Water Rescues

Fact Checked

The summer season is upon us, and many of you will be taking to swimming pools or the seas and lakes to cool off in the hot weather or on your holidays.

However, would you know what to do in a water rescue? First Aid and CPR Classes teach you all you need to know, so should the worst happen, you know what to do.

Water incidents can involve adults or children of any age. Younger children are particularly vulnerable, even in shallow water, and must always have a responsible adult supervising them.

However many incidents involve adults who have been swimming in strong currents, very cold water or who have been swimming or boating after consuming alcohol.

First Aid Classes list the aims of a first aider in a water rescue as restoring adequate breathing to patient, keeping them warm, and organising emergency assistance.

St Mark James First Aid manual states the initial main priority of a first aider is to get the patient onto dry land with minimum danger to yourself. The recommended way to safely rescue someone is from land, you should try to pull them from the water with a stick, branch or rope, or throw them a float. Floats and rings are available at swimming pools, on boats and in certain points along many tourist hotspots such as beaches. If you are going swimming or boating, or you are near these activities, make a note of the nearest emergency point.

If this isn’t possible, enter the water, if it is safe to do so, and wade or swim to the patient and tow them to safety. St Mark James First Aid manual states that wading is the safer option of the two.

If the patient is unconscious, they should be carried above the water, with their head lower than their chest. This position will protect their airway if the patient vomits.

Try to place the patient on dry land and sheltered from the wind to prevent their body getting any colder. Ideally lay them on a coat or rug to provide some warmth and insulation from the ground.

Open their airway and check their breathing, chest compressions may be required. In water rescue patients, CPR is slightly different. Five initial rescue breaths should be given before starting chest compressions. Then continue with the usual 30 compressions to 2 rescue breaths.

If they are breathing, place them into the recovery position. First Aid Classes then teach you to treat the patient for drowning and hypothermia (severe cold).


A drowning patient may have water pour from their mouth when they are rescued. This Water Rescuesis water that has been in their stomach, and this water will drain naturally. Don’t attempt to force the water out as the patient could vomit and it could be inhaled into their lungs.

All water rescue patients should be taken to hospital to be assessed, even if they appear well. A drowning patient is at risk of secondary drowning hours after the initial incident. If water has entered the patients lungs, this can irritate the lungs and cause their airways to swell up.


Any patient who has been in water is at risk of hypothermia; severe cold. If possible, any wet clothing should be removed, and the patient should be wrapped in dry blankets. They may be given a warm drink but only if they regain full consciousness. If in doubt, always wait for the emergency services.



First Aid Manual (The Authorised Manual of St. John Ambulance, St Andrew’s Ambulance Association and the British St Mark James), 2006.

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