All lifeguards are taught victim recognition and effective scanning. But many, particularly younger ones, are not proactive in preventing patrons from entering distressing situations in the first place. Lifeguards need to be provided with the required tools to be able to recognize potential victims.

When I realized the walking patrol (deck guard) was not doing the most efficient job at preventing potential victims and educating them, I decided to take action. The position and responsibilities of that guard needed to be defined more clearly. So I began to redevelop the concept of a walking patrol into what can now be referred to as a “Risk Guard.”

It is a Risk Guard’s responsibility to recognize high-risk situations in the form of “Boppers,” “Floppers,” “Hangers” and “Breath Holders” (hyperventilate). These names were ultimately created so that younger staff members could remember them. These new terms also create an opportunity to teach staff members how to differentiate between potential life or death situations. The Risk Guard’s job is to recognize Boppers, Floppers, Hangers and Breath Holders — and move them from high-risk to lower-risk or no-risk situations.

“Boppers” are nonswimmers who get into trouble when the water level surpasses their mouths. They jump up and down in the water to keep their noses and mouths above the level of the water. This can lead to a potentially dangerous situation when the water level changes without notice (3 feet to 5 feet), as with the older style pool that is built with a gradual slope. Upon seeing Boppers, the Risk Guard should tell them their behavior could lead to a distressing situation where they can drown if the water gets too deep. The Risk Guard then should tell Boppers to stay in the shallower end of the pool.

“Floppers” generally are toddlers between the ages of 1 and 2, who could fall into shallow water, but do not have the muscle coordination to pick themselves back up. The Risk Guard should tell the Floppers’ parents that they must stay within arm’s reach of their toddlers. In most cases, however, parents do not stay that close or pay that much attention to their children and this is a hard rule to enforce. That’s why the Risk Guard must position himself near Floppers to lower the risk they present.

“Hangers” are usually nonswimmers. (At our pool, swimmers wear brightly colored wrist bands, which signify that they have passed a swim test and are able to go off the diving board.) The nonswimming hangers hold onto the ledge of the pool to get around instead of swimming or touching the bottom. The Risk Guard must first make sure the water depth will not be over Hangers’ heads if they let go of the wall. If the water is over their heads, the Risk Guard must tell them to move to more shallow water and not pass the point where the water depth would put them in jeopardy.

“Breath Holders” are patrons who risk drowning because they attempt to talk underwater, hold their breath for long periods of time, or swim long distances underwater. The Risk Guard should tell them that such behavior is hazardous and against the rules.

The Risk Guard also educates patrons by asking them these questions: “What happens when you hold your breath on land?” The answer is, “You pass out and then you start breathing.” Now, “What happens when you hold your breath underwater?” The answer is, “You could drown.”

These four categories of high-risk, potentially distressed swimmers should be clearly explained to your lifeguards. In regard to recognizing specific behaviors, these terms should be placed after the characteristics of a “swimmer,” but before the characteristics of a “distressed swimmer.”

As an aquatics director, how many times have you wondered, “Do my lifeguards get it?” When we observe our lifeguards performing all the duties and responsibilities of a Risk Guard, we’re going to say, “YES! They get it!” Now your lifeguards really are ensuring patron safety and preventing injury or distress.