Skill retention in lifesaving: A review of literature and a look to the future

TitleSkill retention in lifesaving: A review of literature and a look to the future
Publication TypeConference Paper
Year of Publication2007
AuthorsFischbein, K, Espino, M
Conference NameWorld Conference on Drowning Prevention
Date Published09/2007
PublisherInternational Life Saving Federation
Conference LocationPorto, Portugal
Other Numbers02-22

Context: In a successful training program, new lifeguards emerge ready and able to practice basic lifesaving skills. In a pool or waterfront environment, situations that require lifeguards to apply many of those skills often occur intermittently and infrequently. What happens to lifesaving skills in the time between training and use? Logically, it can be assumed that without regular, frequent use the skills will decline. Indeed, retraining is provided by many aquatic facilities to negate these effects. Research on CPR training shows rapid skill decay of performance ability among both professional and lay responders1. However, hard evidence measuring skill retention in aquatic rescue techniques is lacking. Key issues include

  1. how long it takes for specific lifesaving skills to decline,
  2. which skills are most susceptible to decay, and
  3. how much retraining is actually necessary to restore their effectiveness.

Addressing these questions is valuable to the field not only to keep lifeguards optimally prepared to respond when needed, but also to save facility managers time and resources by identifying appropriate retraining intervals and which skills require more and less effort in retraining. This presentation includes a review of existing research in skill retention, which will be used to foster a discussion of possible methods for increasing lifesaving skill retention and the identification of specific areas where future research is needed.

Methods: Literature was collected via online database searches of peer-reviewed journals in various fields, including physical and behavioural sciences, public health, and education. Articles were reviewed for scientific quality and relevance to aquatic lifesaving.

Results: No research on retention of lifeguard-specific skills outside of CPR was found in the current study. However, some existing information from CPR, first aid, and other fields can be extrapolated to aquatic lifesaving. Published military studies can be particularly valuable at this point because quite a few exist that have been conducted with scientific rigor to study physical task performance (as opposed to learning retention studies from other fields which often focus on knowledge alone) that is not often performed by participants. Among the findings of reviewed research are a method for determining optimal retraining intervals for CPR and AED2 and a retention/relearning cycle for complex skills3.

Discussion/Implications: Aquatics professionals know that lifeguarding skills deteriorate. Currently, course developers and facility managers must use their best judgment to determine ways to combat this.  Findings from the research described in this presentation can provide a starting point for retraining more strategically. Although interdisciplinary research is very useful, in the long run aquatic-specific research must be conducted to measure the retention of particular rescue skills among real lifeguards.  In the meantime, gaining perspectives from other fields gives us solid basis for beginning this research. Deliberate targeting of skill training and retraining can help course developers to focus courses so that lifeguards remain confident and competent to respond long after they leave their initial training.

Learning Outcomes
  1. Understand how skill retention declines in CPR and other areas.
  2. Discover ways to apply skill retention research from other fields to aquatic lifesaving.
  3. Identify rescue skills most in need of skill retention study.
  1. Moser, D., 1992: Recommendations for improving cardiopulmonary resuscitation skills retention.  In: Heart & Lung, 21:372-380.
  2. Woollard, M., Whitfield, R., Newcombe, R., Colquhoun, M., Vetter, N., & Chamberlain, D.  2006: Optimal refresher training intervals for AED and CPR skills: A randomised controlled trial.  In: Resuscitation,71: 237-247.
  3. Ginzburg, S. & Dar-El, E., 2000: Skill retention and relearning – a proposed cyclical model.  In: Journal of Workplace Learning, 12: 327-332.