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Simple scanning strategy improves lifeguard attentiveness

by Jill E. White

This strategy keeps your scanning efforts organized and your attentiveness high. Follow these steps to perform the 5-Minute Scanning Strategy:

1. Consistently scan your zone, sweeping your eyes and turning your head so that you can see every area of the zone every 10 seconds.

2. Use the same scanning pattern for five minutes. A scanning pattern is an organized system that you follow when you sweep your eyes across the zone. Maintaining a scanning pattern helps you stay alert and provide consistent coverage of all areas of your zone. Common scanning patterns include sweeping your eyes side to side or up and down as you look at sections of your zone.

3. As you scan, triage your efforts and first look at the bottom and under the water. Then assess the patrons in your zone that are on the surface and look for behaviors that may indicate distress or drowning.

4. Every five minutes, change posture, position, and pattern. The goal of these changes is to keep you alert through physical movement and mental activity.

Used with permission of Dr. Tom Griffiths.



Make significant position and posture changes by switching from sitting to standing then to strolling. For example, during the first five minutes of your rotation, sit. During the next five minutes, stand. Then stroll for the next five minutes. Alternate between sitting and standing if strolling is not practical.

If your facility has elevated lifeguard stands with only a small step for your feet, it may not be practical to stand or stroll. In this instance, you will have to identify other ways to meet the objective of keeping alert through physical movement.

A strategy for keeping your mind active and focused is to think about which patrons or places in your zone may be high risk, and visually make contact with these patrons and places during your scan. Next, mentally rehearse a rescue.

Your facility may have a communication system in place so that you can signal to other lifeguards at the end of each five-minute scan that your zone is okay. Common signals used during the five-minute scan to indicate that the zone is OK include a raised "thumbs-up," a raised rescue tube, or a short whistle blast (see Communications Signals on page 53). Other scanning strategies may be necessary in situations where you cannot see the bottom, such as in a waterfront or wilderness setting (see chapter 15).

You can’t provide constant and dedicated surveillance for one zone for an extended period; it becomes physically and mentally too difficult. To give you breaks away from surveillance responsibilities, your facility should have a system for frequently moving lifeguards from one location to another. When another lifeguard comes to take over your zone, this change is called a rotation.


This is an excerpt from StarGuard: Best Practices for Lifeguards, Third Edition.



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