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Rescue / Lifesaving Strokes - Life Saving, Not Survival Strokes

What is A Rescue Stroke?

Basically, any stroke where you keep your head above water and you can do a Rescue with it.

Image of two hands only above water looklike drowning: This article is about rescue stroke
Without a rescue. Photo by Blake Cheek on Unsplash

There are three strokes used in Rescue or Life-Saving:
  • Side Stroke
  • Life-Saving Backstroke
  • Breaststroke
But they are modified versions.

I don't intend to spend time describing how to use them in the context of rescue because life-saving is a specialist subject and I would, therefore, prefer to leave it to a specialist website. But an excellent example of how each is used can be found here.

I do want to point out the differences between these swimming strokes and rescue strokes.

Basically, it comes down to the use of your arms. That is when you rescue someone one or both of your arms are used differently.

Wait... Get Your Lesson Plans Here

Side Stroke Rescue

If you've looked link above, you will see that in the case of the side stroke one arm is clearly used in supporting the injured swimmer. Regardless of whether you are towing them at a distance with something or supporting them directly with your arm around their chest. (Trust me I speak from experience, if you get the choice you will want to do the tow at a distance using a towel or kickboard or anything else you can get your hands on. Towing around the chest is mighty hard work.)

But regardless of the technique, you use you are only swimming with three limbs, which changes the whole dynamics of the stroke. You can do it if you know how to do sidestroke properly but it is definitely not a simple side stroke it is something different.

Life-Saving Backstroke

Again from the above link, you will see that lifesaving backstroke involves using both your hands to support the injured swimmer. This is not survival backstroke which is slow steady and as long as you are not swimming away from a shipwreck, a very relaxing stroke.

Survival backstroke is about maintaining heat by keeping your legs and arms together as long as possible. It is about travelling as far as you can with absolute minimum effort, conserving as much energy as possible.

There is nothing about life-saving backstroke that is conserving energy and you don't have time to conserve heat. Your legs are going like anything. It is hard and exhausting. The two strokes are diffidently different.


You may try and suggest that lifesaving breaststroke is the same as survival breaststroke and in a sense, you would be right. The swimming action is exactly the same but the stroke is not.

Your arms move in a shorter stroke and faster in order to support the swimmer that you are rescuing and get them to safety as soon as possible. As with survival backstroke, survival breaststroke is about slow and steady conservation of energy, rescue or life-saving breaststroke has nothing to do with conserving energy.

Survival Strokes & Rescue / Lifesaving Strokes - Not The Same

What is my point in this?

My point is not just to educate on the variations in the strokes but also a desperate attempt to try and do my part to convince people that a rescue stroke is not a swimming stroke and you should not allow yourself to be confused by people who use the term interchangeably. A rescue stroke and a survival stroke are not the same and they should not be referred to as being so.


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