Aquatics Safety

Who Can Instruct Safe Swim Defense and Safety Afloat Training?

Safe Swim Defense and Safety Afloat training can be given by any person authorized by the Learning for Life local office, such as an aquatics resource person, a leader with aquatics skill, or any other person with aquatics knowledge or experience whom the local office has approved.

Safe Swim Defense

Before a Learning for Life group may engage in swimming activities of any kind, a minimum of one adult leader must complete Safe Swim Defense training.

  1. Qualified Supervision
    All swimming activity must be supervised by an adult age 21 or older who understands and accepts responsibility for the safety of youth participants, who is experienced in the water and has the ability to respond in the event of an emergency, and is trained and committed to the eight points of the Safe Swim Defense. (It is strongly recommended that all groups/posts have at least one adult or older youth participant currently trained as a lifeguard.)
     
  2. Physical Fitness
    A complete health history from a physician, parent, or legal guardian is required for swimming. In the event of any significant health conditions, the leader should require proof of an examination by a physician.
    Youth with physical disabilities can enjoy and benefit from aquatics if the disabilities are known and necessary precautions are taken.
     
  3. Safe Area
    When swimming in lakes and streams, lifeguards should systematically examine the bottom of the swimming area to determine depths and hazards. Mark off the area for three groups: not more than 3 1/2 feet deep for nonswimmers; from shallow water to just over the head for beginners; deep water not more than 12 feet for swimmers. A participant should not be permitted to swim in an area where he cannot readily recover and maintain his footing, or cannot maintain his position on the water, because of swimming ability or water flow. When setting up a safe swimming area in natural waters, establish boundary markers. Enclose nonswimmer and beginner areas with buoy lines (twine and floats) between markers. Mark the outer bounds of the swimmer area with floats. Clear-water depth is at least 7 feet before allowing anyone to dive. Diving is prohibited from any height more than 40 inches above the water surface; feetfirst entry is prohibited from more than 60 inches above the water. For any entry from more than 18 inches above the water surface, clear-water depth must be 10 to 12 feet. Only surface swimming is permitted in turbid water. Swimming is not permitted in water over 12 feet deep, in turbid water where poor visibility and depth would interfere with emergency recognition or prompt rescue, or in whitewater, unless all participants wear appropriate personal flotation devices and the supervisor determines that swimming with personal flotation equipment is safe under the circumstances.
     
  4. Lifeguards on Duty
    Swim only where lifeguards are on duty. For group swims in areas where lifeguards are not provided by others, the supervisor should designate two capable swimmers as lifeguards. Station them ashore, equipped with a lifeline (a 100-foot length of 3/8-inch nylon cord). In an emergency, one carries out the line; the other feeds it out from shore, then pulls in his partner and the person being helped. In addition, if a boat is available, have two capable swimmers take it out—one rowing and the other equipped with a 10-foot pole or extra oar. Provide one guard for every 10 people in the water, and adjust the number and positioning of guards as needed to protect the particular area and activity.
     
  5. Lookout
    Station a lookout on the shore where it is possible to see and hear everything in all areas. The lookout may be the adult in charge of the swim and may give the buddy signals.
     
  6. Ability Groups
    Divide into three ability groups: nonswimmers, beginners, and swimmers. Keep each group in its own area. Nonswimmers have not passed a swimming test. Beginners must pass this test: jump feetfirst into water over the head in depth, level off, swim 25 feet on the surface. Stop, turn sharply, resume swimming as before, and return to the starting place. Swimmers pass this test: jump feetfirst into water over the head in depth. Level off and swim 75 yards in a strong manner using one or more of the following strokes: sidestroke, breaststroke, trudgen, or crawl; then swim 25 yards using an easy resting backstroke. The 100 yards must be swum continuously and include at least one sharp turn. After completing the swim, rest by floating. These classification tests should be renewed annually, preferably at the beginning of the season.
     
  7. Buddy System
    Pair every youth with another in the same ability group. Buddies check in and out of the swimming area together. Emphasize that each buddy lifeguards his buddy. Check everyone in the water about every 10 minutes, or as needed to keep the buddies together. The adult in charge signals for a buddy check with a single blast of a whistle or ring of a bell and a call of "Buddies!" The adult counts slowly to 10 while buddies join and raise hands and remain still and silent. Guards check all areas, count the pairs, and compare the total with the number known to be in the water. Signal two blasts or bells to resume swimming. Signal three blasts or bells for checkout.
     
  8. Discipline
    Swimming is allowed only with proper supervision and use of the Safe Swim Defense Plan. Swimmers should respect and follow all directions and rules of the adult supervisor. When people know the reason for rules and procedures they are more likely to follow them. Be strict and fair, showing no favoritism.
     

Classification of Swimming Ability

Swimmer Test

The swimmer test demonstrates the minimum level of swimming ability required for safe deep-water swimming. The various components of the test evaluate the skills essential to this minimum level of swimming ability:

Jump feetfirst into water over the head in depth, level off, and begin swimming. Swim 75 yards in a strong manner using one or more of the following strokes: sidestroke, breaststroke, trudgen, or crawl; then swim 25 yards using an easy, resting backstroke. The 100 yards must be swum continuously and include at least one sharp turn. After completing the swim, rest by floating.

The test administrator must objectively evaluate the individual performance of the test, and in so doing should keep in mind the purpose of each test element.

  1. "Jump feetfirst into water over the head in depth, level off, and begin swimming... ."
    The swimmer must be able to make an abrupt entry into deep water and begin swimming without any aids. Walking in from shallow water, easing in from the edge or down a ladder, pushing off from side or bottom, or gaining forward momentum by diving do not satisfy this requirement.
     
  2. "... Swim 75 yards in a strong manner using one or more of the following strokes: sidestroke, breaststroke, trudgen, or crawl; ..."
    The swimmer must be able to cover distance with a strong, confident stroke. The 75 yards must not be the outer limit of the swimmer's ability; completion of the distance should give evidence of sufficient stamina to avoid undue risks. Dog-paddling and strokes repeatedly interrupted and restarted are not sufficient; underwater swimming is not permitted. The itemized strokes are inclusive. Any strong side or breaststroke or any strong overarm stroke (including the back crawl) is acceptable.
     
  3. "... swim 25 yards using an easy, resting backstroke ..."
    The swimmer must indicate the ability to execute a restful, free-breathing backstroke that can be used to avoid exhaustion during swimming activity. This element of the test necessarily follows the more strenuous swimming activity to show that the swimmer is, in fact, able to use the backstroke as a relief from exertion. The change of stroke must be accomplished in deep water without any push-off or other aid. Any variation of the elementary may suffice if it clearly provides opportunity for the swimmer to rest and regain wind.
     
  4. " ... The 100 yards must be swum continuously and include at least one sharp turn. ..."
    The total distance is to be covered without rest stops. The sharp turn simply demonstrates the swimmer's ability to reverse direction in deep water without assistance or push-off from the side or bottom.
     
  5. "... After completing the swim, rest by floating."
    This critically important component of the test evaluates the swimmer's ability to maintain in the water even though exhausted or otherwise unable to continue swimming. Treading water or swimming in place will further tire the swimmer and are, therefore, unacceptable. The duration of the float test is not significant, except that it must be long enough for the test administrator to determine that the swimmer is, in fact, resting and could likely continue to do so for a prolonged time. The drown-proofing technique may be sufficient if clearly restful, but it is not preferred. If the test is completed except for the floating requirement, the swimmer may be retested on the floating only (after instruction) provided that the test administrator is confident that the swimmer can initiate the float when exhausted.
     

Beginner Test

Jump feetfirst into water over the head in depth, level off, swim 25 feet on the surface, stop, turn sharply, resume swimming as before, and return to the starting place. The entry and turn serve the same purpose as in the swimmer test. The swimming can be done with any stroke, but no underwater swimming is permitted. The stop assures that the swimmer can regain a stroke if it is interrupted. The test demonstrates that the beginning swimmer is ready to learn deepwater skills and has the minimum ability required for safe swimming in a confined area in which shallow water, sides, or other support is less than 25 feet from any point in the water.

Pool and Surf Swimming

The Safe Swim Defense applies to swimming at the beach, private or public pools, wilderness pond, stream, lake, or anywhere participants swim. Here are some additional points for the pool and the surf:

Pool

If the swimming activity is in a public facility where others are using the pool at the same time, and the pool operator provides guard personnel, there may be no need for additional designation of youth lifeguards and the lookout.

The buddy system is critically important, however, even in a public pool. Remember, even in a crowd, you are alone without protection if no one is attentive to your circumstances.

The rule that people swim only in water suited to their ability and with others of similar ability applies in a pool environment. Most public pools divide shallow and deep water, and this may be sufficient for defining appropriate swimming areas. If not, the supervisor should clearly indicate to the participating youth the appropriate areas of the public facility. Although such procedures add a margin of safety, their use may not always be practical when the swim activity is conducted at a public facility where other people (not involved in Learning for Life programs) are present. A responsible adult supervisor, who understands his or her responsibility and the elements of safety, can exercise discretion regarding certain procedures while maintaining safety.

Surf

The surf swimming environment of wave action, currents, tides, undertow, runouts, and sea pests like stinging jellyfish requires precautions for safe swimming that are not necessary in other environments. A swimmer's physical condition is very important and should enable the swimmer to recover footing in waves, swim vigorously for at least five minutes without becoming exhausted, and remain calm and in control when faced with unexpected conditions.

Designated swimming areas are marked by flags or pennants that are easily seen. Beginners and non-swimmers are positioned inshore from the standing lifeguards equipped with reach poles. Better swimmers are permitted seaward of the lifeguard but must remain shoreward of anchored marker buoys. The lifeguard-to-swimmer ratio should always be 1:10, with a rescue team stationed at the beach area and supplied with a rescue tube or torpedo buoy.



Safety First Learning for Life Guidelines


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