Turning the tides on child drowning
Rebecca Wear Robinson
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Lifeguards – Worth The Investment?

by Rebecca Wear Robinson on March 6, 2013

Lifeguards are really cool. And hey, great job! Sit in the sun, hang out at the beach or pool. Easy life, and they even get paid? Is it a cush job or are they really worth the investment and salary?

Emphatically YES – a good lifeguard is not just worth every penny, but is an amazing return on investment. From the teenager diligently scanning the local pool to the famed Hawaiian Watermen and Surf Life Saving Australia, their presence alone reduces the risk of drowning by a staggering amount. The Center for Disease Control  and the United States Lifesaving Association found that the chance of drowning at a beach protected by lifeguards can be less than 1 in 18 million. Those are pretty amazing odds in your favor and an amazing return on investment since drowning is expensive. Even better, there are a number of lifeguards who then donate their time and talents to train people in other, at-risk, countries. International Surf Lifesaving Association (ISLA) is one of the best examples – 100% volunteer-based and very effective.

More than 75% of open water drownings occur when a lifeguard is not present. In the U.S., there is one drowning death for every 4,832 rescues at beaches with a lifeguard on duty. Their importance was even recognized by an international task force when they developed the International Open Water Safety Guidelines.  The message from everyone is clear: Swim in areas with a lifeguard.

It’s not all dramatic Baywatch rescues, in fact, any good lifeguard will tell you that 95% of their job is prevention. Educating the public, intervening when they see potentially dangerous behavior, enforcing warnings about unsafe areas. Basically having a lifeguard on duty is like having a firefighter stand in your front yard 24/7, just in case a fire breaks out.

As for the training, it’s rigorous and continuous. Training in CPR and First Aid, acting out emergency scenarios, and the physical training it takes to do ocean rescues. I’ve seen the Hawaiian Watermen train and it would put some elite athletes to shame.

So, next time you are at a beach or pool, make sure you swim near a lifeguard, and maybe give them a thumbs up and yell ‘thank you!’, but don’t be surprised if they keep scanning the water for danger while they respond, they’re professionals – and a great investment.

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