Teach your lifeguards where to look.
Lifeguards need to know their zone of protection for each stand they cover like the back of their hand. They need to know where their zone begins and ends; where any blind spots may be; how the glare on the surface changes from stand to stand depending on the time of day; and which parts of the zone pose the most risk to their guests. For example, at the wave pool that I managed in the past, 90 percent of our rescues occur where the depth quickly goes from 3 feet to 5 feet. Once the waves come on, those who could stand in that area are caught off-guard and have little time to recover. It’s vitally important to teach lifeguards the location of these areas. I’ve also noticed the sun position changes drastically toward the end of July and beginning of August compared to its location on Memorial Day. Examine your zones again and adjust stands accordingly. Most importantly, inform your lifeguards of the changing position of the sun and how it affects their zone of coverage.
Teach your lifeguards how to look
Scanning a zone for 20-30 minutes without a break definitely has some drawbacks to it. Operators need to make certain their lifeguards are following some basic protocol in regards to scanning. Teach your lifeguards the importance of continuous head movement ensuring they are scanning 100 percent of their zone. Lifeguards need to realize that certain scanning patterns do not provide 100 percent coverage. Scanning techniques need to be practiced and reinforced weekly. Don’t forget to do some type of vigilance training, be it mannequin drops or another form of guest recognition awareness.
Most importantly, always teach lifeguards to scan from the bottom up since a guest already on the bottom needs immediate care.
Teach your lifeguards what to look for
It’s great if lifeguards know where and how to look, but operators need to teach them the signs of distress they need to recognize. Lifeguards should look for the distressed swimmer who has their head back in the water struggling to keep their mouth and nose out of the water. Some guests will look surprised and then full of fear. And, of course, lifeguards should always keep an eye out for motionless guests; they obviously need help right away. Lifeguards also should be taught to be proactive in the scanning. When they see a 3 year old slowly wandering away from a parent whose back is turned, they need to act. When an 8 year old starts closing in on deeper water, they need to act. And when they think they see a guest struggling, they need to act. Teach your lifeguards to jump in early and jump in often! As Jim Wheeler says, “If you think it’s a rescue, then it’s a rescue!”
Teach your lifeguards why it’s so important
After the where, how and what, operators should teach their lifeguards why they should be so vigilant in their scanning.
Lifeguards need to know that a drowning can happen at their facility. Statistics show that close to 500 drownings occur every year in lifeguarded pools. Lifeguards need to know that anyone can go into distress at any time. At the wave pool I managed, we rescued guests whose ages ranged from 3 to 53. We had rescues when we had 20 guests in the pool and 2,000 guests in the pool. Rescues can and will happen at any time. Lifeguards should view themselves as protectors and take pride in the fact they prevent the loss of life every day. This gives them added incentive to perform well on the job and remain vigilant while on the stand.
*Originally published in July/August 2011 World Waterpark Magazine