Principles of Simple Rescue

The dangers linked with attempts to rescue people who are in danger of drowning are well know. Yet in many situations even non-swimmers can use simple methods to achieve a rescue with little or no risk to themselves.

Simple rescue techniques are both effective and do not expose the rescuer to unnecessary danger. Consequently such methods should always be used by even the most expert lifesaver.

“Rule No. 1 of life saving is look after No. 1”


Case histories show that many accidents could have been avoided or prevented by awareness on the part of those involved or in the vicinity. Indeed, the necessity for rescue action can often be eliminated by the recognition of a potentially dangerous situation and by taking immediate preventative action.

A Cork County Council Beach Lifeguard signalling a bather to come into and/or stay at waist depth.
A Cork County Council Beach Lifeguard signalling a bather to come into and/or stay at waist depth.

By drawing attention to the danger before the situation can develop into an emergency. By drawing attention to the danger before the situation can develop into an emergency, a rescuer may not only prevent a possible drowning accident, but also guard against future occurrences. An emergency may develop, however, before warning can be given. The subject may simply disappear quietly underwater without a fuss, unnoticed by all – except by a rescuer who is alert and aware. Rescue action then must be immediate and decisive.

Beach Safety signage used by Cork County Council Beach Lifeguards.
Beach Safety signage used by Cork CoCo Beach Lifeguards, “Prevention before Reaction”


The time spent in assessing a rescue situation will vary from the brief instant needed to realise that simply reaching out to the subject will bring him/her to safety, to the minutes necessary to make out a deliberate plan of rescue, as in the case of those in danger from a rising tide. Whatever the skill of the potential rescuer, his/her actions will depend on his/her evaluation of the situation.

A Cork CoCo Beach Lifeguard assessing the sea conditions first thing in the morning on Inchydoney Beach.

Sometimes all that is necessary is to shout or run for assistance. This may be the correct and most effective action to take. On the other hand, a hasty. ill-considered reaction may expose the rescuer to grave danger.

Any situation may be considered from these different aspects:

  • The degree of urgency.
  • The numbers in danger.
  • The observer’s own abilities.
  • The condition of the subject(s).
  • The aids or assistance available.
  • The weather and water conditions.
  • The distance of the subject(s) from shore.

The assessment must be a continuing process, as the situation may alter or develop rapidly even as a rescue action is underway. The approach of a boat, the swiftness of a current or a strong wave may alter the circumstances and call for a revised approach.

Personal Safety

Not even the trained life-saver should attempt a rescue without maintaining a position of safety. This position can be on a river bank, pier, shore or on some type of craft but it must provide the potential rescuer with a secure base from which to operate. In the event of the rescuer finding that his/her actions have committed him/her beyond his/her capabilities, he/she must swiftly abandon his/her attempt, and regain safety and reassess lest a double tragedy should occur. The safety of the rescuer is the overriding factor in any rescue attempt.