Maintaining constant, meaningful surveillance of patrons as they participate in aquatic activities is a key component of lifeguarding. We know surveillance means watching, looking, seeing and visualizing. We can quantify
visual scanning and define areas to scan. But how do we aid
lifeguards in developing knowledge of exactly what to look for? How
do lifeguards develop the ability to scan the surface, as well as
the bottom of the pool and all areas in between at the same time?
What exactly are they to be looking for?
Sitting in the lifeguard chair is easy. Visual scanning also is
not difficult. It is the training of lifeguards to make that mental
connection between what they see and what is important in
assessment of participant activities that’s tougher. That
connection involves identifying details, sorting the important from
the casual, viewing multiple depth dimensions at the same time, and
maintaining a high level of mental focus and processing.
The following two activities can be used to assist individual
lifeguards in developing the specific abilities needed for
surveillance. Implemented on a random basis and unannounced ahead
of time, each activity can provide a better picture of what an
individual lifeguard is actually doing while sitting in that chair.
Help clarify the question “Sitting and doing
what?” Train your guards to identify what they are
looking at through training drills designed to assess and document
Training lifeguards to identify what they’re looking at as
an actual patron needing their assistance can be difficult.
Lifeguards scan, they see, but how does that compute to
“swimmer in trouble; assistance needed” or
“he’s drowning!” These two training activities
will sharpen surveillance and response skills.
1. Locate and Retrieve. This activity takes
place during a regular open swim. It needs eight individuals
wearing sweatpants over their suits, who are swimming and playing
with the rest of the open swim participants. Regular lifeguards are
on duty. In addition, a lifeguard (the one participating in this
activity) performs appropriate scanning at one of the guard
An activity monitor with a stopwatch is on deck. Several minutes
into the swim period, one of the individuals wearing sweatpants
quickly and unobtrusively allows his or her sweatpants to drop off
and sink to the bottom. This individual then continues swimming as
if nothing had happened.
As soon as the sweatpants drop, the monitor starts the stopwatch
and times how long it takes for the participating lifeguard to
notice the downed trousers, activate the emergency action
procedure, or EAP, by signaling and calling out, “DRILL IN
PROGRESS,” and retrieving the sweatpants. Time stops when the
pants are placed on the deck. The monitor should know which
individual is going to drop the pants so time is started
The more individuals in the pool during the open swim aspect of
this activity, the harder completion of this activity will be, from
the standpoint of scanning and recognition as well as from the
standpoint of retrieval.
Increase difficulty by varying the color of sweatpants. Darker
colors are easier to see against a pool bottom. Vary the size of
sweatpants. Larger pants are easier to see and retrieve.
2. Scan Test. This activity takes place during
a regular open swim. A digital camera, pool diagram on paper,
and pencil are needed. All on-duty lifeguards are in their usual
positions and aquatic activity proceeds normally. The individual
performing the Scan Test takes a position next to one of the
on-duty lifeguards and stands with his or her back to the water.
The individual with the digital camera takes a position facing the
On a signal, the testing guard turns, faces the pool and
performs a 4- to 5-second scan of the area of responsibility he
would have if working that station. Following the scan, he turns
back to face the camera operator. During the 4- to 5-second scan,
the camera operator takes a digital photo (over the shoulder of the
testing guard) of the area bring scanned.
After the scan is done and the photo taken, the testing guard
takes the pool diagram and pencil, making arrows and x’s on
the diagram to indicate swimmers seen during the scan. Following
completion of the diagram, it is compared with the photo for
accuracy. When comparing the diagram with the photo, look for
accuracy in number of swimmers, direction of swimmer travel, and
complete coverage of the scanned area.
To increase the difficulty of the task, ask predetermined
individuals to perform specific tasks during the scan. For example,
underwater swimming, surface diving and/or entering/exiting the
water. Ask for more specific identity of swimmers, such as cap or
suit color, gender or swim ability assessment.
Training activities described here are from Grosse, S. (2009).
Lifeguard Training Activities and Games. Champaign, Ill.: Human