Tag Archives: water rescue

Swimmer Rescue

Navy Search and Rescue Training

Photo by TSgt Chris Hibben

Rescue Techniques Refresher

THIS video, produced by Lifeguards Without Borders is a good introduction to lifeguard rescue techniques.

As a disclaimer and caution, the video was produced for use by lifesaving professionals. Rescuing a drowning person in the ocean is extremely risky. In the event of a drowning emergency, summon a lifeguard, call 911, throw something that floats to the drowning victim, or attempt to reach them with a long pole or stick as a last resort, in that order. Never compromise your own safety to attempt to save someone else. Lifeguards receive extensive training and have specialized equipment to deal with drowning emergencies.

Information contained on this website is for general information and educational purposes only. Please refer to our Disclaimer and Terms and Conditions before attempting any technique described herein.

Rafts and Rope Crossing


Photo by John Helms

To Do Today:

  • PT – Cardio/Strength – 4 sets of: 400m run/10 dips/400m run/50 situps/400m run/10 pullups/400m run/50 pushups. Warm up and cool down distance at discretion.
  • Practice the floatation methods described below in a pool or open water until mastered.
  • Review rope care in the General Rescue Manual 2006 Sec-5-8.
  • Review climbing knots Here.

Closed Cell Sleeping Pad Raft

Construction of a closed cell sleeping pad raft is time-consuming. This type of raft should not be employed tactically (i.e., an attack) but used for logistical purposes (i.e., evacuating stretcher cases, transporting supplies). Use the following steps to build the raft:

  • Wrap closed cell sleeping pads around sturdy sticks.
  • Use parachute cord and square knots to tie the pads securely in place and to lash stick ends together in a rectangle.

isomatraftThe sleeping pad raft pictured can support several hundred pounds. However, the cargo will get wet if not properly waterproofed.

Poncho/Tarp Raft

A poncho or tarp raft can support two swimmers and their equipment and is well suited for long crossings. Use the following steps to build a poncho raft:

  • Inspect two ponchos/tarps and ensure they are serviceable.
  • Lay one poncho or tarp flat on the ground, with the hood-side up (if a hood is present).
  • Cinch the hood tightly to form a gooseneck or tie in a knot.


  • Pad sharp edges of equipment and place the equipment in the center of the poncho.


  • Place the second poncho over the equipment, rubber side up, and hood facing down.
  • Snap the edges of the two ponchos together.


  • Roll the edges toward the equipment.
  • Roll the edges into pigtails and tie them off.

poncho roll

  • Pull the pigtails together over the top and lash them securely.


  • Protect the raft from brush punctures while placing it in the water. Swim across the water obstacle while security elements are covering the far shore.


Pack Raft

You will need two waterproofed packs and two rifles/rigid poles. The following steps are guidelines to construct a pack raft:

  • Place two packs side-by-side with the pack frames on the deck. The tops of the packs are opposite of each other.
  • Loosen the main compartment straps on both packs.
  • Insert one rifle on each end between the straps and the packs.
  • The muzzles are opposite of each other. The rifles serve as one means to secure the packs together. Place the front sight post under the top flap.
  • Tighten the straps so that the rifles and packs are secure.
  • Take the excess strap on the inner side of each pack and secure it to the opposite pack to better secure the two packs together.
  • Take the excess straps on the outer sides of the packs and use those straps as safety lashing for the rifles.
  • Tuck the excess straps and check to make sure the rifles and packs are secure.


Single-Rope Bridge

A single-rope bridge offers a temporary and quick way to cross small rivers. It also provides extra security while crossing swift waters. At night, it prevents straggling, and guides larger units precisely from one side of the river to the other side. If crossing a river at night, plan for at least one single-rope bridge. If you are crossing a river with swift currents or water depths above 4 feet, the unit is carrying sufficient rope to span the crossing site, and the tactical situation permits, secure the rope on near and far banks to provide a hand-hold for crossing swimmers. This reduces the time required for the entire unit to cross and provides a degree of comfort/confidence for poor swimmers. Use a squad-sized bridge team to construct a single-rope bridge. Station several strong swimmers at the water’s edge to help anyone who has trouble crossing.

Nylon rope is normally coiled in 120 foot lengths. It is 0.6 inches in diameter and has a breaking strength of about 3,840 pounds. Over time, a nylon rope can stretch to as much as one-third more than its original length and stretching weakens the rope. If the rope is stretched, discard the rope or use it for light tasks. To prolong the life of a nylon rope, do not step on it or drag it on the ground. Pad the rope in places where it contacts rocks or sharp corners. Do not leave the rope knotted or stretched longer than necessary. Dry rope as soon as possible. Single-rope bridge construction is as follows:

  • Tie a sling rope around your waist using a square knot and two, separate half hitches. See the link above for detailed information on knots.


  • Attach a locking steel carabiner to the sling rope.
  • Tie a bowline knot in the running end of the bridge rope and attach it to the carabiner.
  • Temporarily secure the other end of the rope to a tree on the near shore.
  • Enter and cross the water. Carry only your weapon and ammunition.
  • Exit the water on the opposite shore.


  • Prepare your weapon for use. Unhook the bridge rope from the carabiner at your waist, and tie the bridge rope to a sturdy tree using a round turn and two half hitches.


  • Conduct a box reconnaissance of the opposite shore.
  • On the near shore, have another swimmer prepare to tighten the rope. That swimmer should place a transport tightening system in the bridge rope by tying a double butterfly knot and placing two carabiners on the butterfly knot.


  • The swimmer should pass the running end of the bridge rope around the downstream side of the near shore anchor point and through the two carabiners.
  • Pull the butterfly knot approximately one-third of the distance across the river.
  • Secure the bridge rope to an anchor point using a round turn and two half-hitches.
  • On the near shore, the person helping you should pull the slack out of the bridge rope until the butterfly knot is back on the near side. The bridge rope is then tied off against itself using two half hitches with a quick release in the last half hitch.

The single-rope bridge must be as tight as possible so it will not sag when used. If you lose your footing and fall into the water, swim with the current to the closest shore. Swimming against the current is dangerous and quickly causes fatigue.

High and Dry Crossings

If the single-rope bridge is high enough, suspend yourself below the single-rope bridge and above the water. Use the following steps to suspend yourself from a single-rope bridge and then pull yourself across the water:

  • Tie a sling rope around your waist using a bowline. Ensure that the knot is tight.


  • Attach a carabiner through the bowline’s loop. The carabiner’s gate faces up.
  • Secure your helmet, if any. Face the single-rope bridge with your left shoulder toward the far shore.
  • Grasp the bridge rope in both hands.
  • Swing your body beneath the single-rope bridge with your head toward the far shore. Cross your ankles above the bridge rope.
  • Arch back until the carabiner contacts the bridge rope. Connect the carabiner to the bridge rope. Allow the carabiner to bear your body’s weight.
  • Pull yourself across the single-rope bridge, hand over hand, to the far shore.

sling5Swift Current Crossings

A single-rope bridge prevents being knocked down and swept away by a swift current. Use the following steps to move through a swift current:

  • Tie one end of a sling rope around your waist using a bowline.
  • Tie the running end of the sling rope in another bowline, and attach a carabiner to the bowline’s loop.
  • Step up to the bridge. Face upstream.
  • Hook the carabiner to the single-rope bridge.
  • Walk sideways into the river while grasping the bridge rope in both hands.
  • Use the single-rope bridge for balance and remain standing, if possible.
  • Continue to move sideways through the river to the far shore.

Slow Current Crossings

If you face little or no current, it is not necessary to hook up to a bridge rope with a carabiner. Lie on your back in the water beneath the single-rope bridge. Support your body weight with your waterproofed pack. Use the bridge rope and pull yourself hand over hand across the river.

Removal of Rope Bridges

If you are the last person waiting to cross, pull on the standing end of the rope to release the knot, then tie the rope around your waist using a bowline. The others on the far shore will pull you through the water.

Information contained on this website is for general information and educational purposes only. Please refer to our Disclaimer and Terms and Conditions before attempting any technique described herein.


Photo by PM3 John DeCoursey

To Do Today:

Drowning is suffocation by liquid. It can lead to death and ongoing health problems. A drowning victim inhales water into the lungs or the throat closes by reflex so that little or no water can enter the windpipe. In either case, a victim can no longer breathe.

Drowning itself is quick and silent, although it may be preceded by distress which is more visible. A person drowning is unable to shout or call for help, or seek attention, as they cannot obtain enough air. The “instinctive drowning response” is the final set of autonomic reactions in the 20 – 60 seconds before sinking underwater, and to the untrained eye can look similar to calm or safe behavior. Persons trained in rescue learn to recognize drowning people by watching for instinctive movements in two categories:

Distress: People in trouble, but who still have the ability to keep afloat, signal for help and take actions.

Drowning: People suffocating and in imminent danger of death within seconds. This includes:

    • Passive drowning: People who suddenly sink or have sunk due to a change in their circumstances. Examples include people who drown in an accident, or due to sudden loss of consciousness or sudden medical condition.
    • Active drowning: People such as non-swimmers and the exhausted or hypothermic at the surface, who are unable to hold their mouth above water and are suffocating due to lack of air. Instinctively, people in such cases perform well known behaviors in the last 20–60 seconds before being submerged, representing the body’s last efforts to obtain air. Notably such people are unable to call for help, talk, reach for rescue equipment, or alert swimmers even feet away, and they may drown quickly and silently close to other swimmers or safety.

Drowning begins at the point a person is unable to keep their mouth above water; inhalation of water takes place at a later stage. As mentioned, drowning can be quick and unspectacular and media depictions as a loud, violent struggle have much more in common with distressed non-swimmers who may well drown but have not yet begun. In particular, an asphyxiating person is seldom able to call for help. The Instinctive Drowning Response covers many signs or behaviors associated with drowning or near-drowning:

  • Head low in the water, mouth at water level
  • Head tilted back with mouth open
  • Eyes glassy and empty, unable to focus
  • Eyes open, with fear evident on the face
  • Hyperventilating or gasping
  • Trying to swim in a particular direction but not making headway
  • Trying to roll over on the back to float
  • Uncontrollable movement of arms and legs, rarely out of the water.

Other warning signs drowning is that the victim may call for help and has an expression of dread or panic. But typically a victim that is active and drowning may not call for help because he is trying to conserve his air and will not speak. Another symptom of drowning is when the victim thrashes at the water’s surface. If the victim stops or grows calmer, he has likely been overcome by fatigue, hypothermia, or a lack of air. At this stage, the victim usually has 20 to 60 seconds before going under the water’s surface.

Drowning can also happen in ways that are less well known:

  • Deep Water Blackout. Caused by latent hypoxia upon ascent from depth, where the partial pressure of oxygen in the lungs under pressure at the bottom of a deep free-dive is adequate to support consciousness but drops below the blackout threshold as the water pressure decreases on the ascent. It usually strikes upon arriving near the surface as the pressure approaches normal atmospheric pressure.
  • Shallow Water Blackout. Caused by hyperventilation prior to swimming or diving. The primary urge to breathe (more precisely: to exhale) is triggered by rising carbon dioxide (CO2) levels in the bloodstream. The body detects CO2 levels very accurately and relies on this to control breathing. Hyperventilation artificially depletes this, but leaves the diver susceptible to sudden loss of consciousness without warning from hypoxia. There is no bodily sensation that warns a diver of an impending blackout, and victims (often capable swimmers swimming under the surface in shallow water) become unconscious and drown quietly without alerting anyone to the fact that there is a problem; they are typically found on the bottom.
  • Secondary drowning. Inhaled fluid can act as an irritant inside the lungs. Physiological responses to even small quantities include the extrusion of liquid into the lungs (pulmonary edema) over the following hours, but this reduces the ability to exchange air and can lead to a person “drowning in their own body fluid.” Certain poisonous vapors or gases (i.e., burning fuel, toxic materials, or chemical vapor on/near the water surface), or vomit can have a similar effect. The reaction can take place up to 72 hours after a near drowning incident, and may lead to a serious condition or death.


If the victim is not breathing, begin rescue breathing. Place the victim on his back, tilt head back to open airway, pinch the nose, and give two full breaths. If the victim does not inhale during the first two breaths, reposition his head and attempt two more breaths. Check for a pulse. If a pulse is present, but the victim is still not breathing, continue rescue breathing. If a pulse is not present, begin CPR. WARNING: If the victim has no pulse and is not breathing, administer CPR immediately. If the victim does have a pulse but is not breathing, give rescue breathing only. If the victim has a pulse and is breathing, DO NOT give CPR—CPR could prove fatal. Continue first aid until medical help arrives. A victim who is not breathing and has no pulse may appear dead. DO NOT decide that death has occurred. Continue with the prescribed treatment.


Information contained on this website is for general information and educational purposes only. Please refer to our Disclaimer and Terms and Conditions before attempting any technique described herein.