Cordon controls: Water rescue

Control Measure Knowledge

This control measure should be read in conjunction with Cordon controls


When working near, on or in water, measures should be taken to establish hazard areas to restrict the movement of personnel, depending on levels of training and available equipment. Where possible, areas should be indicated using physical barriers and access should be controlled. However, if a large geographical area is involved, this may not be feasible.

If cordons for hazard areas are required, access should be controlled by using comprehensive briefings and physical barriers. Personnel should be directed to operate in safe areas, such as guarded edges where possible.

Cordons may also be required to prevent members of the public from entering the hazard area. For wider cordons outside of the hazard area, it may be necessary to request the assistance of the police.

Hazard areas can be separated into hot, warm and cold zones. It may not always be appropriate to establish zones, or access to the hot zone may be prevented depending on the risk assessment. Known bodies of water, with limited risk, may not require any hazard zones to be established.

The (page 37) provides an illustration and the following information, which may be applied to a water rescue incident:


An integral part of managing safety at a flood incident is effective control of the inner and outer cordon. Zoning is required to ensure the appropriate response resources are used and that responders operate in the correct locations.

Hot Zone – This is the area that is covered by water and is the high-risk area. Operations in the hot zone should be restricted to trained in-water responders who are appropriately equipped for the environment.

Warm Zone – This is the area adjacent to the water and remains a risk area to responders. A minimum of 3 metres should be maintained from the water. This distance should be increased depending on terrain, e.g. when operating near slopes. Operations in the warm zone should be restricted to responders who are appropriately trained in self-rescue techniques and who are equipped for the environment.

Cold Zone – The cold zone is the safe area located outside the risk zones.

A risk assessment and situational awareness may dictate the need to adjust the zones based on factors such as:

  • Undercut or steep riverbanks
  • Fast flowing water
  • Underfoot conditions

For more information refer to Situational awareness: Water rescue.

It is important that these zones are established, effectively implemented and communicated to all emergency responders as early as possible, to maintain safe working areas and to assist in defining roles, responsibilities and objectives. Any changes to the hazard area or the zones should be communicated to all emergency responders.

The geographic scale of a water rescue incident can make the management of personnel difficult. To establish greater levels of command and control, incident commanders should consider cordon control gateways that perform the activity of logging and permitting the number of personnel committed to the hazard area. This should include the times of entry of personnel, assigned tasks and equipment.

It may be necessary to place appropriate limits on durations committed to the hazard area. The duration of commitment will depend on the required tasks and environmental conditions. Regular radio contact with personnel in the hazard area should be maintained.

Appointing a safety officer can assist in controlling a cordon and the zones within it. For more information refer to Safety officers: Water rescue.

Strategic Actions

Tactical Actions