Most people in trouble in the water don’t drown, but some rescuers do. From 1980 to 2016, 93 people drowned in New Zealand while attempting to rescue others, 51 of those at beaches. In most cases the original victim survived and those who drowned were family members.

In 2013 WaterSafe Auckland completed research with 415 festival goers and found that despite most (62%) estimating their swimming distance competency at less than 100m, predominantly in a pool (85%), almost half (47%) indicated that their first response to a drowning victim would be to jump in and perform a rescue. More males than females (55% vs. 40%) responded they would jump in, and more females than males reported they would seek the help of lifeguards (65% vs. 54%).

Moran, K., & Stanley, T. (2013). Readiness to Rescue: Bystander Perceptions of Their Capacity to Respond in a Drowning Emergency. International Journal of Aquatic Research and Education, 7(4), 290-300.

In response to this information WaterSafe Auckland developed educational tools around The 4Rs of Bystander Rescue

  • Recognise – signs of distress
  • Respond – provide flotation
  • Rescue – from land is the safest
  • Revive – provide care to the rescued person

The tools were used to educate parents as part of an in-water water safety programme in the summer of 2015/16 where pre and post-surveys were used to evaluate the intervention. Analysis of the post-intervention surveys suggests that knowledge of safe bystander rescue techniques showed improvement as a consequence of participation in the water safety programme with increases in the correct responses to all but one of the rescue knowledge statements in the post-intervention survey. Positive change pre and post-intervention was evident on dissuading would-be rescuers from immediately diving into the water, but most still considered this the correct action; so strong emphasis should be placed on water entry as the last, not first resort in a drowning emergency. A more encouraging shift in understanding relates to the necessity to take flotation with them if forced to enter the water, with most all respondents aware of this crucial message after the programme (pre-70%, post-88%). Significantly more males were confident in their ability to perform a rescue than females.

Kevin Moran, Jonathon Webber & Teresa Stanley (2016): The 4Rs of Aquatic Rescue: educating the public about safety and risks of bystander rescue, International Journal of Injury Control and Safety Promotion, DOI: 10.1080/17457300.2016.1224904. Here is a link to the full article