While it’s best to attend dedicated life saving courses if you plan to save someone, with practice it’s possible to get grasp of practical life saving skills – it really pays off if it’s needed. Learning the basics of life saving is important as a lifeguard will not always be present at swimming areas, such as at private swimming pools. In emergencies, knowing the basics of what to do when someone is drowning is an invaluable skill to have.
Here are five important things you should know and do if the situation ever arises.
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Step one – Assess the situation
Recognize if someone is drowning.
Drowning victims often are not able to call for help, but while conscious they will be visibly flailing their arms. Recognizing when someone is in trouble is essential as the individual can become fully submerged within 20 to 60 seconds.
Signs that a person is drowning include;
- Bobbing in the water with only the mouth above the surface and not moving from the same spot;
- Looks clearly distressed even if they aren’t calling for help. They may already be too out of breath to call out for help or might be subconsciously trying to save it.
Call for help.
Even if you’re fully trained, you should always get help as it will greatly improve the chances of saving the victim – or even prevent you from becoming a victim yourself. Also, get onto the emergency hotline, especially if the victim is already floating face-down in the water as he/she will need immediate resuscitation.
Determine the best rescue method to employ.
Employ the right method depending on the situation. If the victim is close by you can try a reaching assist with your hand or a shepherd’s crook if it’s available. If the victim is far away you will have to employ open-sea rescue methods. These include throwing the victim a line (with or without a flotation device attached) or swimming out to him/her.
Always be on the lookout for flotation devices.
Step Two – Rescuing the Victim
If the victim is conscious:
- Get the victim’s attention. Talk to them to calm them down while you get ready to perform the rescue.
- Depending on how far they are away from dry land, use a reaching tool such as a shepherd’s crook to hook and pull victims to safety.
Employing the Reaching Assist
Employ this method if the victim is close by and in arm’s length reach.
- Get down into a prone position with your legs spread out to improve your stability. Do not attempt this while standing as you might fall or be pulled into the water.
- If the victim is close enough, reach out with your dominant hand while shouting out to get his/her attention.
- Pull the victim to safety. If possible grab onto a stable object for stability which will also let you reach out further more safely. Use a long object (i.e. stick, rope, wet towel, etc.) to extend your reach if necessary.
2. Employing the Shepherd’s Crook.
A shepherd’s crook is a long metal with a loop at the end. Swimming pools often have them in case of drowning emergencies.
- Warn others nearby to keep clear when you employ the shepherd’s crook. Its length makes it unwieldy and you could hit someone by accident.
- Stay about half a body length away from the edge of the pool in case you fall down. Brace your feet firmly.
- Hold out the hook to the victim while shouting out to him/her to hold onto it. Be careful not to hook the victim’s neck.
- A strong tug will indicate that the victim has a firm hold on the hook.
- If the victim is unable to hold onto the hook, try to hook the victim around the upper torso, just below the armpits.
- Start pulling in the victim slowly. Once the victim is close enough, get down to the ground and perform a reaching assist to pull the victim to the wall.
3. Employing a Throwing Assist.
If the victim is too far for the shepherd’s hook you will need to throw something out to the victim to rescue him/her.
- Secure a flotation device and toss it out to the victim. Aim for an area close to the victim and not at the victim himself as this might cause injury.
- If you fail an attempt, secure another flotation device and repeat the process. If rope is available you can tie it to the device to facilitate retrieval and pulling the victim in.
- If every attempt fails you might need to swim out to the victim so you can push the flotation device closer to the victim.
Throwing a Rope Line.
- Loosely coil one end of the line in your non-throwing hand.
- Perform an underhand throw to get it out to the victim. Aim for the shoulders.
- Release the rope coil from your non-throwing hand and step on its end.
4. Employ a Swimming Rescue.
Attempt this technique only when all other methods fail or inappropriate.
- Ensure that you are a strong swimmer and know the necessary life saving skills. Call for medical help.
- Secure a flotation device before attempting a swimming rescue.
- Swim to the victim using the front crawl to get to him/her quickly.
- Keep your distance from the victim and offer the flotation device instead as drowning victims will attempt to grab you, which can put you in danger as well. If a flotation device isn’t available, a wet towel or t-shirt can be used for victims to grab onto instead.
- Swim back to dry land in a straight line. Look back frequently to make sure that the victim is still hanging onto your rescue device. Always maintain a safe distance between you and the victim.
Step Three – CPR for unconscious victims.
Only perform CPR if you’re trained to. Life saving courses will teach you this.
- Examine the victim’s airways, breathing and circulation. If emergency team hasn’t been contacted yet get someone to call them immediately. Make sure that the victim’s airway isn’t obstructed and that if he/she is still breathing. If the victim isn’t breathing, check for a pulse every 10 seconds.
- If there isn’t a pulse, immediately perform CPR. Place the heel of one hand on the middle of chest and the other hand on top of the first hand. At a rate of 1.6 compressions per second, push down about 2 inches down before releasing, repeating the process for each compression. Ensure that you don’t press on the victim’s ribs.
- If the victim is an infant, place two fingers on the breastbone and push down only 1.5 inches.
- If the victim is still not breathing, pinch his/her nose close and, while covering the victim’s mouth with yours, give two one-second breaths. You will know you are doing it correctly if the victim’s chest rises in tandem with the breaths. Perform two repetitions followed by another 30 compressions.
- Do this until the person starts breathing again or when the emergency team arrives.