Scanning busy pools - the 4 Ps

lifeguard scanning busy pool 

Scanning is the systematic visual observation of an aquatic facility, its patrons and their activities. Lifeguards observe patron behaviour and look for signs that could result in an emergency.

Effective scanning is an integral part of aquatic supervision, but it can be difficult in a busy pool with many distractions, lots of noise and large numbers of patrons to watch.

Scanning strategies — the 4 'P's

1. Position

It is important to position yourself so you can see majority of the pool and patrons. This is often tricky due to the layout of the facility and obstructions that block your line of sight, so seeing all of the pool and patrons is not always possible all of the time. Moving around the pool and positioning yourself at higher points or closer to higher-risk areas is often required to effectively supervise the facility.

2. Posture

Maintaining a positive and alert posture not only looks professional to patrons but keeps your mind alert and body active. Changing positions every 5 minutes from sitting, standing and roaming will change your view and prevent your mind wandering and becoming unfocused. Not all facilities allow lifeguards to sit, so managing and changing your posture throughout the day will ensure you stay alert and maintain a professional appearance.

3. Pattern

It can be hard to keep track of all patrons in busy pools. By strategising your scanning into different patterns you can keep your mind alert and maintain a focused scan. Change the way you scan every 5 minutes by using different techniques such as circular, rectangular, up-and-down the lanes or joining the dots to keep yourself focused. Head counting or grouping patrons is another way of keeping track of who is in the pool and what level of swimmers they are.

4. Patrons

Scanning patrons and taking a mental note of the types of patrons you are supervising can keep your mind active and prepare you for the types of emergencies that may occur. Knowing the age groups, swimming abilities, or special needs of your patrons you are supervising will assist your mental preparation in the event of an emergency.


In busy pools there are many distractions that can hinder the ability of a lifeguard to effectively watch a pool. Kids misbehaving, excessive noise, patrons asking questions or wanting to talk to you, environmental distractions such as glare, heat or rain can all reduce the focus of a lifeguard trying to supervise a pool.

To minimise these distractions, you must be aware of them and takes steps to manage them. Ensure the kids that start to misbehave are made aware of the rules and provide them with ground rules and consequences if they do not follow them (e.g. 3 strikes and you’re out). Ensure you are always watching the pool and don’t turn your back if having a quick talk with a patron to answer a question or to provide instructions.

Ensure you position yourself to prevent glare blocking your view of the bottom of the pool; move or roam around and ensure sufficient rotations are taking place with other lifeguards if heat or rain are an issue.

Look after yourself and make sure you are healthy when turning up to shift. Being tired, dehydrated or unwell can affect your ability to concentrate and effectively maintain patron safety at the pool.

Promote the 'Watch Around Water' message at your facility to ensure parents are supervising and keeping within arm’s reach of their children to assist in maintaining effective supervision within the facility.
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