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The most essential skill, rescue

Susan Grosse

It is not always easy or appropriate to have a human playing the role of the victim during lifeguard training. Submerged victim rescues are particularly difficult because humans cannot always stay on the bottom long enough for novice rescuers to perform a correct rescue. During those beginning practice sessions, a submersible manikin can be very helpful.


Rescue manikins can be used for a variety of skill drills, including the following:

  • Surface dive and retrieve
  • Swim, surface dive, and retrieve
  • Swim, surface dive, retrieve, and carry back
  • Spinal injury retrieve
  • Spinal injury retrieve and carry back
  • Spinal injury rescue and backboard placement
  • Spinal injury rescue, backboard, and strap down
  • Timed swim with victim carry
  • Other drills involving the use of a diving brick
  • Transition from water rescue to deck resuscitation

Submersible manikins are available commercially in full-body and torso-only sizes. You can also design a submersible manikin from a store clothing manikin made of plastic or fiberglass. Add weight to the hollow interior of the manikin. Then, just add a swimsuit or other clothing.


  • Dress the manikin. Clothing will change the surface texture, making the manikin more difficult to grasp.
  • Vary the setting for the manikin drills. In open water, it may be impossible to find a manikin without hand searching the lake or river bottom. If using a manikin in open water, be sure to use cross bearings to establish the manikin drop location. Monitor the current for possible shifts in the manikin’s location once submerged.
  • Vary the victim size and weight by using child manikins as well as adult manikins.
  • Using manikins of different skin color, particularly during open-water training, can challenge the lifeguards’ victim recognition skills.
  • Blindfold the rescuer for an additional challenge.


Murky Water

Equipment Face masks with the lens smeared with waterproof paint or Vaseline (one mask for each rescuer in the search line); search equipment for each person in the search line; rescue tubes


Description This activity is set up in a pool as practice of an underwater search pattern. However, search participants wear the masks with occluded lenses, giving them a sense of searching in a murky lake or river. Caution: Do not use goggles for this activity. Goggles should not be worn during deep-water submersion activities because the increased pressure can cause eye damage or blindness.




* Vary the amount of vision allowed through the mask. Have some masks with minimal occlusion and others with very dense occlusion.
* Vary the number of participants on the rescue line. Some searches will end quickly; others will be prolonged because only a few individuals are searching a large area.




Equipment A dozen dive rings


Description Swimmers are divided into two teams. The two teams line up in the water, on opposite sides of the deep end of the pool. One dive ring is tossed into the water midway between the two teams. On a predetermined signal, the first person in each line races to retrieve the object. The person who retrieves the ring first then returns it to her respective team line, placing it on the deck. The team with the most successful retrievals wins. (During this activity, the leader must periodically collect dive rings as the activity continues.)




* Number off each team, and call one number from each team for the race to the object. You may call the same number or different numbers for each side. Varying the numbers will result in different competitive pairings. When using several numbers, delay the call until the ring is on the bottom.
* You could also drop more than one object and call members from each side equal to the number of objects dropped.
* Substitute a brick or rescue manikin for the dive ring. The person who retrieves the brick or manikin can then just drop it again.

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