Preventative lifeguarding

These are notes from various staff manuals, personal experiences and the Red Cross texts.


rescue tube stylize red with aqua: rescue tube photoshopped with stylize red with aqua

UNSAFE PRACTICES or potential problems TO WATCH FOR:

“Gutter crawlers,” “creepers” or “wall walking” “rope holders” weak swimmers traveling from shallow water to deep water by holding onto the wall, gutter, overflow trough or lane line, or just non-swimmers feeling bold

Corner ‘swimmers’ are people who can’t really swim well and take a big breath near a corner in deep water and try to kick, glide or swim across the corner. Across a short corner they may be successful. But as they gain confidence they try a farther distance than they can hold their breath for or can get off course and not make it to the corner. They will be actively drowning inches from the side.

Non-swimmers bouncing from shallow water toward deeper water

Non-swimmers tip-toeing in almost-too-deep-for-them water

Poor swimmers with ineffective strokes, (arms that do not reach out of the water on the freestyle recovery, or slap straight-armed on entry, for example) or weak strokes that do not propel them far, who stand up frequently (and especially are near a drop off). Especially watch anyone moving from a horizontal to vertical position.

A little child seeming to do a doggie-paddle, but not making forward progress (or in on their stomach in a horizontal position at the surface but not able to raise their face up out of the water) is in trouble.

A child who has wandered away from parents could get in trouble quickly.

Any child holding a kickboard or trying to use a noodle for support is not a great swimmer, and should not be in water that is deeper than they are tall:

volunteertrilifeguardAlanAhlst.rand: lifeguard leaning towards swimmer supported by a noodle

Little sibling playing with older child. Older one may lose interest and abandon or not watch the younger one.

Too many kids clinging to one innertube.

Swimming under water alongside the wall (where a patron might be hit by someone who does
not see him or her and jumps into the water)

Placing legs or arms through the rungs of ladders, trying to swim behind ladders or ladder “gymnastics” (keep a snorkel handy if the ladder can’t be easily removed in case they get stuck) and keep a little soap/cooking oil to get them unstuck from gutters

Anyone at a waterfront depending on an inflatable device, especially when wind can take them out farther than they want. Kids playing with inflatables can get in over their heads when wind picks up their toy and carries it away from the shore and they go after it, stepping into deeper water.

Patrons as they first arrive may be overconfident and jump into water depth they are not skilled enough for.

People who use slides are generally less competent than diving board users. Many do not realize if the water at the end of the slide is deeper than they are tall.

If your pool allows small tubes for kids with parents accompanying them, be aware they overturn easily.

Some devices parents think will support their child actually seem to hold their head under water more:

kids tri june 2007 swimmer with floatbelt:

If your pool allows water wings, be aware that they can cause parents and kids to become overconfident and that they can slip up to the child’s wrists, effectively holding the child underwater.

water wings hold child underwater: child held under by waterwings:

and if we are a weak enough swimmer to need water wings, we need an adult within arms reach of us:

if we are a weak enough swimmer to need water wings we need an adult near us:

Watch runners and ‘fast walkers’ extra at corners that can get wet and slippery.

Pushing heads underwater

When a crowd gathers it often means unusual, perhaps dangerous activity, or an accident/sudden illness

Swimmers with hair in their faces/eyes that they do not move away because they don’t have enough swimming skill to keep swimming and do so

Swimmers sharing a lane with one of them using hand paddles that can hit another person.

Supersoaker water pistols can injure eyes and cause unsafe running/horseplay.


rescue tube neon glow reverse color: rescue tube photoshopped with neon glow reverse color

Accident prevention tips that USA Swimming coaches know:

Take a look around each day and make sure there are no unusual hazards or obstacles on deck. Alert people about any you can’t correct, and/or cone off things like cracked tiles.

Explain all rules of games thoroughly. Anticipate an accident such as a blindfolded Marco Polo swimming into the wall and use lane lines to prevent it. (and even better – trust the player to keep eyes closed rather than actually blindfolding him/her so they can look when they need to.)

Always enforce a feet first entry into the water and that swimmers look at the surface and below surface before entering.

Starting blocks should only be used by skilled swimmers, under direct supervision. When not in use they should be covered or removed so they are not a temptation to casual users.

Be sure backstroke flags are in place and your students know how to use them to predict when they will get to the wall.

Wires should not be laid on deck. Hang them overhead to prevent tripping hazards.


rescue tube stylize find edges: rescue tube photoshopped with stylize find edges

From a City of Santa Clara, California, manual: areas where most accidents occur:

– shallow water where non-swimmers are located

– drop off point, where shallow water gets suddenly deeper

– areas close to side of pool

– areas near ladders (both to boards and from pool)

– deck area at shallow end

– area under boards (no swimming under boards)

– shower area

– directly under lifeguard stand

– black lines on pool bottom


CPO What a Certified Pool Operator (CPO) knows that lifeguards and swimmers should know.


rescue tube stylize trace contour: rescue tube photoshopped with stylize trace contour

from 2001 City of Cupertino, California, manual:

“Preventative guarding is the key. Yelling “no diving,”
may get tiresome, but doing a backboard rescue is worse. Anticipate dangerous situations and
prevent problems.”

“Be aggressive and consistent. Assume control and never relinquish it. Be strict and never let
down. Your job is important and you must maintain your authority.”

“When disciplining a patron, please keep the following in mind:

1. Do not become involved in verbal or physical battles.

2. Remain polite, yet be assertive and confident in your decision.

3. If the patron will not comply with your decision and will not leave, call the pool manager for assistance.

4. Be consistent when enforcing rules and taking disciplinary action.”


rescue tube texture grain color saturation: rescue tube photoshopped with texture grain color saturation

The following is from the 2001 City of Cupertino manual and is an almost exact copy of
material from a past City of Sunnyvale, California, manual.

Minor violations

The disciplinary action for minor infractions depends on the patron’s age.

1. Children (12 or under)

      a. First violation: verbal warning.

      b. Second violation: sit on the deck for five minutes and inform the of potential

      c. Third violation: removal for the day.

2. Teenagers and adults (13 and older)

      a. First violation: verbal warning and if appropriate, inform them of potential

      b. Second violation: removal for the day.

Minor violations are as follows:

    1. Pushing and shoving

    2. Unnecessary splashing

    3. Running on deck and/or in the locker rooms

    4. Diving in non-diving areas

    5. Jumping and/or diving in backwards

    6. More than one bounce on board

    7. Swimming in diving area, except during designated times

    8. Leaving diving area in wrong direction

    9. Towel snapping

    10. Not leaving pool when ordered to do so by staff

    11. Splashing guard

    12. Smoking on the pool deck and/or locker rooms

Major violations

The disciplinary action regarding major violations is the same for all age groups the patron will
be removed for the day.

Major violations are as follows:

    1. Fighting

    2. Profanity

    3. Molesting children or teenagers*

    4. Dangerous diving

    5. Use of diving boards which have been declared off-limits

    6. Re-entering pool after being removed for the day

    7. Use of drugs*

    8. Harassing lifeguards

    9. Pushing lifeguards in pool

    10. Intoxication*

*When molestation, use of drugs, or intoxication occurs, the management will contact the necessary authorities (911). Staff must not make any allegations or statements until asked to do so by law enforcement personnel. An irrational accusation could result in a law suit. The agency will not be responsible for staff members who conduct themselves improperly.

Dismissal of Chronic Major Violators

Patrons who must be consistently removed from public swim for the day are termed “chronic
violators.” A record of each patron’s name, phone number, and reason for dismissal is kept in
the office. Each dismissal must be made by the pool manager at the time it occurs.

Disciplinary action for “chronic violators” is as follows:

    1. First and second violations: removal for the day only

    2. Third violation: removal for one week**

    3. Fourth violation: removal for remainder of the summer**

**This should be recorded on an incident report and submitted to the aquatics coordinator at


This rule especially would need discussion among the staff on how to enforce it: adults should not have children, other than their own, sitting on their laps, or have children, other than their own, swim underwater between their legs.

Are you going to allow photography at all at your pool?

Will you ban cellphone use in the lockerroom, since someone seeming to use a cell phone for a phone call could actually be taking pictures of people?


Tips for guarding open water swims

tips for guarding kids’ triathlons

not rescue ready is collection of real, not posed, photos of lifeguards on duty who are not ready to do a rescue, and equipment/facilities also not rescue ready, for discussion in my lifeguard training classes.

lifeguard training, discussing professionalism is an in-service training project, or perhaps for pool patrons, lifeguard candidates who look at this page to consider on their own.

Emergency Action Plan for a coach or swim instructor

Neighborhood Watch applied to swim centers

get ready to take a lifeguard training class

patch that says American red cross lifeguard


A collection of pool rules to choose from is at:

pool rules: attire, health and sanitation

spas rules

pool rules concerning children

diving board and slide rules

general pool rules

400 pixel lane line:

(Yes, one of my lifeguard training classes had some fun with this).

As a head guard or lifeguard manager, which would you choose as a motto for your lifeguards / pool staff?

A) Primun non nocere
    (Hippocratic oath)

B) Caveat emptor

C) Interfice errorem, diligere errantem

D) Fac ut gaudeam

E) Castigat ridendo mores

F) Oderint dum metuant
   (Caligula (the emperor and the British ship of the line in Captain Hornblower, R.N. by C.S. Forester))

G) Opus: quod fiere non potest

diagonal rescue tube:

Primun non nocere     the first thing is to do no harm (Hippocratic oath)

Caveat emptor     buyer beware (he buys at his own risk)

Interfice errorem, diligere errantem     kill the sin, love the sinner

Fac ut gaudeam     make my day

Castigat ridendo mores     laughter succeeds where lecturing won’t…or…only laughter corrects men’s manners/morals

Oderint dum metuant     let them hate as long as they fear

Opus: quod fiere non potest     Mission: Impossible