Theory Primer
o Introduction
o Site Map
o Site Updates
o Courses
o Theory Info
o Club Kit
o Training
o Cuppers
o Committee
o Competitions
o Socials
o Photos
o Old Members
o Other Clubs
o Term Card

o Guestbook
o Email Club  



Water Safety
Safety at home
Survival in water
Survival principles
Survival and self-rescue
Rescue principles

Water safety

The Drowning Chain

Drownings and accidents in and around water follow a general pattern which can be best described as a chain of linked events. Each of the events can lead to direct injury or to the next link.

Lack of education -> lack of safety advice -> lack of protection -> lack of supervision -> inability to cope

About 500 people drown each year in British waters.

Location of drownings:

  • 2% garden pond
  • 3% other indoor
  • 4% other outdoor
  • 4% swimming pools
  • 5% dock
  • 6% lakes and reservoirs
  • 8% bath
  • 8% canal
  • 20% sea
  • 40% rivers and streams

In all age groups, male drownings dominate the statistics. There is a peak among active males aged 15 - 34.

The popular view that most drownings occur in the summer and this is confirmed by the statistics, yet many drownings also occur during winter.

Alcohol is a contributory factor in many drowning cases every year.

Safety at home

Many drownings occur at home, often because familiar surroundings are expected to be safe. Washing machines, paddling pools, water butts, basins and baths are all potential hazards to a small child. Children should be supervised at all times.

  • Fence in private swimming pools and use a pool cover
  • Cover water butts
  • Cover fish ponds with wire secured at the edges
  • Empty paddling pools, baths and buckets after use
  • Keep bath plugs away from small children
  • Keep young children away from washing machines

Weil's Disease

Rivers, ponds and canals are sometimes infected with a bacterium which can cause Weil's disease. This usually takes the form of a chill and may resemble an attack of flu. It can be a serious illness requiring hospital treatment. If you fall ill after swimming, particularly within three weeks, see your doctor and ask for a blood test for Weil's disease.

Survival in water

Safety in the sea

  • Swim parallel to and not away from the shore
  • Swim diagonally across the current to safety, as struggling against it can be exhausting
  • Remember that cold water affects stamina
  • Keep dinghies on a fixed line
  • Pay attention to the flags (see below) and swim in areas with lifeguards


  • Black chequered - Surfing, no swimming
  • Red - Danger, No swimming
  • Yellow - Caution take care
  • Green - Calm water - take care
  • Red over yellow - lifeguards patrol between these 2 flags


  • Red - emergency (esp at night), used to signal for help and to identify your position
  • Orange - day time emergency, used to signal for help and identify your position
  • White - collision warning at night, or to illuminate an area

Distress Signals

  • Flares (see above)
  • 6 blasts on a whistle, at one minute intervals
  • Waving a raised oar
  • Waving an arm when in the water

Rip tides

These are fast flowing runback currents which are very dangerous for swimmers in the sea. Look for: discoloured water that is brown in colour due to sand stirred at the bottom; foam on the surface which extends beyond the breaking waves; debris floating with the current; large waves breaking further out on both sides of the rip. Swim out of the rip by keeping parallel to the shore, returning through the breaking waves. Will commonly form between groynes in medium to heavy seas.

Survival principles

In a survival situation, you need to develop an emergency plan to help you cope with the situation. This will be based on five main elements:

  • An assessment of the situation
  • action based on this initial assessment
  • reassessment after the initial action
  • planning a follow-up
  • evaluating success

You will need to consider the temperature of the water, the distance from the shore, what help is available, weather and water conditions, estimated survival time, clothing worn and the availability of buoyancy aids.

If on your own, use the H.E.L.P (Heat Escape Lessening Posture), float or scull in a relaxed manner and hold onto a buoyancy aid. To adopt the H.E.L.P position, keep your legs straight and together pointing them at an angle in front of you, press your arms against your upper body (gripping a buoyancy aid) and keep your head out of the water.

If in a group and you are wearing life jackets, use the HUDDLE position. You should press the sides of your chests together, press your groins and lower bodies together and put your arms round each others’ backs at waist level.

Removal of clothing - if garments are too heavy, they should be removed from the feet upwards while treading water. Trousers / skirt - undo at the waist and steadily pull off. T-shirts and sweaters - take one arm out at a time, then roll up from the waist and lift over your head.

Personal Flotation Devices

These are of two sorts - lifejackets and buoyancy aids. Lifejackets keep you in a safe floating position and normally have a buoyant collar and pad next to the chest. These are normally found on aircraft. Buoyancy aids are used in water sports to assist flotation during short periods in the water. They are not designed to support a casualty.

Survival and self-rescue

  • Underwater weeds - avoid sudden movements and scull out, or swim very gently with long, slow breast stroke or side stroke with minimum leg movements.
  • Weirs - tuck your body up into a ball and get to the bottom.
  • Quicksand and deep mud - don’t try to stand up, spread your weight by lying flat and use slow arm and leg movements.
  • Ice - call for help; spread your arms across the surface; try and slide onto the ice; if the ice breaks, move towards the side breaking it as you go.


The normal core body temperature of a human is about 36.9º C. Hypothermia occurs when this area (particularly the heart, lungs and brain) drops below 35º C. This can be caused by sudden immersion in cold water or if the body’s heat production is impaired by exhaustion or injury. You should lay the casualty down in a sheltered position and cover to prevent further heat loss. Lying next to the casualty and using your body warmth is beneficial.

A conscious casualty who is shivering and uninjured may be immersed to the neck in a warm bath of about 40º C (which will feel comfortable to the elbow). Heavy outer clothing should be removed before immersion. The casualty should stay in the bath until they feel comfortably warm, but they should be removed if they complain of feeling hot or sweating.

Re-warming should be passive with heat coming from the core of the body rather than externally. A loose scarf can be used for ‘airway warming’ as long as it doesn’t cause an obstruction. A warm drink will reassure the casualty, as long as they are able to swallow it, but will have little effect on raising the body temperature. It may be necessary to check their pulse for up to a minute. Urgent removal to hospital is a priority. (See also ‘Life Support’ p54 - 57).

Rescue principles

All rescues involve use of initiative and judgement.
There are four main categories of drowning casualty. They should be rescued in this order:

  • non-swimmer
  • weak swimmer
  • injured
  • unconscious

The safety of the rescuer is the most important consideration - rescues that can be performed without entering the water are the safest. This rescue sequence should be followed:

  • Shout
  • Signal
  • Reach
  • Throw
  • Wade
  • Row
  • Swim with an aid
  • Swim and tow

Entries and exits

  • Slide in entry - use when the depth and the underwater conditions are unknown. The movement should be controlled and safe.
  • Step in - use when the water is clear, the depth is known and you can see that the bottom is free from obstacles.
  • Compact jump - a feet first jump that should be used when you need to enter deep water from a height of more than one metre.
  • Straddle jump - for entry to deep clear water from a low height, when you need to keep your head up.
  • Shallow dive - for when the water is clear, the bottom can be seen and the depth is known.

Life Support

Chest compressions (CPR - cardio-pulmonary resuscitation) and rescue breathing (mouth-to-mouth resuscitation) are only a means of buying time until qualified medical help can arrive. Therefore the chain of survival is important. This consists of:

early accessphone for an ambulance
early basic life supportCPR or rescue breathing
early defibrillationelectric shocks to restart the heart
early advanced life supportdrugs and specialist equipment

With the new sequence (as from 1 July 1998 - as recommended by the European Resuscitation Council), the most important difference is to identify whether the casualty has had a heart attack or not, as this affects when you call for help etc.

If faced with multiple casualties, they should be treated in the following order: CPR, management of choking, control of bleeding, care of the unconscious breathing casualty, treatment for shock.

CPR should be carried out at the rate of 100 compressions per minute for adults, children and babies. (A baby is defined as being in the first year of life, a younger child is aged up to 8 years and an older child, from 8 up to adulthood). The rate of compressions is 15 compressions to 2 breaths (15:2) for adults and 5 compressions to 1 breath (5:1) for babies and children. The depth of compression should be one-third of the depth of the chest for babies and children and 4-5 cm for adults.

Bleeding - sit the casualty down and reassure them. Apply direct pressure to the wound with a bandage (or get them to do this) and elevate the wound above the level of the heart. If there is a foreign object (eg. a nail) in the wound, apply pressure around it.

Unconscious breathing casualties should be placed in the recovery position.

Shock is defined as ‘failure of the circulation which results in an inadequate supply of blood to the vital organs’. Essential parts of the body (heart, brain, kidneys etc.) do not receive enough oxygen and cannot function correctly. This can lead to death. Shock is caused by: severe bleeding (internal and external); fluid loss from burns, vomiting, diarrhoea, profuse sweating; heart failure; viral infections; severe pain and near-drowning. Someone in shock looks pale, cold to touch, dizzy, confused and sweaty. There will be a rapid, weak pulse and the casualty will gasp for air.

You should treat the cause if possible (ie. stop any external bleeding):

  • Lay the casualty flat with their legs raised (if unconscious, place in the recovery position)
  • Keep them warm (cover with a blanket)
  • Do not give them anything to eat or drink
  • Call an ambulance

Source: RLSS UK ‘Lifesaving’ (6th edition 1995) and ‘Life Support’ (3rd edition 1997). TS September 1998 (version 1). Disclaimer: All techniques are accurate at time of writing and as recommended by the RLSS (UK). It is recommended that specialist training in these techniques is undertaken, by attending a course organised by a recognised organisation. Techniques may vary between countries, no responsibility is taken for this. Thanks to Bath University from who this was theived :)

o o o
o o o
  ^^ Back to top | Home | This site © OULSC 1999-2004
Page Last Updated: Thu Jun 6 2002 by Hilary Hamnett & Nick Burch