Posted by: Brad Nixon | May 30, 2017

Watch the Water. This Isn’t “Baywatch.”

This weekend, the Memorial Day weekend in the U.S., was our ad hoc official start of summer, at least insofar as the consensus for the date on which swimming pools and beaches are open.

Wherever you are, and whatever season it is in your part of the world, take a moment to consider water safety with me, please. Consider this a message from my mother, avid swimmer and Registered Nurse, who is no longer here to deliver the message in person.

Learn to swim, teach your children to swim and watch the water.

“Watch the water” is the guiding principal of lifeguards everywhere. In a moment of inattention, a person can lose their life by drowning, whether they’re a practiced swimmer or not.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that an average of 3,536 people drowned in the U.S. each year between 2005 and 2014: about 10 each day, not including another 332 people per year in boating accidents.

Here in southern California, the Los Angeles County Fire Department Lifeguard Division lifeguards watch 72 miles of coastline. With about 50 million people visiting the beaches during a year, they perform an average of about 10,000 rescues per year. That is serious business.

There’s a dramatized version of lifeguards on the big screen right now: “Baywatch.” Without having seen the movie, I can speculate that onscreen, lifeguards are more glamorous and their work more dramatic than is apparent in the real-life work they do day in and day out. There is, though, nothing much more dramatic than saving a life, and with being prepared to act on a moment’s notice every minute a lifeguard’s on duty.

Here’s a photo I shot two weeks ago on Redondo Beach near the Pier:

LAFD lifeguards Brad Nixon 7042 (640x427)

What I like about that photo of actual lifeguards (red jackets) at work is the fact that the lifeguard on duty in the tower has come out to talk to the supervisor who’s just driven up in the vehicle. Notice that whatever they’re discussing, they’re sitting side-by-side, both WATCHING THE WATER. It never stops.

They’re not watching for what you might expect. It’s important for you to know what it is, because sometimes you are the lifeguard, not a trained¬†professional.

You may be at a backyard pool, a lake in a nearby park or at a cookout by a river.

If there are people in the water, young or old, non-swimmers splashing by the edge¬†or excellent swimmers out in the water, someone should be watching from shore. Here’s why.

A drowning person doesn’t call for help, doesn’t wave their arms to indicate distress. They’re drowning, and their only concern is with saving themselves through something called Instinctive Drowning Response. They have no air with which to call for help, because they’re trying to breathe. Their arms are engaged in pressing against the water to keep their heads above water and they can’t signal for assistance. They’re fighting for their lives and have no energy or mental attention for anything but survival.

I know, the pool’s only 15 feet from the back door, and you and all the adults are sitting right there, just inside when the kids run out to the pool. If something happens, you won’t hear it. There won’t be any noise. You have to watch. The pool, the lake, the river, whatever, are off-limits unless someone’s watching. Period.

I’m not a trained lifeguard, either, so I’ll direct your attention to an article and an instructive video that explain what to watch for. Keys you’ll learn are that drowning people don’t LOOK like drowning people do in movies, because they’re not thrashing about: They’re entirely focused on trying to stay above water. If they’re drowning, you have less than 30 seconds to get to them.

Please CLICK HERE to read the details.

Teach your kids to swim. It could save their lives, but it could also give them something they’ll enjoy for a lifetime. That’s straight from Nurse Nixon. She and I wish you a safe, happy summer in the water.

The link to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention above has additional information about preparedness and prevention.

Read about the Los Angeles County Fire Department Lifeguard Division here.

© Brad Nixon 2017


  1. Great advice, and a nice reminder to appreciate the very hard work that goes into lifeguarding duties. Ironically the movies are good at glamorizing lots of professions as well as the act of creating movies.


Leave a Comment. I enjoy hearing from readers.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.


%d bloggers like this: