eggbeater kick, and even cross-chest carry. This helps to complete a swimming pool lifeguard’s preparation.

This is not to suggest that lifeguards should start a deep-water rescue without their rescue tube, rescue can, or rescue board. It is simply that, although all deep-water rescues should begin with the rescue tube or other appropriate equipment, they may not all end that way.