Who Can Instruct Safe Swim Defense and Safety Afloat Training?
Safe Swim Defense and Safety Afloat training can be given by any person
authorized by the Learning for Life local office, such as an aquatics
resource person, a leader with aquatics skill, or any other person with
aquatics knowledge or experience whom the local office has approved.
Safe Swim Defense
Before a Learning for Life group may engage in swimming activities of
any kind, a minimum of one adult leader must complete Safe Swim Defense
- Qualified Supervision
All swimming activity must be supervised by an adult age 21 or older
who understands and accepts responsibility for the safety of youth
participants, who is experienced in the water and has the ability
to respond in the event of an emergency, and is trained and
committed to the eight points of the Safe Swim Defense. (It is
strongly recommended that all groups/posts have at least one adult
or older youth participant currently trained as a lifeguard.)
- Physical Fitness
A complete health history from a physician, parent, or legal guardian
is required for swimming. In the event of any significant health
conditions, the leader should require proof of an examination by
Youth with physical disabilities can enjoy and benefit from aquatics
if the disabilities are known and necessary precautions are
- Safe Area
When swimming in lakes and streams, lifeguards should systematically
examine the bottom of the swimming area to determine depths and
hazards. Mark off the area for three groups: not more than 3 1/2
feet deep for nonswimmers; from shallow water to just over the
head for beginners; deep water not more than 12 feet for swimmers.
A participant should not be permitted to swim in an area where he
cannot readily recover and maintain his footing, or cannot maintain
his position on the water, because of swimming ability or water flow.
When setting up a safe swimming area in natural waters, establish
boundary markers. Enclose nonswimmer and beginner areas with buoy
lines (twine and floats) between markers. Mark the outer bounds of
the swimmer area with floats. Clear-water depth is at least 7 feet
before allowing anyone to dive. Diving is prohibited from any height
more than 40 inches above the water surface; feetfirst entry is
prohibited from more than 60 inches above the water. For any entry
from more than 18 inches above the water surface, clear-water depth
must be 10 to 12 feet. Only surface swimming is permitted in turbid
water. Swimming is not permitted in water over 12 feet deep, in
turbid water where poor visibility and depth would interfere with
emergency recognition or prompt rescue, or in whitewater, unless
all participants wear appropriate personal flotation devices and
the supervisor determines that swimming with personal flotation
equipment is safe under the circumstances.
- Lifeguards on Duty
Swim only where lifeguards are on duty. For group swims in areas
where lifeguards are not provided by others, the supervisor should
designate two capable swimmers as lifeguards. Station them ashore,
equipped with a lifeline (a 100-foot length of 3/8-inch nylon cord).
In an emergency, one carries out the line; the other feeds it out
from shore, then pulls in his partner and the person being helped.
In addition, if a boat is available, have two capable swimmers
take it outone rowing and the other equipped with a 10-foot
pole or extra oar. Provide one guard for every 10 people in the
water, and adjust the number and positioning of guards as needed
to protect the particular area and activity.
Station a lookout on the shore where it is possible to see and
hear everything in all areas. The lookout may be the adult in
charge of the swim and may give the buddy signals.
- Ability Groups
Divide into three ability groups: nonswimmers, beginners, and
swimmers. Keep each group in its own area. Nonswimmers have not
passed a swimming test. Beginners must pass this test: jump feetfirst
into water over the head in depth, level off, swim 25 feet on the
surface. Stop, turn sharply, resume swimming as before, and return
to the starting place. Swimmers pass this test: jump feetfirst
into water over the head in depth. Level off and swim 75 yards
in a strong manner using one or more of the following strokes:
sidestroke, breaststroke, trudgen, or crawl; then swim 25 yards
using an easy resting backstroke. The 100 yards must be swum
continuously and include at least one sharp turn. After completing
the swim, rest by floating. These classification tests should be
renewed annually, preferably at the beginning of the season.
- Buddy System
Pair every youth with another in the same ability group. Buddies
check in and out of the swimming area together. Emphasize that each buddy
lifeguards his buddy. Check everyone in the water about every 10 minutes,
or as needed to keep the buddies together. The adult in charge signals
for a buddy check with a single blast of a whistle or ring of a bell and
a call of "Buddies!" The adult counts slowly to 10 while buddies join
and raise hands and remain still and silent. Guards check all areas,
count the pairs, and compare the total with the number known to be in
the water. Signal two blasts or bells to resume swimming. Signal three
blasts or bells for checkout.
Swimming is allowed only with proper supervision and use of the
Safe Swim Defense Plan. Swimmers should respect and follow all
directions and rules of the adult supervisor. When people know the
reason for rules and procedures they are more likely to follow them.
Be strict and fair, showing no favoritism.
Classification of Swimming Ability
The swimmer test demonstrates the minimum level of swimming ability required
for safe deep-water swimming. The various components of the test evaluate the
skills essential to this minimum level of swimming ability:
Jump feetfirst into water over the head in depth, level off, and
begin swimming. Swim 75 yards in a strong manner using one or more
of the following strokes: sidestroke, breaststroke, trudgen, or
crawl; then swim 25 yards using an easy, resting backstroke. The
100 yards must be swum continuously and include at least one sharp
turn. After completing the swim, rest by floating.
The test administrator must objectively evaluate the individual performance
of the test, and in so doing should keep in mind the purpose of each test
- "Jump feetfirst into water over the head in depth, level off, and
begin swimming... ."
The swimmer must be able to make an abrupt entry into deep water and
begin swimming without any aids. Walking in from shallow water, easing
in from the edge or down a ladder, pushing off from side or bottom, or
gaining forward momentum by diving do not satisfy this requirement.
- "... Swim 75 yards in a strong manner using one or more of the
following strokes: sidestroke, breaststroke, trudgen, or crawl;
The swimmer must be able to cover distance with a strong, confident
stroke. The 75 yards must not be the outer limit of the swimmer's
ability; completion of the distance should give evidence of sufficient
stamina to avoid undue risks. Dog-paddling and strokes repeatedly
interrupted and restarted are not sufficient; underwater swimming
is not permitted. The itemized strokes are inclusive. Any strong
side or breaststroke or any strong overarm stroke (including the
back crawl) is acceptable.
- "... swim 25 yards using an easy, resting backstroke ..."
The swimmer must indicate the ability to execute a restful, free-breathing
backstroke that can be used to avoid exhaustion during swimming activity.
This element of the test necessarily follows the more strenuous swimming
activity to show that the swimmer is, in fact, able to use the backstroke
as a relief from exertion. The change of stroke must be accomplished in
deep water without any push-off or other aid. Any variation of the
elementary may suffice if it clearly provides opportunity for the
swimmer to rest and regain wind.
- " ... The 100 yards must be swum continuously and include at least
one sharp turn. ..."
The total distance is to be covered without rest stops. The sharp
turn simply demonstrates the swimmer's ability to reverse direction
in deep water without assistance or push-off from the side or
- "... After completing the swim, rest by floating."
This critically important component of the test evaluates the swimmer's
ability to maintain in the water even though exhausted or otherwise
unable to continue swimming. Treading water or swimming in place will
further tire the swimmer and are, therefore, unacceptable. The duration
of the float test is not significant, except that it must be long enough
for the test administrator to determine that the swimmer is, in fact,
resting and could likely continue to do so for a prolonged time. The
drown-proofing technique may be sufficient if clearly restful, but it
is not preferred. If the test is completed except for the floating
requirement, the swimmer may be retested on the floating only (after
instruction) provided that the test administrator is confident that
the swimmer can initiate the float when exhausted.
Jump feetfirst into water over the head in depth, level off, swim 25
feet on the surface, stop, turn sharply, resume swimming as before, and
return to the starting place. The entry and turn serve the same purpose
as in the swimmer test. The swimming can be done with any stroke, but no
underwater swimming is permitted. The stop assures that the swimmer can
regain a stroke if it is interrupted. The test demonstrates that the
beginning swimmer is ready to learn deepwater skills and has the minimum
ability required for safe swimming in a confined area in which shallow
water, sides, or other support is less than 25 feet from any point in
Pool and Surf Swimming
The Safe Swim Defense applies to swimming at the beach, private or public
pools, wilderness pond, stream, lake, or anywhere participants swim. Here are
some additional points for the pool and the surf:
If the swimming activity is in a public facility where others are using
the pool at the same time, and the pool operator provides guard personnel,
there may be no need for additional designation of youth lifeguards and
The buddy system is critically important, however, even in a public pool.
Remember, even in a crowd, you are alone without protection if no one is
attentive to your circumstances.
The rule that people swim only in water suited to their ability and with
others of similar ability applies in a pool environment. Most public pools
divide shallow and deep water, and this may be sufficient for defining
appropriate swimming areas. If not, the supervisor should clearly indicate
to the participating youth the appropriate areas of the public facility.
Although such procedures add a margin of safety, their use may not always
be practical when the swim activity is conducted at a public facility where
other people (not involved in Learning for Life programs) are present. A
responsible adult supervisor, who understands his or her responsibility
and the elements of safety, can exercise discretion regarding certain
procedures while maintaining safety.
The surf swimming environment of wave action, currents, tides, undertow,
runouts, and sea pests like stinging jellyfish requires precautions for
safe swimming that are not necessary in other environments. A swimmer's
physical condition is very important and should enable the swimmer to
recover footing in waves, swim vigorously for at least five minutes without
becoming exhausted, and remain calm and in control when faced with
Designated swimming areas are marked by flags or pennants that are
easily seen. Beginners and non-swimmers are positioned inshore from the
standing lifeguards equipped with reach poles. Better swimmers are
permitted seaward of the lifeguard but must remain shoreward of anchored
marker buoys. The lifeguard-to-swimmer ratio should always be 1:10, with
a rescue team stationed at the beach area and supplied with a rescue
tube or torpedo buoy.
Safety First Learning for Life Guidelines
Copyright © 2002 by Learning for Life