Pete DeQuincy

As aquatics facilities, waterfronts present unique challenges.

Many have zero-depth entries consisting of sand and gravel, with large expanses of water. Some waterfronts have “drop-offs” where the bottom suddenly falls away from shallow to deep, creating a hazard for unsuspecting waders. Some have aquatic plant life growing within the swim area, potentially startling the novice swimmer whose leg or arm brushes up against it.

And most have poor visibility when it comes to scanning the water. It may be difficult or impossible to see the bottom of the swim area due to the water’s turbidity. Once a patron submerges, they become hard to find.

A rescue board serves as an effective piece of lifesaving equipment, ideal for waterfront environments with flatwater. It can be used for rescues or as a floating platform to help lifeguards perform surveillance from a deep-water position. From a rescue perspective, it provides the lifeguard an easy means to move over the surface of the water, to reach the victim and bring them back to shore. This can be much faster than performing a swimming rescue and then towing a victim back to shore. The rescue board also can provide a barrier between the lifeguard and an active victim, and it has the buoyancy to support multiple victims.

Since there is very little content or in-service drills available, let’s discuss the aspects of a rescue board; lifeguard body position and launching of the board; paddling and steering; and making contact and securing the victim.

A rescue board is wider than a surfboard, providing more stability to the rescuer when helping victims. The board has a fin on the bottom of the tail portion, allowing for more directional stability and control. The deck of the board should have a pad or be covered with a non-slip material, keeping the rescuer from sliding off. It also can have multiple handles on its deck, to assist in launching and providing multiple grab points for a victim.

Body position and launching

The lifeguard’s position on the board is one factor in a successful launch. When in the prone position, the rescuer should be on the middle of the board, upper body resting about two thirds up near the nose. This assists in evenly distributing body weight so the board does not list to one side. Once the guard has a good idea on body position, they can move to the launching sequence — the transition from holding the board in a standing position to being on top of it in a prone position.

Lifeguards should practice picking up the board and lowering it to the ground, followed by mounting it in the prone position. This looks like the guard is doing a reverse push-up. Once the rescuer understands where to have their body on the board, move it to 2-foot deep water and verify that body position and balance are still correct.

When launching the board, the lifeguard should hold it about midway with the nose angled up. The rescuer enters the water until he or she is about knee deep, mounting the board doing a reverse push-up. Avoid dragging or dropping the board when lowering it into the water. Maintain control of the board at all times. Consistent forward motion helps stabilize it during mounting.

It takes practice to become proficient at a rapid board launch in the prone position — and even more to master the kneeling position. But done correctly, the kneeling position is much faster when combined with a double arm pull. Have an observer look at your body position and make adjustments as needed.

Paddling and steering

Paddling can be done with a single arm or both. Do a full pull-through to maximize the pulling stroke. The double-arm pull is more efficient than single-arm. And a double-arm pull in a kneeling position is more efficient than from a prone position, because it utilizes more muscle groups and allows the lifeguard to paddle longer distances before fatigue sets in. But it takes consistent training.

Steering the board can be done by dipping a foot in the water: To go to the left, drag the left foot. It also can be done leaning the body. Or do a wider arm pull away from the turning direction: To go to the left, do a wide pull with the right arm.

Making contact and securing the victim

When approaching the victim, point the board’s nose in their direction. The goal: Get as close as possible on one side of the victim without hitting them. Just as you arrive at them, make contact and slide off the opposite side of the board. This should be one fluid moment with a counter-balance effect: As you grab the victim, slide into the water on the opposite side of the board, forcing the victim to rise and make solid contact with the board. The rescue board remains between both of you, providing a barrier in case the victim panics.

Due to lack of surf and immediate external danger, most victims are not loaded onto the rescue board and are simply brought in by the rescuer maintaining contact and using a swim kick to move the board to shallow water.

Practice these drills to further develop skills:

BODY PLACEMENT DRILL: Work in an area free of rocks and debris. To start, the lifeguard stands by the rescue board, which is lying on shore.

Objective: Quickly mount the board on land in the correct body placement for the prone position.

Timing goal: Up to 5 seconds to complete. Once the rescuer is proficient doing the prone position, move to the kneeling position. Timing goal will be the same.

Once the rescuer is comfortable with body placement on land, move to water. Start in 2 feet of water, with the same objective and timing goal. Practice both prone and kneeling positions.

LAUNCH PROGRESSION DRILL: Rescuer starts on land, holding the rescue board with the nose angled up.

Objective: Walk into the water, mount the board and do five double-arm strokes. Maintain balance, continuous forward motion, and correct body position.

Timing goal: Up to 10 seconds to complete.

Once proficient, move to the variations:

• Quick launch (faster than walking into the water), with no time change due to the increased chance of falling off. Once proficient, change the timing goal to 5-7 seconds

• Fast launch(running), no time change due to the increased chance of falling off. Once proficient, change the timing goal to 5-7 seconds

• Launch in the kneeling position, timing goal the same as quick launch and fast launch

SLALOM DRILL: In the water, have six rescuers in a straight line, roughly 15 to 20 feet apart. In crowded water, the rescuer must be able to successfully navigate the board around the pubic without slowing down and without hitting anyone.

Objective: Maneuvering left to right, paddle around each rescuer, going through the whole line. Do not make physical contact with any rescuer.

Timing goal: None.

Once they feel comfortable zigzagging through the standing rescuers, move to the variations:

• Maneuver the course only using foot drags

• Maneuver through the course only using body leaning and arms

• Maneuver the course in a kneeling position

• The sixth standing rescuer moves out 30 feet, and becomes a turnaround point. Go back through the course. Slide to the back of the board, raising the nose up, and utilize an eggbeater kick to do a 180-degree turn

• Perform the “close shave” maneuver through the course, with the side of the board almost grazing each standing rescuer

SPEED RESCUE DRILL, RESCUE BOARD VERSION: Establish designated rescue points and have a victim at point “A.”

Objective: Get to the designated point as quickly as possible.

Timing goal: Twenty seconds at most. These designated points are far from shore. If the lifeguard had to make a swimming rescue to these points, it would take more than 30 to 60 seconds to make contact with the victim.

Once proficient, move to the variations:

• Try from multiple towers using the same rescue point

• Multiple victims for same rescue point

• Multiple rescuers and multiple victims for the same rescue point, both using rescue boards

• Multiple rescuers and multiple victims for the same rescue point, one using a rescue board, one using a rescue tube to provide support

Proficiency with a rescue board requires practice. But it is an ideal skill that all waterfront lifeguards should have to reach victims despite distance, environment or the unfolding situation.

Good luck and keep training.