As a risk manager at Redwoods, I have had the opportunity to perform risk management assessments at hundreds of aquatics facilities around the nation.
I’ve observed lifeguard performance at aquatic environments
ranging from standard lap pools to indoor waterparks to lake front
operations. I’ve seen the quality of lifeguarding improve
significantly, largely thanks to dedicated aquatics professionals
across the country who focus on training, auditing and, most
importantly, holding lifeguards accountable as professionals in
However, there is one area that continues to fall short at most of
the facilities I visit: lifeguard rotations.
Drownings happen quickly: A child can silently slip under water in
as little as 10 seconds. Yet during far too many rotations, I
observe gaps in scanning lasting from 20 seconds to several
minutes. I frequently see guards exiting their lifeguard stands
before the rotating guard ever arrives. During rotations, some
guards have extended conversations, take care of other duties and
generally don’t watch the water. What could happen in your
pool during that time?
In drowning prevention, seconds count — after only 30 seconds
a person may lose consciousness and aspirate water. Add to this the
inherent difficulty in seeing a victim on the bottom of a pool
— or, worse, a lake — and it becomes clear why
diligence in rotations is essential. Not only does an effective
rotation allow lifeguards to maintain zone coverage 100 percent of
the time, but it allows the patrons you serve to see the
professionalism of your guards at all times, giving them confidence
that your facility is as safe as it can be.
Truly professional rotations ensure that there is no gap in
scanning, and that guards focus on scanning at all times. The
following five key steps sum up the best lifeguard rotation
procedures our risk managers have observed. All of these steps can
be easily implemented at your facility. When they are all followed,
no gaps in zone coverage take place and the guard coming on duty
has knowledge of swimmers in their zone.
1. Incoming guard walks the perimeter and scans the entire
zone. When coming on duty or moving to a new position, the
lifeguard should walk the edge of the pool and scan the entire
bottom, to verify that he or she is starting with a safe pool. This
is an ideal time to check the corners or other challenging areas.
The guard should look for anything unusual in the pool or any
person in distress.
2. Incoming guard scans as outgoing guard exits the chair.
The guard coming on duty should stand adjacent to the chair, take
the rescue tube from the on-duty guard if the guard does not have
his or her own, and actively scan the zone while the on-duty guard
exits the chair to maintain zone coverage.
3. Information is exchanged. Information about
special events or activities, high-risk situations, and potential
behavior challenges should be shared between the two lifeguards
without interrupting scanning, so the new guard is set up for
success. Examples of such an exchange can include pointing out
nonswimmers or swimmers with special needs, anyone needing
reminders of pool rules, or anything else that deserves extra
4. Outgoing guard scans as incoming guard gets situated. This is the opposite of step two. Make sure the outgoing lifeguard does not leave the area until the new lifeguard
is situated. The outgoing guard takes back responsibility for
scanning the zone, taking back the rescue tube if it had been
relinquished before, while the incoming guard takes the stand. Once
the new guard is situated, the rescue tube is passed back, if
necessary, and the outgoing guard then can leave the station.
5. Outgoing guard walks the perimeter and scans the entire
zone. This is the same as step one. Whether moving to a
new chair or leaving the pool deck, the lifeguard should do a full
sweep of the pool bottom and then scan the surface. The guard
ensures that he or she has completed a safe shift and is leaving a
pool or a zone where the patrons are safe.