Situational awareness: Water rescue

Control Measure Knowledge

This control measure should be read in conjunction with Situational awareness


Personnel will need to gather information from credible sources to ensure that the correct resources are requested at the earliest opportunity. This information should also be used to identify the potential for the casualty’s survivability, by taking into account the impact of environmental factors. En route to or on arrival at an incident, it may be appropriate to gather information such as:

  • Which agencies are already in attendance
  • Establish communications with and obtain an early brief from the police search adviser (PolSA) and other responder agencies
  • Incident history and any background information; this could be from:
    • Witnesses
    • The initial caller
    • Closed-circuit television (CCTV) footage
    • Tracking or triangulation by using the person’s mobile phone or wearable device
  • Whether there are any unstable or unsafe structures involved
  • Presence of physical evidence, such as clothing or possessions at the potential water entry point (WEP)
  • The time the person entered the water
  • Whether a vehicle is involved
  • Whether the person can be accessed from the surface of the water or land using equipment

Information about the person or people that will inform an effective search includes:

  • Number of People
  • Person’s details including:
    • Name
    • Age
    • Gender
    • Height, weight or size
    • State of mind
    • Mobile phone number
  • Point last seen (PLS) or last known position (LKP) of the person
  • Whether the person was swimming or floating
  • Whether the person is in sight or submerged
  • How long since the person was last seen
  • Whether the person can swim
  • Details of any injuries to the person
  • What the person was wearing
  • Whether the person has a mobile phone or wearable device with them
  • Whether the person has a flotation aid, such as:
    • A life jacket
    • A lifebelt
    • A piece of water sports equipment
  • Information about the environment that will inform an effective search includes:
    • Water temperature and depth
    • Speed of water if relevant
    • Status of tide if relevant
    • Time of day and visibility
    • Weather conditions

All relevant information should be collated to support and inform a water search and rescue. The situational awareness developed by gathering information about the person and the environment should help to inform the survivability model.

Planning points

Point last seen (PLS) is defined as the last known sighting of a person; this may be based on witness information or visual evidence, such as closed-circuit television (CCTV).

Last known position (LKP) is defined as the most recent positive confirmation of a missing person’s location. This may be based on physical indicators, such as property, clothing or tracks.

The water entry point (WEP) may be the PLS and the LKP but ultimately indicates the point where a person entered the water.

Depending on the information available, the police and other rescue organisations may use the PLS, LKP or WEP as the initial planning point (IPP), where a search commences. However, if the PLS, LKP or WEP vary, a PoLSA or search co-ordinator may opt to base the IPP on only one of them.

Strategic Actions

Tactical Actions