Get to the victim quickly, utilize the secondary lifeguard to assist in extrication (Photo credit, Emily Plurkowski, East Bay Regional Park District)

Zero-depth entry pools simulate a beach or waterfront where patrons can enter the water without need of steps, ladder, or pool edge. Since the water depth gradually increases, this is the prime location where infants, toddlers and small children require assistance.

It is essential that lifeguards assigned to this zone, be quick to react and fast at getting to the victim. Depending on the depth, the lifeguard might have to run in shallow water to, the victim or might have to run and swim to the victim. The zone of coverage could be large, requiring the lifeguard to run a distance before making contact with the victim.

DISCLAIMER:  All drills mentioned emphasize lifeguard safety. At no time will the lifeguard dive into shallow water unless trained by your agency and authorized to do so.

Focus on speed, taking advantage of the water depth

RUN-AND-SWIM ENTRY DRILL: (6-10 lifeguard/trainer) Trainer will be in the water at least 2 ½ foot deep, facing shore. Use a 3” rubber ball(s) for this drill. OBJECTIVE: While wearing the rescue tube, lifeguard has to reach the ball as quickly and safely as possible. TIMING GOAL: 10 seconds to make contact with the rubber ball. Trainer should place the ball at a various depths and distances from the lifeguard. Once the ball is retrieved, it is passed to the trainer.

Expedite the flow of this drill by having the trainer start with multiple balls. Multiple trainers can also be utilized to help expedite the drill.

Once each lifeguard has “rescued” the ball 4-6 times, move to the variations:

  • Add a second ball, lifeguard must only touch first ball then pick up the second one (no time change)
  • Add a second ball, lifeguard must pick up both balls (no time change)
  • After retrieval, both balls need to be returned to shore (add 5-10 seconds)
  • Add a diving manikin, lifeguard touches ball, then pulls manikin to the surface so face is showing (add 5-10 seconds)
  • Rescue tube is optional (no time change)

Balls/manikin can be clumped together or apart, both in distance and depth. This forces the lifeguard to figure out the quickest rescue route.


Push your lifeguards by increasing the difficulty of the drill

2-RESCUER MANIKIN RETRIEVAL DRILL: Place a diving manikin in 2-3 feet of water. Teams will consist of 2 lifeguards who work together to retrieve the manikin. Both lifeguards must have contact with the manikin until it is placed in a designated area, emphasize that lifeguards should place, not throw, the manikin back to the original location. OBJECTIVE: Retrieve the manikin as quickly and safely as possible and place it in the designated area. TIMING GOAL: 15-20 seconds.

Use multiple manikins so multiple teams can drill at the same time. After completing the objective have the team place the manikin back in the water. Once the teams become proficient, move to the variations:

  • Add a second manikin (add 15-20 seconds)
  • Add a third manikin (add 20-30 seconds)
  • Keep using two or three manikins, add that lifeguards must return to starting location together (add 20 more seconds)
  • Lifeguard team is split, and start from different locations at the same time (no time change)
  • Lifeguard team is split, and start from different locations with a 5 second staggered start (no time change)
  • Rescue tube is optional (no time change)
  • Manikins are staggered in depth, shallow to deep (add 10-15 seconds)


Teamwork is necessary to make extrication quick and safe

BEACH DRAG DRILL: Lifeguards will be in 3-person teams. Victim will be in 2-3 feet of water at a designated point. Lifeguards will be on shore, rescue the victim and do a beach drag to bring the victim into shore. Once on shore, one of the lifeguards will become a victim and go out to the designated point. Lifeguards go out and retrieve this new victim with a beach drag. Drill ends when all rescuers rotate through the victim roll. OBJECTIVE: Bring the victim to shore using a beach drag as quickly and safely as possible.  TIMING GOAL: 40-60 seconds to complete the drill with all members of the team being the victim

Once proficient, try these variations:

  • Each rescuer must be the victim twice (add up to 40 seconds)
  • Last victim brought in, must be given a primary assessment, victim is determined to have a pulse and is breathing (add 15 seconds)
  • Last victim brought in, must be given a primary assessment, victim is determined to have a pulse but is not breathing, rescuers must provide adult rescue breathing for 3 breaths (add 30 seconds)


Remember to protect the victim's head when doing rapid extrictation

5-MINUTE RUN-AND-SWIM ENTRY DRILL: Designate a finish line between 2 ½ to 3 ½ feet deep. Lifeguards will start at the water’s edge. OBJECTIVE: Do as many run-and-swim entries as possible to the designated finish line within 5 minutes.

Lifeguards must return to the starting line as quickly as possible. This is an endurance drill, conditioning staff on running through water. If needed, lifeguard may swim across the finish line. Monitor lifeguards. It is surprising how demanding this drill is and how quickly fatigue will set in. If needed, reduce time and build up to 5 minutes.

Variations can include:

  • Requiring modified front crawl with rescue tube
  • Requiring modified breaststroke with rescue tube
  • Requiring front crawl with rescue tube trailing behind
  • No rescue tube
  • Add 5-minutes for a total of 10-minutes, doing two variations (no break)


SURF BALLS: (6-10 lifeguards) This fun activity is a water form of beach flags or musical chairs. Line up 10 lifeguards at the waters’ edge and have them looking away from the water. Place 9 tennis balls in the water at various distances. On your command, the lifeguards turn towards the water and rush out to retrieve one of the tennis balls. Whoever doesn’t get one is eliminated from the next round. One ball and one lifeguard are reduced from each round until, there is only one ball and two lifeguards vying for it. Whoever, gets the last ball is the winner.

Variations include:

  • All men compete
  • All women compete
  • All lifeguards must take a rescue tube
  • Victims substitute for tennis balls and must be rescued

Be aware that this drill quickly turns into many lifeguards watching while the remaining continue to compete. Therefore, only initiate this drill occasionally.

With a staggered start, the lifeguards will need to synchronize in order to avoid injury and provide the best care for the victim

Zero-depth water provides its own unique challenges depending on the design and size of your facility. These drills are merely a starting point for developing specific drills for your facility. Good luck and train hard.



Zero-Depth drills 1-Hour training curriculum (12 lifeguards)


Briefing 5 minutes


5-Minute Run-and-Swim Entry 10 minutes (non-stop)


Run-and Swim Entry with variations 15 minutes


2-Rescuer Manikin Retrieval 10 minutes


Beach Drag 10 minutes


Surf Balls 5 minutes


Debrief/Break-down 5 minutes

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