Spot the Drowning Child
July 31, 2015 5:02 PM   Subscribe

A series of visual tests: can you see which kid is in trouble?
posted by Short Attention Sp (84 comments total) 39 users marked this as a favorite
Wow. Interesting and useful. Thanks for posting.
posted by asperity at 5:10 PM on July 31, 2015 [3 favorites]

I was too busy counting how many times the players wearing white passed the basketball, sorry.
posted by Mr.Encyclopedia at 5:17 PM on July 31, 2015 [18 favorites]

I'm a (very expired) certified lifeguard from 10+ years ago and still missed one, those wave pool lifeguards are right up there with beach guards in terms of difficulty. It doesn't take long at all for a crowded wave pool filled with tubes and marginal swimmers to turn deadly.
posted by T.D. Strange at 5:19 PM on July 31, 2015 [8 favorites]

Wow, I was an active guard (pool) for almost 10 years, watching the first one this showed I saw the child the instant before they began to be a drowning victim and I was tapping my arm saying there, there, there. It was the best job but wow does it Instill a hard to put on pause hyper vigilance, and awareness of what some of the players are going through in the moment. Not a nice feeling. There never would have been HD security cam footage like these are, when I first got NLS certified, and yeah, you hear how drowning isn't like the movies, and through years of courses and training (and in experiences in the position of guard) but I think the fact there will be so much real footage that can act as a trainer, this is helpful to training lifeguards going forward. Real pool experience is most useful, but these help 100x more helpful than the staged VHS resolution info of yore. And yes what is done with "traumatic footage" people bragging about seeking out violent footage and talking like it made them brave or better to watch it was annoying and how that kind of material is presented can be deeply problematic but when it trains folks to be better prepared to try to save a life...
posted by infinite intimation at 5:20 PM on July 31, 2015 [21 favorites]

The people who guard big commercial wave pools like the ones in these videos just have an unbelievably hard job.

This is a very clever thing, taking YouTube video of a real pool and overlaying it with a "game" where you click on the drowning person. Once I knew what I was looking for, I was front-running the whistle consistently. I saw that one kid not timing his jumps with the waves and clicked on him more than ten seconds before the whistle.
posted by ob1quixote at 5:21 PM on July 31, 2015 [1 favorite]

Why doesn't anyone help the guy in the waterlogged gorilla suit?
posted by persona au gratin at 5:23 PM on July 31, 2015 [30 favorites]

It helps to be awake.

Not a job I would ever want, way too hard. We let teenagers do it and then call teenagers lazy bums as a group. No. The right teenagers take this job and do it well. They are pretty darn heroic.
posted by Drinky Die at 5:26 PM on July 31, 2015 [3 favorites]

That is shockingly difficult.
posted by you're a kitty! at 5:28 PM on July 31, 2015 [7 favorites]

There actually was more flailing than I would have expected having read about drownings before. But I've never lifeguarded.
posted by persona au gratin at 5:31 PM on July 31, 2015 [4 favorites]

That was extremely stressful, despite getting good at it. Felt the urge to yell at the lifeguards when I spotted the kid first or when they were busy looking somewhere else. Helluva job they do, hats off to them.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 5:34 PM on July 31, 2015 [1 favorite]

Wow. I'd read all about how people really look when drowning, but every time the lifeguard saw them well before I did. SO STRESSFUL.
posted by Solon and Thanks at 5:38 PM on July 31, 2015 [5 favorites]

These were really helpful (for me, as someone who has never lifeguarded nor seen someone drown) because once you know what to look for, it's distinctive. Maybe if more people know what it looks like, we'll have less of it?
posted by which_chick at 5:41 PM on July 31, 2015 [1 favorite]

The Hacker News thread on this had enough stories of children almost drowning within 10 feet of their parents to scare me good. Now I'm planning on getting my 8-month-old son a class AAA-1 lifeboat for his coming pool explorations.
posted by jjwiseman at 5:47 PM on July 31, 2015 [3 favorites]

That was among the most stressful things I've encountered online.
posted by dersins at 5:55 PM on July 31, 2015 [13 favorites]

I watched a large number of these videos a while back and there's a definite pattern to the victims. Most of them had either slid under or over one of those large inflatable rings and had then been unable to get back on top of the inflatable because they were unable to swim. Why are the kids allowed in the pool if they can't swim? Also, if there a reason why the rings can't have handholds on the outside -- or something -- so the kids can hang on after they slide off/under the rings?
posted by bentley at 6:02 PM on July 31, 2015 [7 favorites]

In my local wave pool, you're supposed to be wearing a lifevest if you cannot swim. If you are under age 8 - at all local beaches and pools - you must be within arm's reach of a parent at all times.
posted by Chaussette and the Pussy Cats at 6:05 PM on July 31, 2015

There was a lot of talk about this last week when a 3 year old was lost at a Disney resort pool. A commentator for the DIS, who used to be a lifeguard at Disney, talked about how difficult it is to do your job at those pools.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 6:15 PM on July 31, 2015

I went swimming with a calc IV study buddy in college, and we jumped into the middle of the deep end together - he had a floatie paddle thing and I didn't, and he didn't know how to swim. I found that out when he kept pulling me underwater. Thankfully a lifeguard noticed and pulled us out, but it was shocking how I didn't have any control over that situation, not even to shout or anything, and I was getting more and more tired, and unable to breath pretty much the entire time I was struggling to stay afloat. Going to that website made me realize even more how lucky I was that day.

Lessons learned: lifeguards are heroes, and don't assume people can swim just because they've jumped into a pool with a floatation device.
posted by oceanjesse at 6:17 PM on July 31, 2015 [13 favorites]

I'm never going to be a lifeguard, so I think I'll pass on spending my Friday evening watching children drown.
posted by Horace Rumpole at 6:17 PM on July 31, 2015 [2 favorites]

I nearly drowned in one of those wave pools when I was a kid. I could swim fine, but other kids were pushing me under (not sure if it was intentional or unintentional -- it was crowded). A lifeguard hauled me out. Hooray for lifeguards!
posted by Blue Jello Elf at 6:22 PM on July 31, 2015 [3 favorites]

Why doesn't anyone help the guy in the waterlogged gorilla suit?

Nobody saw him, obviously.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 6:23 PM on July 31, 2015 [3 favorites]

Former lifeguard here.

This is my nightmare.

I mean, I literally still occasionally have nightmares about this sort of thing.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 6:27 PM on July 31, 2015 [32 favorites]

That was really scary to watch. But it made me appreciate lifeguards more than I ever have.

It also made me wonder about this idea I've seen briefly in the media before (but admittedly know very little about) where babies are thrown into pools really young to help them learn to swim. I'm sure there's more to it, but if babies can instinctively figure out how to stay afloat, why can't older kids?
posted by bellebethcooper at 6:30 PM on July 31, 2015

Maybe babies are more buoyant?
posted by reprise the theme song and roll the credits at 6:35 PM on July 31, 2015

Maybe babies float because they haven't learned so much about the world and its corrupt ways.
posted by oceanjesse at 6:44 PM on July 31, 2015 [44 favorites]

It also made me wonder about this idea I've seen briefly in the media before (but admittedly know very little about) where babies are thrown into pools really young to help them learn to swim. I'm sure there's more to it, but if babies can instinctively figure out how to stay afloat, why can't older kids?

They don't just chuck the babies in a pool. There's always an adult immediately within arm's reach. The thing about babies is they instinctively hold their breath underwater. That instinct only lasts until they need to take a breath, though. The adult is there to hoist the baby out of the water so they can breathe. They'd sink like stones otherwise.

(Please don't throw babies in pools.)
posted by Sys Rq at 6:46 PM on July 31, 2015 [15 favorites]

When my sis and various friends recently had kids I learned that babies instinctively kick to help get themselves out of the womb, and will sometimes push themselves around that way shortly after birth -- wondering if that's related to tiny infants swimming.
posted by gusandrews at 6:48 PM on July 31, 2015

I take my kids to baby swimming classes. The younger one is two and a half and just started, the older one is four and a half and started two years ago, so I've been doing this with them for a while. Some of the babies in the classes are six months old. They don't just "float" (floating on your back with your face out of the water is a skill that requires practice, and balance), and they don't instinctively "swim" in the sense of being able to doggy paddle and keep their heads above water, or float on their backs and keep their faces out of the water,or tread water, or, of course, turn their heads to breath while doing a crawl stroke. So, no breathing. Basically a baby can hold their breath for a few seconds and kick their legs well enough to cover a few feet.

That's not enough to keep them from drowning. Please carefully supervise any babies near water.

It took lessons every week for two years (admittedly only a half an hour a week) to get my now four year old to the point where she can flip over and float on her back to breathe when she needs to. And she was one of those babies who loved the water.
posted by OnceUponATime at 6:49 PM on July 31, 2015 [1 favorite]

We let teenagers do it and then call teenagers lazy bums as a group. No. The right teenagers take this job and do it well.

The 'right teenagers' don't work at my local pool. They stand around and talk to each other and look at their phones and look at other people's phones and occasionally glance at the pool if they spot another cute teenager. When grumpy old me says 'you guys are watching those six-year-olds in the deep end, right? They seem to have drifted away from their parents', they point to the 'PARENTS MUST SUPERVISE CHILDREN AT ALL TIMES' sign then go back to their phones.

tl;dr - good lifesavers are awesome; don't assume yours are awesome; even awesome lifesavers can't be everywhere; watch your kids, because blaming your child's drowning death on a fifteen-year-old kid is going to feel pretty fucking hollow.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 6:56 PM on July 31, 2015 [9 favorites]

Never have I been so glad to be one of those people who just naturally floats. Brrr.

It took me a while to catch on what was going on--and I got really hypervigilant about anyone who dipped below the water for more than a second, which cost me a lot of false positives when it came to kids who were, say, playing 'who can hold your breath longest' or 'let's have an underwater tea party' or whatever.
posted by sciatrix at 7:00 PM on July 31, 2015 [1 favorite]

I lifeguarded all through high school. It was the toddlers on the steps who went under. Their shoulders and heads would be out of the water but when they stepped down to the next step and turned around, they made bubbles looking up at you through the water, and twiddled their fingers out wide. I guarded an indoor and outdoor pool, sitting in a doorway, fifteen hours a day, for one dollar a day. I pulled a lot of kids out, no traumas ever, only to my mind and my skin. I would finally sit up in my bed in the middle of the night and say, "You can swim in my room if you like, but there is no lifeguard on duty."
posted by Oyéah at 7:05 PM on July 31, 2015 [21 favorites]

When I was a kid, I read a book called “These Were the Sioux,” by Mari Sandoz. A section that has always stuck in my mind was the bit where it’s decided that it’s time for the two-month-old baby to swim, “before he forget it.”
posted by bentley at 7:09 PM on July 31, 2015 [2 favorites]

(Please don't throw babies in pools.)

You have to get the angle right, so that they skip across the surface to the other side. Some times it takes a few babies to get the hang of it.
posted by XMLicious at 7:18 PM on July 31, 2015 [75 favorites]

The thing that's really glaring about every video that's come up for me is that every last one of the drowning kids was black. And that's a thing: "Disparities were greatest in swimming pools, with swimming pool drowning rates among blacks aged 5–19 years 5.5 times higher than those among whites in the same age group. This disparity was greatest at ages 11–12 years; at these ages, blacks drown in swimming pools at 10 times the rate of whites." When you consider the relative rate of white kids vs. black kids in pools at any given time, that number comes into even starker relief.

It all comes down to the fact that the white kids were more likely to have had swimming lessons, and the reason for that is racism.
posted by Sys Rq at 7:24 PM on July 31, 2015 [34 favorites]

Metafilter: spending my Friday evening watching children drown.
posted by symbioid at 7:29 PM on July 31, 2015 [14 favorites]

Folks bringing a PFD (personal floatation device) into an area with 1. deeper dropoff 2. landing zone of a slide or high/low board is absolutely one of the top things a guard is vigilant for. In a 'traditional' pool this is usually 'easier', as there are generally strictly enforcable rules i.e. no mats in the deep end (for exactly the reason you pointed out). However, as others have alluded to... the "waterpark" guard is basically the worst nightmare of your worst nightmare (and with NLS anyway it is a separate certification, as is beach, which comes with its own set of unique risks [like rip-tides]). Rules are harder to enforce in multi-zone waterparks (what, you kicked me out of this "zone" opps, I'm gone and now I am in WaterKindom Danger Slide Mountain "zone", and there's no way that an on duty guard just 'chases' someone; money is also much more of an object for the waterpark, so—absolute number of people in the park and on the rides is often too high, guard to swimmer ratios are bad (this is univerally something I'd love to see addressed, as yes, I may have been a wonderfully trained 17 yr old, with good skills and strength, but still, in hindsight I am not fully comfortable with how often I had to be a solo guard [which was fully within legal and ethical standards and guidelines]). Doing swim tests would be 'slow' and 'expensive', so some parks chose not to do them, relying on self-reporting of not being able to swim, until an incident occurs, and a policy is made (to ask if people can swim). As lifeguards will know, people lie about that. Yes, even though they could drown, it could be through embarrassment, or fear of getting teased, so they just don't speak up, or having developed strategies to "cope with being a non-swimmer"—see your 'gutter grabbers', your 'mat riders', your 'walk cautiously right to the drop-off point up to neck on tippie toes then splash back to shallow then repeat-ers, people who know they can't swim might be relying on whatever their floating thing is, and sometimes they just slip away (so, generally just adding more handles on everything wouldn't solve it).

One of the challenging parts of being a new guard is the social pushback from customers. "Heyyy, I paid to come in here, I'm paying you, don't you tell me what to do". It's just another thing one needs to learn how to respond to. This issue is (I believe), for various reasons, less present at pools (particularly pools at public rec. centers) than at waterparks. I operated a slide at a hotel as well as working at a large community centre pool in various roles. The folks at the slide basically would try to pretend I didn't exist, and enforcement there required far more direct intervention. These were hotel customers, and there will be implications that y'know, they are there to have 'fun' (not to mention they 'got' to have some drinks in their rooms first, so already I am buzzkill the lifeguard). People who think head first down a slide into wading pool is something they really do do want to do—because fun!
The pool was such a different environment, proximity was my best weapon. Pretty much no matter the issue, sidle on over near the issue, maybe use some non-verbal techniques, eye contact and thats that.
I loved the challenges and the required training (and I learned a great deal), but that was just a single slide, and it was deeply stressful in very different ways from guarding even something like 250 people during an open swim, with a concurrent single lane swim in the far lane, and the darn local swim team forgot to remove the 'race entry dive platforms' from their mounts, so of course moving out of position and "informing" folks that no, jumping off them onto the poor lane swimmer is not going to work out, at least once per rotation will be required.

Helluva job they do, hats off to them.
Begins to blows whistle. Changes mind, shifts to closer position, maintaining view of pool. Clears throat.
Y'know, it makes sense to keep yr hats on as sun stroke is a serious risk. Wear wide-brimmed hats in light colors to help prevent the sun from warming the head and neck. Vents on a hat will help cool the head, as will sweatbands wetted with cool water. Drink water when you feel thirsty.

I wish so much that there were more programs for getting swimming lessons to kids who's parents can't afford them. Being able to swim is deeply important, and it really is impossible to predict when someone might need the skill. Even a few basic lessons will build the confidence (an important aspect of learning to swim) and then the basic skills once the fears and preconceptions are out of the way for a learner. I guess it is all on local governments to make such a program right now (the facility I worked at had programs, but such accommodations were absolutely not necessarily available at all pools). Subsidized swimming lessons are a life and death thing, and the reality is that the outcome of being unable to swim is hitting some groups disproportionately, and this inequality is seriously a big issue when we start to look at the historical reasons for those disproportionate rates of drownings. Income of a parent should never be the thing blocking someone learning to swim. On preview, Sys Rq said what I was trying to, better and more clearly.

Any Mefites who can't swim, please, don't feel embarrassed, it is ok, really, being embarrassed is no reason to put yourself in danger by not learning such important skills. I volunteer my teaching if you can make a teleporter device work (I have taught folks from 6 months old to 96 years young how to swim. There is no age that shouldn't learn to swim.
[oops, no, babies don't float on their own they are often able to close their mouths when dunked in certain manners, with certain precautions, like #1 adults being in control of the baby, and this really does build skills, having taught babies that I later taught again, the ones that had previously been in water had less water fears (not in a bad risk seeking way, but in a confidence way).
Babies are 'better' at 'learning' this than older kids (or adults) because they haven't yet had the buildup of fears and preconceptions, babies don't know about drowning, so they fear it less than a child may, is probably the swim teacher thing you have heard about babies, a good first step for older kids is to learn to blow bubbles-->face in water]). Note I am not a baby-ologist so I don't actually know how babies work, outside of how they swim, all baby psychology I stated is purely speculative.

As a job lifeguarding is like if punctuated equilibrium were real.
Zero zero zero, nothing, people, 6 months later a training session, swim, water, hot, humid, chlorine evaporates, hot air rises, guard chairs are tall, hot, zero zero zero ACTION200%GO!!!!!!!

The hardest (oddest?) part? You learn that a fairly likely outcome of your attempt to rescue a conscious non-swimmer is that you will be attacked, and so you have to learn underwater combat tactics, so that you won't be drowned the first time you try to carry out a rescue. That is weird information the first time you get it. Wow, this gets me thinking about teaching all this stuff again.
posted by infinite intimation at 7:38 PM on July 31, 2015 [56 favorites]

I love watching the lifeguards at Great Wolf Lodge. They're very well trained, and their watch routines are like clockwork.

And every now and again, one of the senior leaders quietly pulls out a stopwatch and sneaks one of these in the pool.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 7:43 PM on July 31, 2015 [2 favorites]

I had to have an adult (not a lifeguard-just a guy in the pool paying attention, I guess) pull me out of a wave pool once. I was a decent swimmer, but at a certain point I lost track of which way was up, and waves kept knocking me over as I was trying to get my bearings.

I get a little scared, sometimes, just thinking of how easy it would've been for me to go unnoticed.
posted by Jeanne at 7:45 PM on July 31, 2015 [2 favorites]

Underwater combat tactics? What are they? Do you learn them in lifeguarding classes?
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 8:00 PM on July 31, 2015

Most of them had either slid under or over one of those large inflatable rings and had then been unable to get back on top of the inflatable because they were unable to swim.

This exact thing happened to me when I was about 15 years old and it was fucking terrifying. I cannot swim, cannot even float, but I felt safe going in the wave pool because I had the inflatable and my relatives were right there. And yet when a decent size wave came, I fell through the hole in the inflatable and got "trapped" underneath. I am lucky my aunt was right there to yank me upright.
posted by desjardins at 8:01 PM on July 31, 2015 [1 favorite]

infinite intimation: The hardest (oddest?) part? You learn that a fairly likely outcome of your attempt to rescue a conscious non-swimmer is that you will be attacked, and so you have to learn underwater combat tactics, so that you won't be drowned the first time you try to carry out a rescue.

Worth repeating. A person who is actively drowning will often panic so badly they'll attack their rescuer. Not consciously, but either by thrashing into you while trying to swim, clinging to you so hard you can't move, or violently trying to climb your body and pushing you under. Rescuers have been drowned this way.
posted by Mitrovarr at 8:17 PM on July 31, 2015 [2 favorites]

I absolutely hated, hated, my rec department swim lessons growing up and this video has 100% convinced me that I will inflict them upon my own children someday. It's like cooking or driving, but more likely to save your life.
posted by maryr at 8:49 PM on July 31, 2015 [4 favorites]

One of the very best methods lifeguards have of learning to know what one is seeing (as in these video scenarios) is through role play, victim simulation, and practicing scenes. Your classmates may over or under act or not do the symptoms of hyperthermia properly (or shiver uncontrollably while strapped to the spinal board [sorry]) but that is actually reality everyone swims and moves uniquely, each rescue is unique, for all that it will fit inside a neat statistic when completed.

In early training "underwater combat" is basically just swim under or around people and approach from behind with an aid. Or more likely just reverse and ready, and kick a rescue aid to the victim. But between practice and reality is a big gulf. Real people freak right out when drowning. If I were a real non-swimmer it could be very dangerous for a lifeguard to approach any "in water" rescue casually, even in a place that isn't like middle of the ocean. So yeah, it starts with little manoeuvres, but includes knowing how to get a neck hold (I learned how to pretend to be the non-swimmer while my very slight fellow guard basically choked me out with a flutter board) I found best outcomes to more defensive than offensive things, but there were definitely offensive manoeuvres. Without responsible folks(and lifeguards are by no means universally responsible folks), it is quite hard to simulate what can happen without quickly getting into really dangerous territory. The days where a rescuer gets a cramp and goes under or I get a lung of water mid non-swimmer acting are one side where the other side is that people aren't taking being a victim seriously, which can mean that the training guard might not learn to recognize the symptoms of X with the same alacrity as they may have if their fellow student took the acting seriously, rather than acting funny (but remember that 15 yr old me really would maybe prefer to act funny). Lifeguard training makes interesting acting school.

Is this where I pitch the buddyguard comedy that I basically invented in between rotations.

It's me (but barely disguised for the story), 15 and fresh out of guard academy and my buddyguard, a lifeguard who has seen it all and is just a few weeks away from retirement (she is actually just 25 and moving to a full time career as a pharmacist but that's like 35 in lifeguard years). It was her last week on the job with some little triangle flags on the line. Part parks and Rec part the office part the west wing all originating 2004 (probably before some of the things that it now seems similar to). It will make you laugh, it will make you think and as the reactions to this link show, it will also make you incredibly nervous.
posted by infinite intimation at 8:54 PM on July 31, 2015 [13 favorites]

It would be helpful to know how well one's child should be able to swim at certain ages. For example, where I live, you have to be 8 to be in a pool alone, but you have to be within arm's reach of a parent before that. But I wonder if that is based on certain expectations. I have friends who never learned how to swim, for example, and they are in their 40s, but I'm wondering if they should have been allowed to go to the public pool at 10 or 15, even if they were just splashing in the shallow end. I passed what was called the red level, but I failed maroon. I eventually got good enough to swim the 20 m or so to the raft. My parents let me go swimming on my own at the lake. (There were guards in all these places.) I know an 11yo who can only swim about 6m on his own - should this child be able to swim better than that, given that SwimKids levels stop at age 12 and he's maybe at level 3? I mean, when the pool says you can go in at 8 without a parent, do they really mean that? I tried looking it up and there's no real answer. I see some pools say you have to be accompanied in the pool by an adult up to age 8 - I think some people think that means you don't have to supervise after that. To me, it means you should be on the deck watching them.

Kids with anxiety, poorer parents and other barriers might not get as many lessons. I'm sure my parents figured passing red was good enough. I was always concerned about that, but I eventually got good enough to swim out to the raft at the lake. I don't think I could do it now, so I imagine maybe I'm not at a Red Cross "red" level now.
posted by Chaussette and the Pussy Cats at 9:12 PM on July 31, 2015

Oh man, the flotation devices. I swim in a very ordinary gym pool where there is no lifeguard and the expectation is that everyone in the pool can swim. For a short while, there was a guy who would get the life preserver off the wall and, clinging to it, get in the pool with some sort of expectation that the rest of us would rescue him if he went under.

I cannot tell you how freaked out I felt every time this guy got in the pool. I have no lifeguard training, couldn't tell you if my fellow swimmers do or not, and I sure as hell don't want to try to figure out if someone is drowning while I'm switching up my stroke from freestyle to butterfly. Watching the videos linked here proved that the guy would have been good as dead before I noticed anyway.

Luckily the guy either stopped coming or got swim lessons, as I no longer see anyone try that trick. Equally luckily, my gym now offers adult swim lessons and odds are decent that at any given time there will be a trainer in the pool area (often annoying but in this case helpful).

Still...please don't rely on your fellow swimmers to keep you from drowning. When our failure means your death, that's far too much to ask. Adult/relevant age swim lessons plus swimming in a lifeguarded pool are much better solutions for weak swimmers.
posted by librarylis at 10:01 PM on July 31, 2015 [3 favorites]

There actually was more flailing than I would have expected having read about drownings before.

There was, in my opinion. It looked to me like they were kicking too much and their heads didn't go back they way they should have. That is, often times you'll see the head kick back as the person in question tries to get their mouth to the surface in order to breathe. And when something they can clutch on to arrives, they will do so without any concern for that thing. I've had very young children almost drag me under because they managed to get a hold of my neck or one arm, and I was a very strong swimmer when I was guarding.

It was also a pretty terrible angle for us to watch. The surest sign of drowning for me was always in the kid's eyes. They go wide with terror. If you've seen it once you recognize it immediately.

I'm not sure where this was filmed, but I'm not impressed with those guards. They lost visual with the kids when they entered the water (no stride jump) and potentially put themselves at risk during the rescue. Although, it seems they can stand on the bottom which is a mitigating factor.

God, did I hate guarding, though. Teaching was a far superior job. You only have your own kids to worry about and it's a lot quieter.
posted by Maugrim at 10:03 PM on July 31, 2015 [7 favorites]

I've not been a lifeguard or known one, but I'm going to guess that a "better safe than sorry" mission statement was never more useful than to a lifeguard.

My cousin's baby drowned in an unattended backyard pool. I don't know how she gets through the day, even after this many years.
posted by Brocktoon at 10:07 PM on July 31, 2015

I think the flailing and splashing is "aquatic distress" which sometimes precedes full-on drowning?
posted by Blue Jello Elf at 10:14 PM on July 31, 2015

I think the flailing and splashing is "aquatic distress" which sometimes precedes full-on drowning?

Not usually, in my experience. If you can't swim, you can't swim. Your kick sucks, so you go under almost immediately and your arms do a kind of ladder climbing motion. It's not a flail, more of an in and out thing that doesn't splash very much at all. Tired swimmers drown differently, for what it's worth.

That's not say it's black and white, but I felt there were a few things off about those videos. Before I get myself into too much trouble, they're staged?
posted by Maugrim at 10:26 PM on July 31, 2015

I remember being stupid and feeling invincible, I dove under our pool's solar blanket... that thing they tell you to NEVER do. I swam under the whole length of the pool and misjudged the end, surfacing about a foot too early. The pool cover immediately covered my face like saran wrap and I just stood there trying to breathe. The water was only 4 feet deep and I was only inches away from the edge, I could easily have used my hands to yank the pool cover off my face but I just stood there unable to breathe, my uncle was right beside me and he yanked it off of me. The thought still scares the crap out of me, that was MY pool, I could easily swim the length of it with one breath and had many times before, it would have been a horrible way to die.
posted by Hazelsmrf at 11:04 PM on July 31, 2015 [5 favorites]

Maugrim: “[T]hey're staged?”
For what it's worth, I think they are genuine.

After some cursory digging, the videos have been posted over the span of a couple of years by YouTube user Lifeguard Rescue. Given some of the associated links, viz. The Parklands Foundation of Charleston County Genesis Project, I think this is a real public pool near Charleston, South Carolina.
posted by ob1quixote at 11:08 PM on July 31, 2015 [1 favorite]

bentley: "Why are the kids allowed in the pool if they can't swim?"

I'm assuming you mean "why are they allowed in the deep parts of the pool", because if you weren't allowed in a pool at all if you couldn't swim, you'd never learn how to swim, no?
posted by Bugbread at 11:23 PM on July 31, 2015 [1 favorite]

I volunteer my teaching if you can make a teleporter device work

This made me think of the Miranda July book where a woman gives swimming lessons on the kitchen floor to a group of adults. I imagined a Skype scenario with learners all around the world on the floor in front of their computers.

Kids with anxiety, poorer parents and other barriers might not get as many lessons.

This was definitely the case for me. My primary school (Kindergarten - grade 6/age 12) had swimming lessons every year. I guess we started somewhere around grade 2 maybe (age 7/8). They went for a week or two I think, and I always went, but because my parents never took me to the pool any other time (probably a mixture of lack of interest + being poor) I would forget everything I'd learned and start at the beginning again the year after.

Once I got to high school the school lessons stopped, but swimming carnivals continued. Since I couldn't do much more than float, I was forced (carnival participation was mandatory) into the section of events for non-swimmers like "noodle race" and picking up rings from the bottom of the shallow pool. Pretty embarrassing as a teenager when your friends are getting ribbons for their 200m races. Not to mention the fact that I've avoided swimming ever since I left high school, so I couldn't save myself if I needed to now.
posted by bellebethcooper at 12:13 AM on August 1, 2015 [3 favorites]

For what it's worth, I think they are genuine.

I'm kind of getting that impression too. Shows how much I know, I guess. Still, I'd have given those guards hell for those rescues if they'd been my students.

I do legitimately miss teaching swimming and lifesaving sometimes. I was, by all accounts, pretty good when I was on my A game. (Which, in retrospect, was less often that I'd have liked, because at the places I worked the staff typically occupied their off hours by getting drunk, high and sleeping with each other.)

I remember being stupid and feeling invincible

For what it's worth, no one is more stupid and invincible feeling than the lifeguards. I nearly killed or seriously injured myself a dozen times.

Not to mention the fact that I've avoided swimming ever since I left high school, so I couldn't save myself if I needed to now.

If you ever wanted to learn, my recommendation to you would be to find a dedicated instructor. I taught a few adults and my impression was that they always found the progress they made rewarding, but ymmv. If you're willing to go for it, it really oughtn't take that long before you reach a stage where you're able to not immediately drown.
posted by Maugrim at 12:32 AM on August 1, 2015

I've been rescued 3 times. Pool, river, ocean. I had swimming lessons and it is just not something I can do very well. I sink like a stone.

The last time was off one of the Virginia islands. We were camping on the beach. I'd already said I was not going in the water but I had this little Ethel Merman girlfriend who brought me a bathing suit and lured me out.

It was fun and I went further and further out with her. I don't know if it was a riptide or an undertow or Poseidon saying "Come here," but I was being sucked down. She came down to me and grabbed my hand but there was no way her 85 lb self was pulling my 175 lb self out of that. I was pulling her down. I shook my head at her and let go. The look on her face. The sun coming down through the water. Her suspended upside down. Those last seconds are so stunningly beautiful. I thought it was a good way to go and I took that first breath of water.

Everything went black when I gave up, but not before a strange question was posed to me: "What do you think happens now?" I don't know who was asking. Part of my own brain? I was pretty much dead but my answer was "I don't know."

Girlfriend got back up top and screamed her head off for help.

I woke up on the beach. Heard girlfriend ask if I was dead. Opened my eyes. 3 off duty security guards in wet bras and panties kneeling around me, panting. I wasn't really sure what to make of that and then unbelievable streams of seawater started spewing from my mouth. They turned me over and held me up. It was like my esophagus became a firehose. Plus I was naked and there was a crowd. Trunks had come off during their struggle to get me up and out.

The five of us walked back to our campsite and I got some clothes on and we made kabobs and drank warm beer and stared into the fire. My rescuers were only a little less shaken up than I was. They had gone through hell trying to get me out of whatever that was. One of them had a really hard time getting out. My girlfriend was blaming herself for getting me in the water and we stayed up all night talking.

I do not regret the experience.
posted by Mr. Yuck at 2:34 AM on August 1, 2015 [37 favorites]

I was expecting Cool Papa Bell's link to be to a Baby Ruth.
posted by persona au gratin at 3:05 AM on August 1, 2015 [1 favorite]

Holy crap, Mr. Yuck. That's terrifying.
posted by persona au gratin at 3:10 AM on August 1, 2015 [1 favorite]

This one is my favorite - video of the instinctive drowning response.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 5:03 AM on August 1, 2015 [1 favorite]

This article is helpful too.

Stay safe friends!
posted by St. Peepsburg at 5:05 AM on August 1, 2015

I've long wanted to put this memory into words, in the hope that once it's written down somewhere I can feel less burdened by the need to not forget it.

Just over a decade ago, I was on holidays with my family at Christmastime. We were house-sitting a home which had a large enclosed swimming pool in the backyard. My sister and I were both quite young and we were horsing around on the edge of the pool. I pushed her in. I can't remember why I did it, whether she had hurt me during the mock fighting or as a joke—now I think it was probably for no reason at all other than that I wanted to do it. She was too young to know how to swim and immediately started behaving like the drowning children in the videos: staying upright, flailing her arms, repeatedly submerging and resurfacing, not making any other sound except for huge desperate gulps of air.

I jumped in straight away, sans flotation device; I knew how to swim, I thought I just had to get her around my shoulders and then to the edge of the pool so she could climb out. I got under her but she was struggling. She kicked me hard and I lost my breath. I was losing strength and when I got her above the surface she became much heavier because there was no buoyancy force. I couldn't get air, and I couldn't call for help. She was weighing down on me like an anchor. My lungs were imploding.

I don't remember what happened at all after that, whether I blacked out or anything. One of my parents noticed the commotion and managed to pull us both out. What I do remember is a subdued dinner that evening, watching the news on TV and hearing reports of a massive tsunami that had struck southeast Asia. I remember seeing footage of water pursuing and engulfing fleeing holidaymakers on a beach somewhere in Thailand or Indonesia, and I remember playing it over and over in my head as I lay in bed that night, and the following night, and the nights after that, unable to fall asleep.
posted by Quilford at 5:17 AM on August 1, 2015 [20 favorites]

We used to take a bunch of Girl Scouts swimming. They loved it but ugh, it freaked me out. We used to have one leader in the pool with them and another on the side watching and a parent 'helper' would always stay and chat and be more trouble than help. Like, they knew their kid was gonna be fine so it didnt matter if i took my eyes off the others, some of whom were littler, less athletic, whatever. That stressed me more than anything. If I'm responsible for a bunch of kids then let me be responsible.

Maybe I was being over cautious but the kids were under my care, not some parent who hasn't yet proven they could get their own kids to adulthood yet. I wont forget a trip to the beach in my early twenties (ocean beach, east coast australia). We were in the water, waves breaking maybe chest height on us, both females, I'm 5'5, when a little girl of about 8 swam near and asked if she could hold on to me a bit to rest. No parents in sight. She couldn't even touch the bottom had there been no waves! she spent the next few minutes swimming the metre or so between me and my friend, holding tight to both of us. She was not a strong swimmer. When we went to shore we brought her with us and insisted on deliverying to her parents. They were all, eh, no worries. No concern at all. I'm all for free range kids but sheesh. So risky!
posted by kitten magic at 5:38 AM on August 1, 2015 [1 favorite]

Whooo, this took me right back to summer-camp lifeguarding days (8 years total). It is stressful.

I would make the worst lifeguard: "EVERYONE OUT OF THE POOL, YOU'RE ALL DROWNING"

I got really hypervigilant

After enough hours accumulated doing this, I don't think it ever really leaves you. To this day, I can't go to a beach or pool without scanning nearly constantly whether I am in or near the water.

It's also the reason lifeguards really need frequent breaks and need to be able to change positions often. Boredom can set in, eyes can glaze over. People think about the physical work of guarding but in fact it's primarily mental work, concentration and visual processing and resisting the abundant distractions.

The 'right teenagers' don't work at my local pool.

This sounds like a supervisory problem. In most US states pools are regulated by departments of health and are required to have someone in the role of pool director; often a job requirement is to have Red Cross Water Safety Instructor level training or higher. That person is responsible for meeting water safety regulations and overseeing any guard staff. It's absolutely true that the pool director makes the staff as good, or as sucky, as they are. If you're concerned about the quality of the guarding you could ask to meet with the pool director and/or head water safety instructor.

The thing that's really glaring about every video that's come up for me is that every last one of the drowning kids was black.

Yes, this is a serious equity issue. The summer camp where I worked had a mix of city kids, many of them black and poor, country kids, and suburban/affluent city kids. The difference in water experience, practice, and training even by the age of six or eight was evident. Deficits in water skills are related to disinvestment in urban infrastructure and patterns of exclusion, segregation and discrimination, including the racist closure of public pools. Swim teaching is justice work.

The hardest (oddest?) part? You learn that a fairly likely outcome of your attempt to rescue a conscious non-swimmer is that you will be attacked, and so you have to learn underwater combat tactics, so that you won't be drowned the first time you try to carry out a rescue.

Loved your comment but I think (while essentially true) taking about "underwater combat tactics" overemphasizes the worst-case scenario; I think this is really best expressed as preserving personal safety using defensive maneuvers as necessary. I mean, yes, I learned to do the neck hold that shoulders one arm out of the way, but that was something more common in practice histrionics than in any actual rescue situations I experienced. It's true that victims panic, and basically try to climb onto anything nearby them. That might be you if you are rescuing them, and if the water's deep the victim can push you under, kick you, stick you in the eye, pull an ear practically off, wrap their clingy arms around you in an immobolizing vise grip, and any number of other things that might get you both into trouble. For this reason, lifeguard training really emphasizes minimizing contact with the victim to the degree possible. If you watch the videos, you'll see the lifeguard often pushes their pool bouy out to the victim or gets it under the victim rather than lifting the victim themselves.

I'm actually a little surprised at the number of leap-in rescues in this pool since often you're taught to use a reach pole or bouy before resorting to going in, because it's tricky to be so close. Especially true with adult victims.

I'm not impressed with those guards. They lost visual with the kids when they entered the water (no stride jump) and potentially put themselves at risk during the rescue. Although, it seems they can stand on the bottom which is a mitigating factor.

I agree, this goes against the practice I was taught. Though their observation skills are good, their rescue skills are a little iffy.

Not usually, in my experience....they're staged?

I seriously doubt it. They look entirely real to me. The flailing is not uncommon - there are different ways to get into a drowning situation, and setting off across a wider gap of water than you really have skills for is one, and flailing goes with that. People are trying to "climb" out of the water to get a good breath, and the rapid activity reduces their ability to breathe calmly and their bouyancy, and after a few flails they start to get tired and sink.
posted by Miko at 6:23 AM on August 1, 2015 [12 favorites]

I love watching the lifeguards at Great Wolf Lodge. They're very well trained, and their watch routines are like clockwork.

And every now and again, one of the senior leaders quietly pulls out a stopwatch and sneaks one of these in the pool.

I totally thought that link was going here.
posted by apparently at 6:31 AM on August 1, 2015 [1 favorite]

Oh my god Quilford. Oh god. What if she'd drowned. What if you'd drowned. What if you'd both drowned. Oh my god. Private pools: illegal! Fill 'em all in! Jesus god above, I'm all goose pimply.
posted by Don Pepino at 6:32 AM on August 1, 2015

Verifying ob1quixote 's digging:
Computer programmer Francisco Saldaña created the simple educational game to help people recognize the deadly situation. A person who is drowning is physiologically incapable of calling out or waving for help – meaning often there is little noise or splash.

In his marine safety guide Mario Vittone, a Coast Guard veteran, describes some things to look for instead:

The individual’s mouth bobs above and below the surface while the body remains upright without evidence of kicking.

The individual’s arms spread to the side and push down against the water to try and push their mouths out of the water.

The videos that Mr. Saldaña used show lifeguards successfully rescuing children from drowning and come from the YouTube channel of the Genesis Project in Charleston County, which aims to reduce the number of drownings in rural areas by providing access to swimming and water safety classes.
Here are many more videos from the Genesis Project - who do run the YouTube channel "Lifeguard rescue." Utterly real.
posted by Miko at 6:34 AM on August 1, 2015 [5 favorites]

Wow I was awful at this. I'm going to see if I can find a lifeguard course for people who don't want to be actual lifeguards but just want to be able to respond if something happens, similar to first aid courses and so on. Surely that has to be a thing?

I almost drowned once in a public pool. The lifeguard on duty didn't notice anything was wrong, so I'm thankful that my dad was actually watching me. I was playing around underwater and I got disoriented, so that I couldn't find the surface, and it really didn't take long at all for things to go bad.

I was also rescued from the ocean once. I'd drifted over to a part of the beach which was rocky, and I got into trouble when waves started throwing me against the rocky bottom. The water was relatively shallow, but every time I'd try to right myself I'd be thrown against the rocks again and have the wind knocked out of me, so that I couldn't actually get myself out of the water. None of the adults were paying attention, but one of the other kids, who was maybe 11 or 12 at the time, noticed and ran in to pull me out.

All I know is, we're looking for a house to buy at the moment and I'm excluding from consideration every single one with a pool. Just not worth the risk.
posted by lwb at 9:44 AM on August 1, 2015 [4 favorites]

I was once at a pool party where an enormous convention booked out a municipal swimming pool / water park type thing at 11pm. The place was rammed to the gills, waaay over capacity with happy people determined to have fun, many of whom had been drinking. Someone found and put out all the pool toys. The queue for the water slide was a mile long and singing - it sounded like a football match - then they all started diving down the slide tube thing five at a time until there were like 40 people in there at once. Some poor lifeguard went up on a balcony and was trying to give instructions via a megaphone but nobody could even hear it. It was the most fun party I ever went to in my life.

Only now do I realise just how much those lifeguards must have been shitting themselves.
posted by emilyw at 3:21 PM on August 1, 2015 [3 favorites]

woah, that was stressfull - I was so distracted by all the activity in that pool - it seemed overpopulated to me.

At school, the life-guard course was mandatory, but I almost failed and came in last in class. I am not a confident swimmer at all. I can't imagine why someone with no swimming skills would ever go into water.

When my daughter was two, we went as a family to a huge pool-area, with several different pools. At one point, I asked my mother-in-law to take care of the baby in the baby while I swam some laps. Suddenly, my baby jumped into the lap-pool right in front of me! Long story short, mother-in-law had found it necessary to show baby where mum was. Baby was a baby, and had no sense of depth or fear. I shouted out that I was no good at diving, but no one reacted, and I managed to dive down after her. I was terrified, and exhausted, and handed baby up to mother-in-law, with the intention of swimming to the ladder. Then baby jumped in again! Again, not one person reacted. I suppose at this stage, people thought we were doing this deliberately, but I had cried out loud for help, and to this day I can't see how the life-guards could permit something like that going on in the lap-pool.
posted by mumimor at 3:46 PM on August 1, 2015 [4 favorites]

Lwb: what you want is a water safety class. You can start with the Red Cross water safety information, here.
posted by gingerest at 5:20 PM on August 1, 2015 [2 favorites]

The weird thing is that the one time as a child I remember seeing another kid start drowning, he didn't flail at all.

I was about ten, over at my neighbor's pool. My mom and brother and I were there, and so were my neighbors and their two kids (Lisa and Jeremy) and another family, one of whom had a little boy, about five. Lisa and I could swim like fish, and so could my brother and Jeremy. The other little boy - Jason, I think his name was - did okay with water-wing things, so Jason had those, and a cheap inflatable tube thing, and the kids were all in and out of the pool all afternoon, the adults sort of standing around talking and taking turns keeping an eye on us.

At some point, late afternoon, Lisa and I were taking a break on the deck with the grownups, sort of spacing out. The adults were talking, I was just sort of laying back and looking at the sky listening to the buzz of talk.

And suddenly Lisa screeched: "JASON'S DROWNING IN THE POOL, MOM!"

All our heads whipped to the pool.

He wasn't flailing. All I saw was the tube, and Jason's face in its center, turned up to the sky; bobbing up and down, his lips just barely cresting the surface each time he bobbed up and down; he wasn't flailing, he wasn't trying to move himself, just bobbing.

And for a split second I just stood there, shocked and trying to take this in; it was absolutely silent. And then from the corner of my eye I saw one of the grownups diving into the pool towards him, followed a moment later by Lisa's father jumping in off the diving board. And then the next few minutes was a chaos of them bringing Jason to the pool deck and Jason finally coughing up water and then crying and all the adults huddled around him and soothing him, and me just kind of standing there in shock.

I don't even remember who Jason was or how we knew his family, but that was an utterly eerie sight.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:31 AM on August 2, 2015 [2 favorites]

mumimor: “ I can't see how the life-guards could permit something like that going on in the lap-pool.”
These days, there's nothing saying they're actually lifeguards. It was recently revealed that here in the Atlanta Metro, the company contracted to run some of the public pools didn't make sure the people they hired as lifeguards were certified or even that there were enough of them. That same company runs pools all over the area and all over the country as well.

“Lifeguard calls DeKalb Co. 911 for help instead of reviving boy on his own”
“Pool operator accused of safety violations”
“Company in DeKalb near drowning has Atlanta contract”
“DeKalb County cancels contract with pool operator”
“Atlanta to seek bids on pool contract”
posted by ob1quixote at 10:12 AM on August 2, 2015 [4 favorites]

Now I want to buy gifts for all the lifeguards at our town pool.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 1:51 PM on August 2, 2015

I spotted them but I didn't click. Where are the parents?
posted by turbid dahlia at 8:58 PM on August 2, 2015

I was a lifeguard for ten years, an ARC lifeguard instructor trainer, and a pool manager. I looked at this earlier and didn't even realize this was interactive because it was so weird and awkward:
  • The camera angle and FOV make it hard to tell where I'm supposed to actually be watching. The swimmers are different sizes relative to each other and on some, the victim is far back in the frame.
  • Guards have zones that they scan and are positioned for best visibility to see above AND below the water. I wasn't really sure where I was supposed to actually be looking.
  • There wasn't enough time for me to actually determine the behaviors and abilities of the swimmers I could see. It takes a few minutes to get to know the swimmers. Even if I had just started in a location, the previous guard would have informed me of any weak swimmers or other potential problems.
  • There was one where there was a supervisor-looking-type talking to the lifeguard and she kept turning away from the pool. I was more distracted by yelling at her to stop turning away.
I'm not griping, just noting some things about the implementation that just made it hard for me. It really is quite different when you're actually guarding. One of the main things we would teach is to use peripheral vision. Your foveal vision would be used to determine the condition of an individual swimmer: their posture, their kick, breathing/head position, general abilities and confidence in the water. But at the same time, being aware of as much as you can in your peripheral vision. That part of your vision is built to pick up motion, which is useful for active drowning victims. I always tried to use my ears as well. Not to hear calls for help, but to hear changes in swimmer noise that might indicate problems.

The description below the video about the instinctive drowning response describes (at least what we in the Red Cross called) an active drowning victim. There is another type that we called distressed swimmers. These swimmers are still somewhat horizontal in the water but aren't making much forward progress. They are more able to call out for help and self-rescue, but sometimes they panic and lose some awareness. I watched through some of the videos and couldn't see a classic distressed swimmer, but I did see something a bit similar. The swimmer falls off the flotation device (which are fucking evil in almost all cases), panics, and starts drowning. It seems that they can touch the bottom, even when the waves are a bit higher, but because of the panic, they aren't able to. Similarly, a lot of rescues can happen in places near ladders, walls, and areas just past where the swimmer can stand because they aren't paying attention and they get away from a safe area.

Regarding the race disparity of the victims presented, I am completely unsurprised. I worked at a pool in a suburb of Detroit. When a black child who we didn't recognize arrived, we would always be a bit more attentive of them. I encouraged preventative guarding, where if a swimmer started to look tired or would try to do something that would put them in danger, I would call that out (much to the protestations of children and their parents). It's pretty shitty and sad that we had to be that way, but there was just little support for people to provide swimming lessons to black children.

I could go on and on about this, so I'm happy to answer questions or whatever. I've felt pretty guilty about my certifications expiring over the last few years since the career change, so maybe I need to change that. It's a little hard though when you've been avoiding swimming pools as much as possible (I can tell you things that will ensure that you will never want to go in a pool again).
posted by bonje at 10:04 PM on August 2, 2015 [9 favorites]

Oh, I do have this bit of safety advice: if you are grabbed or otherwise put into danger by a drowning swimmer, GO UNDERWATER. Take a big breath, go underwater, push away away from the victim, and swim underwater as far away as you can. Being underwater is the last place a drowning person wants to be and they should release you quickly. Get yourself out of danger so that you don't become another victim.
posted by bonje at 10:09 PM on August 2, 2015 [12 favorites]

When I was in college at the University of Chicago, you had to take a swim test during freshman orientation. It was fairly simple -- swim 100 m without stopping or touching the bottom. If you failed, you had to take a swim class until you were able to pass the test. This was a requirement to graduate. They recently did away with the swim test, which seems like a bad decision, especially give the proximity of Lake Michigan and all its charms.
posted by coppermoss at 7:12 AM on August 3, 2015 [5 favorites]

When I was, maybe, 5, and not a swimmer, we were playing out on the dock at the lake at dusk, after a day of sailing. I wasn't wearing a life jacket. The grownups were drinking and relaxing and not paying attention. Phil R, who was a swimmer and probably assumed all kids swam, pushed me in the lake. I remember the green bubbles. My big brother saw the small splash. He was a lifeguard, and came in after me. So we had a bonfire, and I got to sit in a blanket and get warm and dry.

As a pre-teen, we were staying at a camp on an island in a tidal river. I paddled out on a raft, then the tide changed, and the power of tide + river is strong. I paddled for all I was worth, and made it back to shore.

20 or so years ago, trying to get a canoe off some brush in a river, the painter got wrapped around my leg and pulled me under, requiring a lot of effort in the fast river, under the canoe, to get free.

I took and passed a basic lifeguarding class at the Y. The hardest part was bringing up a weight from the deep end. I figure the training has stood me in good stead. All of our scary stories show how freaking dangerous the water is. I live in sight of a lake; sometimes the stories don't have happy endings.
posted by theora55 at 9:40 AM on August 3, 2015 [4 favorites]

After enough hours accumulated doing this, I don't think it ever really leaves you. To this day, I can't go to a beach or pool without scanning nearly constantly whether I am in or near the water.

Absolutely. It's been about 8 years since I worked as a lifeguard and taught lifeguarding, but no way I could stand in front of any body of water - pool, lake, ocean, whatever - and not instinctively face it, scanning the water.

The angle of these videos do make it more difficult to spot the victim, but I still managed to identify them on the couple of videos I watched. The thing to remember is that those lifeguards should have a pretty good idea who they should be paying closer attention to each time they scan their zone. They build up a mental model of the area each time they scan (roughly 20 seconds to complete a full scan of the zone), tracking who they think may be at-risk, watching and listening for anything that's changed. I never had to work at a busy wave pool, but it looks exhausting and I'd be surprised if the rotation time for that zone was any more than 10-15 minutes.

The big difference between lifesaving and lifeguarding is the focus on active prevention. A lifesaver is someone who steps in and reacts to a crisis. A lifeguard will do that too, but they spend their time trying to prevent it from happening in the first place. A lifeguard is highly trained and comes armed with the right equipment, a full (written) risk assessment of their area so they know the problems they're likely to encounter, and the skills to recognize and act on problems before they develop. Every single incident that takes place (whether that's giving a band-aid to someone that cut their foot, to clearing the pool for a full on spinal rescue sequence) gets written up in an incident report and analyzed to determine if any preventive measures could be taken to avoid a similar incident in the future.
posted by TwoWordReview at 12:47 PM on August 3, 2015 [3 favorites]

I've had moments while playing around in the ocean surf of being pushed under/pulled back by a wave and not getting that breath of air when I thought I was going to. I always recovered quickly and was never in any real danger (I don't think), but it's a scary feeling. I can't imagine how bad it would be if you weren't a confidant swimmer.
posted by vibratory manner of working at 12:23 PM on August 4, 2015

The mentions in the Hacker News thread of bad floatation equipment actually helping to drown people reminded me of the single time in my life I've been afraid in the water. I've always been a good swimmer and totally comfortable in and under the water. There's been a couple of times in the ocean where I've felt *wary* (bodysurfing in offshore hurricane driven waves, swimming without a wetsuit at Half Moon Bay), but never afraid.

Until the day I was doing the pool part of the recertification for scuba. I wanted to dive the kelp forests in Monterey Bay, but I hadn't scubaed for a decade-plus so I decided it would be best to retake the course. So I wangled a bunch of friends into it, we scheduled a weekend down in Monterey and a set of classes beforehand. But then we got to the pool part, and they didn't have the right kind of weights to bring me to zero buoyancy in my wetsuit (being on the fat side.) So the instructor put me in a buoyancy vest and dumped a bunch of lead in the front pocket. I got in the deep end and discovered that yanked me face down in the water and it took vigorous sculling to keep upright.

I yelled at the instructor that this wasn't working, and he said 'whatever, just use your snorkel'. I tried that briefly, and there is a big fucking difference between using a snorkel because you want to look under the water and using a snorkel because you are being physically pulled facedown into the water. So I sculled back upright and said, in a frankly panicky tone, that I could not do it like this and we needed to fix the weight, and I got out of the vest.

The bad part was that between too many people, someone else fainting due to it being a hot day in a wetsuit, and I suspect the instructor not really giving a fuck, he never got back to me to figure out a weight solution that was balanced, there wasn't time for another pool session before the vacation, and I ended up going tidepooling while my friends dove the kelp forests.

But I'm still not sorry I said no. I had always been well, not contemptuous, but felt superior to people who were afraid in the water, because it was so easy. The panicky feeling as my face was yanked under water, having to scull at a rate that I couldn't sustain forever and knowing that if I tired I'd be yanked back down... scary shit.
posted by tavella at 12:41 PM on August 4, 2015 [1 favorite]

I was sitting on a sailboat moored in a harbor with my boyfriend at the time and his parents. We were relaxing with beers after a day of sailing. About 20 yards a way my bf's brother and his girlfriend and their three year old toddler were moored on his sailboat. The two adults were busy stowing sails and the toddler was wandering around the deck without a life jacket. All of us watching from the deck of the other boat saw the toddler fall into the water - I remember that he sank like a stone. Fortunately the mom's bf saw - or heard - him fall in and jumped in after him, while the girlfriend shrieked from the deck. We all held our breath until they popped out of the water together and the kid got hoisted back onto the boat. That kid falling in the water is an image that will never leave me.

Of course, the kid never went near the water again without a lifejacket on.
posted by bendy at 3:43 PM on August 8, 2015

With these videos, like other people I found that once I was familiar with the drowning response, it was really distinctive and obvious. It helped that almost every one of the ones I watched were precipitated by the child flipping off their float-tube. There's descriptions here of the drowning response as arm motions like "climbing a ladder", but most of these videos that I watched showed the child with their arms to the sides, where it was more like flapping like a bird in order to stay above water. But, otherwise, the periodic head just above and below water was regular and distinctive.

I never had any swim lessons that I recall and so I never learned formally to swim; but I was comfortable in the water and could swim in an untutored fashion above and below the water from an early age. I only swam in the ocean on a very few occasions, but through my childhood I'd swim at the public and university pools and then occasionally in lakes. I don't recall ever being distressed ... except once.

When I was about 20 I took my sister and younger cousins to the wave park. I swam as far forward as allowed to be nearest the wave generator, where the waves were highest. But something happened where I dived under, but came up right in the wave trough such that I was immediately inundated by the next wave. And I got caught in that rhythm -- every time I thought I'd get a breath, a new wave would wash over me.

Although I eventually managed to rescue myself, what I recall was an increasing terror and a diminishing sense of capability until I did. And it scared the hell out of me sufficiently that I think about now and then 30 years later.

But I didn't realize quite how much it scared me until just now when I watched one of the videos where the wave pool is running pretty strong and the child is beginning to drown as the waves keep moving over them. I experienced a sudden intense anxiety watching that video. I think that experience frightened more than I had realized.

I assume that people who swim and surf at beaches with moderate waves are very familiar with and prepared for this sort of thing? For me, lacking any real experience with waves, it seemed very different than anything I'd experienced before and basically like the water was actively working very hard to drown me.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 10:09 PM on August 9, 2015 [3 favorites]

As a teenager, I coached wind ensembles at a by-audition performing arts summer day camp. One of my duties was watching the kids during their daily pool time. I had completed the Red Cross lifesaving course, but I'd never worked as a guard in an organized setting. We used a nearby school's facility, but it was very small, like a hotel pool, and crammed with 50+ screaming city kids who, on average, were not very competent swimmers. It was crowded and chaotic and I just hated it. My voice doesn't carry and the yelling/whistle blowing, along with the sustained concentration and bright sun, exhausted me. I rescued the panicked and the drowning on the regular.

I didn't return the next summer, despite the director's entreaties. A camper drowned. Apparently she'd been hanging off the diving board (verboten!) and another kid jumped on it. The reverberating board smacked her head and down she went. The guard never saw her--too many swimmers-- until the other kids vacated the pool.

Friends who still worked at the camp maintained that it wouldn't have happened under my watch; apparently I was a far stricter enforcer of safety rules. I wanted to believe! But in reality I felt that I had dodged a bullet. I had no confidence that the outcome would have been any different. Moreover, I knew instinctively that it would have been very hard for me to recover my equilibrium, let alone any perception of myself as a effective individual with agency, in the aftermath. Although I know people who caused (or failed to prevent) someone's death and they found a way to live with the outcome and lead productive lives, it could have easily put me into a tailspin that would have lifelong ramifications. Had the death occurred on my watch, I would have believed that I deserved nothing from life--no kindness, no comfort, no accomplishments, no health, no friendships, no love, and certainly no forgiveness--at all.

All the same, I still felt this inchoate guilt that I wasn't around to help. So I still scan the water.
posted by carmicha at 5:18 AM on August 13, 2015 [8 favorites]

What a terrible story.

in reality I felt that I had dodged a bullet

You did. While it's great that others respected you, any pool safety program that depends on the conscientiousness of a single staff member not in leadership is a very bad one to start with. There are too many variables to count on one person being completely on point every single minute of every shift. It sounds like overall terrible management resulting in every camp staffer's (and parent's) nightmare.
posted by Miko at 5:51 AM on August 13, 2015 [7 favorites]

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