Instructor reviews rescue technique with staff prior to starting the drills. (Photo(s) credit: Emily Plurkowski, Mills College)


It’s winter. Summer is seven months away and is not even a thought in your staff’s mind. As a supervisor or manager, you’re probably busy developing programs and finalizing summer brochures. Soon you will start recruiting new seasonal staff, so preparing for summer starts now.

Analyze the rescue and assist data from the previous season. You should know how many rescues were made, where they were made within your facility, which day of the week they occurred on, and the time they took place. You should also know which lifeguards made the rescues. All of this data is important.

Imagine each rescue as an attempt to compromise your facility’s drowning prevention plan. Take the rescue data and place it on an aerial map/photo of your facility. The map should include guard chairs, roaming patrols and zones. It can help you to determine whether the rescues are random or if there is a pattern which illuminates holes within your operation. Do rescues cluster near the diving board, at the bottom of a speed slide, or within the swim lesson area? What time of day did the rescue occur, what day of the week?

If the weak point in your operation is something that can be resolved through mechanical changes (buying an elevated chair, or having better signage on child supervision) then make those changes.

Look at the facility’s rescue hotspots and compare them to where lifeguard stands are placed and where roaming patrols are assigned. You need to know if these staffed locations really work and allow for a quick enough response.

The time from victim recognition to victim contact should be less than 30 seconds. If longer, adjust your stations and zones. It is important to remember, that the rescue could potentially be only one part of the incident; extrication from the water and medical treatment (which could include rescue breathing, CPR, and using an AED) will be part of all critical incidents.

Once you’ve charted the rescue data on the map and made adjustments to zoning and stations it is time to build training to support your operations. The remainder of this article will discuss three drills to strengthen your lifeguard’s response in speed, support and teamwork.

Pool Diagram with common rescue points labeled 1, 2, and 3. Lifeguard stations are labeled A, B, and C. (Graphics credit: Eric Nurse)

Important note: On all of the drills, you will count out loud to establish the cadence and speed that the individual/team will need to work. Using a stopwatch is unforgiving. Verbal counting allows you to change the tempo, make corrections as needed, and enhances your presence with the staff as the conditions dictate. Speed up your count cadence as you near the end of a drill to build urgency, slow it down if staff experience unanticipated difficulties.


SPEED RESCUE DRILL: Referring to the sample map place a passive victim on the surface head up (real person preferred) at Rescue Point 1, and have lifeguards deploy from Lifeguard Station A. OBJECTIVE: Make contact with the victim as quickly and safely as possible. TIMING GOAL: 10-15 seconds to complete the objective.

Go through the drill at least 3 times. Once you are satisfied with their progress, move the victim to Rescue Point 2. Repeat the drill with deployment continuing from Lifeguard Station A.

The Speed Rescue drill focuses on rapid deployment.


Lifeguards should be proficient at the Speed Rescue before moving to the variations. If you notice the staff not making contact with the victim quick enough, remind the staff of the objective. It doesn’t matter how they get to the victim, deck or water, just get there quickly and safely.

Speed Rescue Variations:

  • Once you’ve gone through all the Rescue Points, move to a new Lifeguard Station, and repeat the drill.
  • Active victim submerged (underwater with fingertips not breaking the surface)
  • Passive victim on surface facedown
  • Passive victim submerged (add 5-10 seconds to complete this variation)


MULTI-LIFEGUARD 2-ON-1 DRILL: Split the lifeguards between two Lifeguard Stations. Place an active victim at Rescue Point 2. OBJECTIVE: Both lifeguards make contact and have control of the victim as quickly and safely as possible. TIMING GOAL: 15-20 seconds to complete the objective.

Multi-Lifeguard 2-on-1 drills force lifeguards to coordinate their efforts while providing care for an in-water victim.


Lifeguards should be proficient at the Multi-Lifeguard 2-on-1 before moving to the variations.

Multi-Lifeguard 2-on-1 Variations:

  • Move victim and lifeguards to different Rescue Points and Lifeguard Stations
  • Victim remains active until 2nd lifeguard arrives and assists in securing the victim (add 5 seconds)
  • Passive victim on surface facedown. Drill ends when victim is secured and moved to the side of pool (add 10 seconds)
  • Passive victim on surface facedown. Drill ends with victim secured with airway management in progress where victim was located (add 10 seconds)
  • Passive victim submerged (add 5-10 seconds)

Multi-Lifeguard 2-on-1 drills can vary between surface or submerged victim rescues.


MULTI-LIFEGUARD 2-ON-2 DRILL: Have lifeguards at Station B and Station C. Place two active victims at Rescue Point 3. OBJECTIVE: Make contact and have control of the victims as quickly and safely as possible. TIMING GOAL: 10-15 seconds to complete the objective.

Lifeguards should be proficient at Multi-Lifeguard 2-on-2 before moving to the variations.

Multi-Lifeguard 2-on-2 Variations:

  • Move victims and lifeguards to different Rescue Points and Lifeguard Stations
  • Victims hold on to each other, and remain so until 2nd lifeguard arrives and assists in separating and securing them (add 10 seconds)
  • 1 active and 1 passive victim. Drill ends when victims are secured and moved to the side of pool (add 10 seconds)
  • 1 active victim supporting 1 passive victim. Passive victim submerges once first lifeguard makes contact. Drill ends when victims are secured and moved to the side of pool (add 10 seconds)


Remember your staff should be slightly out of breath throughout these drills. If they aren’t raising their heart rate, they won’t be prepared when critical incidents occur.


Fortifying Your Facility 1-Hour Training Curriculum (10 lifeguards)


  • Briefing/Suit up: 5 minutes


  • Speed Rescue Drill: Each lifeguard through drill 3 times from 1 lifeguard station to 2-3 rescue points (15-20 minutes)


  • Multi-Lifeguard 2-on-1 Drill: Each team through drill 4 times (10 minutes)


  • Multi-Lifeguard 2-on-2 Drill: Each team through drill 4 times (15 minutes)


  • Debrief/Break-down: 10 minutes













Multi-Lifeguard 2-on-2 drills allow lifeguards to either

work together or independently in an aquatic incident.


Pete DeQuincy is an Aquatic Supervisor for the East Bay Regional Park District, Oakland California, and trains lifeguards internationally and throughout the San Francisco Bay Area. He is a Lifeguard Instructor Trainer and Water Safety Instructor Trainer for the American Red Cross and recently served on the National American Red Cross Sounding Board to develop the new lifeguarding curriculum.  He can be reached at



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Comment by Jay Showalter on January 31, 2013 at 10:05am

Great drills Pete and thanks for the pics to help with visualizing the scenario!

Comment by Jim Wheeler on January 27, 2013 at 8:55am

This is really great stuff Pete, thanks for sharing. Love the incident tracking tips and the timed training!

Comment by Pete DeQuincy on December 3, 2012 at 5:51pm

Cliff and Korey, thank you for the feedback. It's greatly appreciated.

Comment by Korey Riley on December 3, 2012 at 4:55pm

Pete led my staff through some of these drills this summer.  He is really tough as he counts out loud, tells them they are too slow, not opening the airway correctly, etc. and they STILL loved the training and rose to his challenge.  We had an active victim rescue at a recreation swim a week after he had been out and it was amazing!  They were so fast and pulled together as a team - even lifeguards that weren't on duty came out to help.  I was so proud of them! 

We built on the drills throughout the summer to include removal from the pool and follow-up care out of the water (it was interesting when we added AED's and put the trainers in the office to see how long it took them to retrieve the AED).  The key is repetition, repetition, repetition until everyone succeeds in meeting the goal.

And thanks Pete for writing out your training - now I feel like I could hand this off to some of my head guards and let them run with it.

Comment by Cliff Pryor on December 3, 2012 at 11:12am

Love seeing training and drill examples like this.  Thanks Pete!

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