Water Survival Tactics For Law Enforcement

Law Enforcement Officers are trained in the academy to be prepared for almost every aspect of the job. They learn law, report writing and train to be proficient in firearms, defensive and arrest tactics, defensive and pursuit driving and in some regions of Florida, how to apprehend an alligator. I periodically and solemnly scroll down the names of our fallen brothers and sisters listed on the Officer Down Memorial Page website and sit in disbelief as I look at the number of line of duty deaths listed each year and then I ultimately focus on the causes of death.  These causes are listed along with the corresponding numbers of officers who befell them during the calendar year. Most of the deaths relate to the high liability training we received in the academy and then later as in-service training with our respective agencies. You know what I’m talking about, the gunfights, the ambushes, the pursuits and the apprehensions gone wrong.  But what about the drownings?

Over 218 officers have drowned in the past 100 years and more recently, 24 in the past 10 years. More officers have drowned in the last ten years than have been victims of stabbings, bombings, electrocutions or even terrorist attacks. With all of these line of duty drownings, why aren’t the academies or agencies providing some type of water survival skills or at least screenings for their officers? This was a question I asked myself and my agency and about 12 years ago. I was granted permission to research and establish a training program to not only evaluate officers in the water, but also prepare them to survive an encounter in and around the water.

We needed to know why these well trained and street smart officers were putting themselves in jeopardy and how they ended up in the water. The majority of them were just doing what they did on a daily basis, trying to help. They ended up in the water as would-be rescuers, but without the training or tools to understand their own limitations, the rescuers became the victims. These officers, for the most part, were not assigned to marine units, they were patrol officers dealing with water related emergencies or in some cases, attempting to apprehend suspects. It was evident that the officers felt compelled to act without fully understanding their limitations and the dangers that a water environment imposed. Most of the deaths occurred in swift water and cold water was a factor in some.

Officers need to be trained in basic, land based rescue operations. Learning to use items to lengthen reach or to throw can mitigate the need for the officer to actually go into the water. Officers need to be trained on what to do if they accidentally end up in the water and what effects the weight of the duty belt and other gear will have on them and their ability to float or swim. The average duty belt with all the gizmos and gadgets weighs in at a hefty 12-15 pounds, add to it keys, knives and a back-up firearm and that weight is insurmountable in the officer’s ability to stay at the surface. Officers need to be trained in basic survival and swimming skills and all exercises need to be conducted in full duty uniform and related gear. They need to be aware of environmental exposure and learn strategies to manage heat loss, as well as proper use of personal floatation devices. They also need training on in-water defensive tactics along with weapon retention and deployment and of course, the use of deadly force.


RAD Training Inc. offers a two and three day Water Survival Tactics program.  Our training techniques involve a progression, with each new lesson building upon the last. During the Water Survival Tactics course, we train initially to keep the officers out of the water. The next stage simulates the officer slipping, falling or being pushed into the water with all of their duty gear on so that they can experience how their buoyance is affected. Most will realize that the air trapped in their uniforms will provide temporary floatation and that they need to seize this opportunity to self-rescue or engage a threat. We then explore treading water, surface swimming and swimming underwater, all while scanning for threats. Defensive tactics, evasion drills, hand gun retention and shooting from the water round off the two day course.

The three day Water Survival Tactics for Boat Patrol Officers course includes all of the above topics along with officer screening tools, self-rescue, defensive positioning, open water swimming, high risk vessel boarding, defensive tactics on the vessel and in the water, evasion drills and regaining control of the patrol vessel scenarios.

After 10 years of providing this training, we are proud to say that we have had a 100% completion rate with no reported injuries.

We can take an officer who has never swam a day in their life and by the end of the day, they are swimming the length of a pool with a handgun drawn or swimming through an obstacle 10ft under water.

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