Safe entry into the water

Control Measure Knowledge

When following the hierarchy of risk (Rescue formula) there may be a requirement for operational personnel to enter the water and subsequently exit with a casualty.

To reduce the risk of cold water shock or physical injury, personnel should attempt to identify a safe access point and where possible, walk into or lower themselves into the water. If appropriate, personnel should make the best use of hydrological features that aid safe entry. Some people find that splashing their face and back of neck with cold water helps with this process.

This may require the use of inflatable platforms to assist entry or require additional control measures to be implemented to gain access to a bankside. Diving or jumping into the water should be avoided and only trained personnel should consider this option following an appropriate risk assessment.

A safe point of egress should also be identified; this will not necessarily be the same point as the entry point. Any egress point should consider the effect of hydrology and the condition of the casualty.

Accurately identifying hazards, water conditions and weather conditions are important factors when planning to enter the water. The information that should be considered includes:

  • Water:
    • Speed of flow
    • Depth
    • Temperature
    • Tidal patterns
  • Hydrological hazards, including debris
  • Upstream and downstream conditions
  • Unstable or unsafe structures
  • Current and forecast weather conditions

Any assessment of conditions can vary significantly over short distances or time periods and should be updated regularly.


Depending on the dynamic situation of the incident, and following a suitable risk assessment, entry into water may require personnel to be tethered using appropriate equipment with a release system.

Sea foam

Committing personnel into sea foam of unknown depths and without an appreciation of the location of the water may present risks that far outweigh the benefits. Before committing personnel, it may be necessary to request the attendance of a helicopter to disperse foam that is above waist height. For more information refer to Search, rescue and casualty care – Aerial resources: Helicopters for search and rescue.

Personnel should not attempt a swim rescue and wade only at a maximum of waist depth to protect their airway and cater for depth change due to water action.

It may be necessary to shuffle to check for trip hazards or depth changes. If operating in the water, it may be appropriate to use equipment or other personnel to provide mutual support and stability against wave action, or to protect a casualty.

When working in sea foam, the use of releasable tethers should be considered to allow personnel to track back to a safe point.

Strategic Actions

Tactical Actions