Water Rescue

Basic Order of Procedure For Water Rescue

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Important Disclaimer: the material posted on this page for water rescue is for learning purposes only. To learn to recognize and help drowning victims enrol in St Mark James training courses.

Rescue of a drowning person is best left at the hands of someone who is trained in water safety and rescue. However, if there is no trained rescuer available to help the drowning person, you can follow the basic order of procedures during water rescue:Water Rescue

  • Talk 
  • Reach and pull
  • Throw
  • Tow

If still unsuccessful you can Go into the water, but this should only be the last resort.


In order to determine what the emergency is we need to talk to the victim. If a victim does not respond it likely means a significant emergency. Drowning victims can not speak, they can hardly breathe, let alone speak.

Reach and pull

Normally, victims of drowning will try to keep afloat by raising their hands and thrashing about. If you notice someone is drowning and he is near the poolside or shore, start the rescue by looking for a line (usually a rope or any long object such as oar, stick, fishing rod, branch or other such items). In the absence of these items, you can use blanket, towel or clothes as rope. Look for a safe, stable place where you can position yourself. Then try reaching the victim by holding out the line to him. By instinct, a conscious, drowning victim will grab the line. However, some victims may need to be instructed. Cold water can have significant effect on the physical and mental capabilities of a person (hypothermia).

If you cannot find any object to use or conditions are such that you only have one chance to grab the victim (such as strong winds or currents), find a safe, stable place, position yourself flat on your stomach and extend your hand or legs for the victim to grab. However, this rescue option is only recommended if you know how to swim.


If the person is far from the shore or pool side, throw flotation device or any buoyant object at hand. Some buoyant objects that you can use include foam cushions, logs, surf boards, plastic jugs, large beach balls, toys, and flat boards. If possible, tie a rope on the flotation device.


Instruct the conscious victim to grab the item and find a way to tow him to safety. If the flotation device or buoyant object does not have a line, throw another flotation device that is attached to a line. If the victim is too far, you can try to cut the distance by going nearer but do not wade out deeper than waist level. However, you should do this only if you are an experienced swimmer. Also make sure that you are wearing personal floatation device that is attached to a safety line when performing water rescue.


If the victim is too far from the shore to allow you throw and tow, or if the victim is unconscious, you can go by boat towards the victim. This is only advised if you are a good swimmer. Wearing a flotation device is required even if you are an experienced swimmer. If the victim is conscious, carefully guide him into the boat. This can be tricky when you are using a canoe as it can trip over when excessive weight is applied on one side.

As a last option, you can swim towards the victim but only if you are a good swimmer.

To have an in-depth knowledge about water safety and rescue, you can check with your local St Mark James Chapter for available training programs (find a course here). St Mark James offers a training course that will equip you with knowledge and skills on how you can help in drowning accidents.

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