Winter is an excellent season to polish lifeguarding skills and to brush up on some of the more challenging aspects of the job.

Just make sure patron surveillance is not compromised if drills are held while the facility is open to the public. Lifeguards on duty must not be distracted from their primary responsibility.

Here are six drills to work on during the off-season.

1. Backboarding. High on the list of technical skills is a lifeguard team’s ability to backboard a potential spinal injury victim. This skill must be practiced in each pool or attraction where spinal injury can occur. The wise aquatics facility director also will practice this drill in a dry-land setting if the design of the facility suggests that patrons may fall while ascending or descending stairs, or traversing high-traffic areas where slippery surfaces are known to develop.

Each lifeguard should be required to perform all the backboarding skills from every position (head, feet, side). Drills should be run in shallow-water play pools, where maintaining inline stabilization can prove particularly challenging while maneuvering a backboard underneath a person resting on, or nearly on, the bottom of the pool.

Likewise, if diving wells exist, deep-water backboarding skills must be tested and perfected by every member of your lifeguarding staff. Backboarding in deep water takes more endurance, so this is a good skill to use to help determine if your lifeguards are maintaining an adequate fitness level to perform their duties.

Slide run-outs present a particular challenge, and lifeguards must have the opportunity to repeatedly and successfully backboard potential spinal victims who wind up in this narrow channel at the bottom of a water slide.

It’s equally important that guards play the victim and rescuer. Experiencing backboarding from the victim’s perspective will help lifeguards hone their in-line spinal management skills.

2. Victim recognition. Winter also is a good time to work on victim recognition and response. Follow the guidelines established by your training organization American Red Cross, Ellis and Associates, StarGuard and the like). See that your lifeguards possess the necessary skills to scan effectively and respond to emergency situations in an appropriate and timely manner.

Reinforce use of the facility’s emergency action plan and practice each step, from alerting others to an emergency in the pool area to properly filling out incident reports. Make sure to simulate active and passive drowning victims, as well as floating and submerged victims.

Don’t assume that if your lifeguards recognize and respond well to an active drowning victim on the surface, they will perform well when faced with a passive submerged victim. Test this to ensure that they can quickly recognize and respond to anyone who may be in trouble.

3. CPR/AED. As facilities adopt AEDs into their emergency protocols, use of this equipment must be practiced in coordination with cardiopulmonary resuscitation. While the AED will prompt lifeguards through the necessary steps, following the directions during a highly charged real-life emergency will prove challenging unless your guards have had the opportunity to internalize these practices through constant review.

Require all the lifeguards to practice every role as part of an emergency response team. At the end of the drill, remember to replace any supplies used, and train the guards to check emergency equipment at the beginning of each of their shifts to confirm that all pieces are in place and working properly.

4. Emergency oxygen. Lifeguards should review the procedures for using supplemental oxygen. The flow rate differs based on the selected delivery system (bag valve mask, nasal cannula and so forth).

Instruct your lifeguards to check for flow before placing an oxygen mask onto a victim’s face. This critical step can be lost in the rush of an actual emergency if not regularly practiced during in-service training.

Also, review emergency training material so the staff knows which piece of oxygen delivery equipment should be used in each type of emergency situation.

5. Disease transmission prevention. When was the last time your lifeguard team actually practiced responding to a “Code Brown”? Do they know that the scoop used to remove the poop has to be decontaminated along with all other equipment used in the process? The steps to be followed in a fecal release are outlined at Center for Disease Control’s Healthy Swimming Website. Download and review the “Water Contamination Response Log” with your lifeguard team. Check to see that they know how to document their response to a fecal accident.

6. Murphy’s Law. Though well-trained lifeguards justifiably take pride in knowing that all their incident response equipment is stocked, fully charged and ready to go in an emergency, it’s wise to train for those foreseeable events that even the most proactive lifeguard can’t prevent — such as power outages or inoperable telephone lines.

During training drills, throw your team a curveball and require them to respond as if the facility has lost power or their standard communication channels. Watch and learn as your safety team improvises, then make their best creative actions part of your facility’s backup plan.

Share your insights with the organization that certifies your lifeguards. It will contribute to the continued development of emergency response training in the aquatics industry.