Water survival training is training individuals or groups with a high probability of encountering a life or death situation in water. Typically practiced by rescue units, elite military units, and aircraft pilots who may have to ditch over water, this type of training also presents a demanding variant to traditional fitness training. Water survival training not only provides enhancement in many components of fitness (endurance, stamina), but also provides a much needed skill for overcoming water obstacles from a stream crossing to an amphibious landing. The likelihood of panic induced by the water is extremely high, which is why it's important to build confidence and train individuals to react correctly when they find themselves in situations where water survival is imperative. Not only do soldiers and rescue units need to concern themselves with water survival; it is a fact that 70% of all people live within one hour of a body of water. The likelihood that one may experience a water survival situation is higher than one might expect. In 2000, there were 3,482 unintentional drownings in the United States, an average of nine people per day. (U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)
Treading water involves a person staying in a vertical position in the water while keeping his or her head (at least) above the surface of the water. Treading water provides the person an opportunity to keep the head from becoming submerged; since it doesn't provide sufficient thrust to propel the individual in a specific direction, it is used mostly to stay afloat and to conserve energy that might be wasted by trying to swim to another location. Generally, any method used to do this is considered treading water, however, some methods are more efficient than others. Drowning non-swimmers will often splash and kick in an effort to stay above the surface but their lack of technique along with the shortness of breath and panic cause them to tire quickly and not be able to stay above the surface for long. More experienced swimmers often find their own method of staying above the surface. Some methods include sculling and flutterkicking, and other techniques of staying above the surface. The most common method, however, is the eggbeater kick. The eggbeater kick is an efficient way of stay afloat, and allows for use of the hands for things like first aid, rescue, or holding objects. It is the preferred method of treading water, and it's done by alternating rotation of the legs, with one leg rotating clockwise and the other rotating counter-clockwise. The hands may or may not be used to aid the legs.
Bobbing is a technique used to stay alive when the hands and feet are bound. Even if one doesn't anticipate ever being in a situation like that, this is a great technique to learn and use to build confidence and proficiency in the water. The principle behind bobbing is to expel all the air in the lungs during descent, and upon reaching the bottom, pushing off hard to make the ascent to the surface so you can quickly take a gasp of air, once again expelling it on the way down. Some people also like to expel just enough air so they can make the descent, then expel the rest on the way up. There's no set time as to how long you choose to stay at the bottom. You also want to stay relaxed, and not bend the legs, which would cause drag. Bobbing is most often initiated by jumping into the water to get momentum started. Many people panic during this exercise, which is why you should build up to it (i.e. don't bind people with rope). The dolphin kick is another technique used while the hands and feet are bound, which allows you to maneuver through the water.
Underwaters are nothing more than gliding underneath the surface of the water. Subjects should focus on increasing lung capacity and practice increasing efficiency. Efficiency is going 25 meters in fewer strokes. Ideally,they should be able to go 25m on 5 or 6 strokes. Good stroke techniques to use are a modified breast stroke for the hands and either a frog kick or a dolphin kick with the legs. Sight should be focused at the bottom of the pool while staying alert to avoid crashing into the wall. Relaxation is important; it will enable conservation of oxygen. If the body is tense or flailing through the water, the muscles will consume oxygen that could be put to use increasing the length of the underwater. ALWAYS MAKE SURE A LIFEGUARD OR BUDDY IS PRESENT WHEN DOING ANY UNDERWATER DRILLS. Once the goal of 5 or 6 strokes in 25m is achieved, then try increasing the distance. 50m is the gold standard.
Shallow Water Blackout
A common occurrence during underwaters is shallow-water blackout, which is a loss of consciousness caused towards the end of a breath-hold dive in shallow water (usually less than 16 feet). The cause of this cerebral hypoxia, or a lack of oxygen to the brain.
The most frequent problem in pool training and during the first few diving sessions is ear damage (barotrauma) as a result of inability to equalize pressure between the middle and outer ear. Equalizing this pressure is also called clearing the ears, and the process is incredibly simple to master. It is possible to burst the eardrum if equalization is not done. A burst eardrum will not only damage hearing, but cold water in the middle ear will cause vertigo by chilling the inner ear. Vertigo could induce extreme nausea and vomiting. There are many ways to clear the ears; it makes the pressure in the middle ear become the same as the outside pressure, by letting air enter along the Eustachian tubes, as this does not always happen automatically when the pressure in the middle ear is lower.
Methods of Ear Clearing
The Valsalva Maneuver is the most commonly taught technique. It was created by a 17th Century physician named Antonio Maria Valsalva; it is done by pinching the nose shut and GENTLY blowing as though attempting to blow air out the nostrils. Blowing too hard can cause inner ear damage.
The Frenzel Procedure was created by a German physician named Herman Frenzel, and was used by German Stuka bomber pilots in WWII because they needed a method of hands-free equalization. It is done by placing the tongue on the roof of the mouth, as far forward as possible. While the tongue is held in place, the back of the tongue is gently moved upward. Often a "click" sound is heard internally as the tongue is moved. This action does not constrict the Eustachian tubes or over-pressurize the middle or inner ear, and it allow for use of the hands. It is the safest, most effective way for divers to equalize the pressure in he middle ear. It does, however, take practice to master.
The Toynbee method was discovered by an English physician named Joseph Toynbee. It is done by pinching the nostrils and swallowing.
The idea behind buddy breathing is for the two to share a snorkel. This is usually done with instructor harassment, so both must work as a team to maintain positive control of the snorkel, otherwise the "shark" will swim with it and not allow you to take breaths with it. In this drill, the instructor will provide harassment to the two participants while they take turns getting air from the snorkel. Each participant will have a hand on the snorkel at all times to prevent the cadre from taking it.
Buddy Brick Drills
Buddy brick drills involve two people moving a brick or object from one end of the pool to the other. Both individuals work as a team to move the brick across the bottom of the pool from one end to the other. At all times, one of them must have a hand on the brick and the brick must remain on the bottom. Therefore, when one comes up for air, the other is moving the brick, and cannot come up for air until he is relieved by his buddy.
Underwater Knot Tying
The purpose of underwater knot tying is to train individuals to perform specific, detailed tasks while underwater. The idea is if they can tie rope into various configurations, they have successfully demonstrated the ability to maintain awareness, perform a detailed task, remain calm, and have developed the lung capacity to facilitate those things. In cases where no rope is available, you can substitute the activity with ditch-and-don drills, where the individuals ditch their gear at the bottom of the pool in a calm, purposeful fashion, or descend down to the bottom to retrieve and don their gear before resurfacing. Other things include configuring bricks in a certain pattern before resurfacing.
There are other techniques that might enhance one's survivability in the water. The first one was created by Fred Lanoue, swimming coach at Georgia Institute of Technology from 1936 to 1964. The principle behind his method is that most people have a small amount of positive buoyancy which enables them to float, but not enough to keep the entire head above the water. By floating upright, with the face submerged and only lifting the mouth and nose above the surface when it is necessary to take a breath, it is possible to survive indefinitely, with minimal expenditure of energy. Just hang in the water with your mouth and nose just below the surface, like a kitten being carried by its mother. Simply lift your mouth and nose barely out of the water just enough to get a breath and lower it back down. It is permissible to use a slight scissor kick or both the hands and feet to stay balanced, but too much of a stroke will disrupt the whole thing. Another method includes using the Battle Dress Uniform as a flotation device. You do this by taking off your pants while treading water and filling them up with air to use as a flotation device.
Other Swimming Drills
One other thing commonly included in water survival training sessions is additional PT (physical training). The idea is to produce a different stimulus aside from that of the swimming, which imitates more closely real-world scenarios which may present themselves. It also increases the difficulty. The concept is simple: the subject will swim from one side of the pool to the other, get out, do a prescribed exercise, then reenter the pool, and repeat. Exercises range in intensity and type, either to fatigue the muscles or to rapidly increase the heart rate. One consideration is that wet tile may not be conducive to some exercises. Safety must be taken into account. It is commonly believed that the best water training is a combination of PT, survival training (drownproofing, etc), underwater training, sprints, and honing technique.
- Diver's Ear Under Pressure Edmund Kay, M.D.