Magazine article Parks & Recreation

Systematic Scanning for Lifeguards

Magazine article Parks & Recreation

Systematic Scanning for Lifeguards

Article excerpt

During the summer of 1994, 763 lifeguards from 20 states and Canada responded to a questionnaire designed to help develop systematic scanning strategies for all water safety personnel. This preliminary survey was an important first step as a part of a long range study being conducted at Penn State University to improve observation, surveillance, and scanning skills of lifeguards. The ultimate objective of the long range investigation is to add objectivity and accountability to what has been a very subjective training process. In addition, we hoped to start standardizing scanning strategies so that all lifeguards are practicing similar surveillance skills while on duty.

Novice lifeguards often do not have necessary visual skills, nor do they know the idiosyncracies of their facility. They need to acquire the skills and understand the systems used by veteran guards up front, so they are: lOt in a position of "learning while earning." In light of these concerns, it is important to assist lifeguard supervisors in evaluating job performance of guards.

The strength of systematic scanning strategies is that both supervisor and guard will be able to state exactly how and what each lifeguard observed every minute while on duty.

The Survey

Most discussions of lifeguard practices tell lifeguards how they should watch the water. This survey asked lifeguards to tell us how they actually do watch the water The survey was confidential; no names or workplaces were given to help ensure honest and sincere responses.

The 763 lifeguards surveyed worked in a variety of swimming environments (see Table 1).


It is important to note that some authorities suggest that one lifeguard should have responsibility for no more than 2,000 square feet of water surface area. Table 2 indicates that 58% of the guards were required to cover areas of responsibility greater than the recommended standard, while over 42% (nearly half) had twice the recommended area to cover.


In truth, not only is the size of the swimming area important for safety, but the number of swimmers within that area also must be considered. Some authorities suggest one life guard for every 25 to 50 swimmers. The survey revealed that range is exceeded at more than half of the facilities involved (see Table 3).


One of the primary purposes of this survey was to investigate the observational techniques currently used by lifeguards to monitor their swimming areas. Seventy-three percent of the respondents answered that they used specific observational techniqnes, while 27% replied that they had no special techniques. The description of the techniques cited are categorized and reported in Table 4. In addition to observational techniques that fall into specific categories, some lifeguard, said they are "looking for misbehavior," "using assertive observation," "mentally rehearsing specific rescue techniques," "group watching," "activity watching," "block scanning," and "I watch everything."


It must be emphasized that 74% responded by citing "scanning" or the "10/20" rule. Unfortunately, no light was shed on how these techniques were actually accomplished. It is hoped that our future research will add insight into this crucial area.

The lifeguards were asked where they learned the techniques that they used while on duty. They responsed as follows:

* Lifeguard Training (generic) 39%

* Ellis and Associates 30%

* American Red Cross 12%

* In-Service Training 14%

* Colleagues 2%

* Other/Miscellaneous 3%

Another aspect of the investigation focused on whether specific training techniques would help the lifeguards be more effective. Eighty-five percent answered "yes," stating that more training in this area would be helpful; 15% thought that it was not necessary. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.