Reach or Throw, Don’t Go!

**This article is written for children who are unaccompanied by an adult while encountering a water emergency.  Some rescue options have been omitted to further ensure the safety of children attempting to perform water rescues.**

Never go into the water to help a person or animal who is in distress in the water.

A person, or animal, who is experiencing aquatic distress will be desperately trying to keep his or her head above the water.  In doing so, this person, or animal, will unintentionally and instinctively use their rescuer as a device to stay alive, thus taking any experienced rescuer down with her or him.

A water rescue should ONLY be performed by a person, or people, who have the proper equipment and training, such as Search and Rescue teams, Lifeguards, Fire and  EMT respondents, police, and other individuals with the proper training.

The best thing an untrained person can do is CALL FOR HELP.

Reach Throw Don't Go
Reach Throw Don’t Go Poster

In the mean time, there are ways to assist a person experiencing aquatic distress while waiting for help to arrive.


Items that can be extended out to the victim can be used to pull her or him to safety.

Examples of reaching objects include, but are not limited to:  a fishing pole, a towel, a reaching pole, an oar or paddle, a stick, or a pool noodle.

When extending an object out to a person in aquatic distress

  1. Stay out of the water,
  2. Firmly brace yourself while keeping your weight low to the ground,
  3. Lie down or stand with your legs bent and your feet spread apart and,
  4. Reach out to the victim with the object, lean away from the victim, and use a hand-over-hand grasp on the object to slowly bring the victim to the shore (or the boat).


Items that float can be thrown to the victim to provide her or him with a flotation device until help arrives.

Examples of throwing items include, but are not limited to: a pool noodle, a life vest, an inflated beach ball, a rescue ring (ring buoy), an empty gas can, an empty cooler,  a rope (heaving line), a rescue tube or buoy, or a reaching pole.

Items with attached ropes are preferred however, not always available in emergency situations.

When throwing an object to a person in aquatic distress

  1. Prepare to throw the item.  If the item has a rope, place your forward foot on the end of the rope to prevent losing control of the rope.
  2. When you are ready to throw, yell to the victim, make eye contact, and tell her or him that you are going to throw an item.  Tell him or her to try to catch the object.
  3. Try to throw the object upwind or up current from the victim.  If the object has an attached rope or line, throw it over the head of the victim ensuring the line drops within his or her reach.

Provide Aid

In most cases it will be necessary to warm the victim, and continue to keep her or him warm until help arrives.  If the victim is still panicking, be reassuring and attempt to calm the victim.

It is important to remember that once the victim is safe on the source, professional assistance is still required.  Following an aquatic distress, the victim should be thoroughly evaluated by a medical professional.


(American Red Cross, Fact Sheet, Longfellow’s Rules for Safe Boating, Lesson Plan 5: Reach or Throw, Don’t Go)
(Prepping to, “Water Rescues: Reach, Throw, Row, Go,”


One thought on “Reach or Throw, Don’t Go!

  1. Dear Mackenzie´s people, I´m Doctor Eloy Garcia from Mexico. I´m working in the Ministry of Health. By this days we are teaching a protocol to the lifeguards of the principal tourist beach. Also we include some preventive measures that involved the kids. I´m looking for the Red Cross poster: Reach or throw don´t go, but I didn´t found where I can download it. Do you have such didactic material?
    Please if so, reach me at:
    Dr. Eloy Garcia Mondragon
    Secretaria de Salud Mexico.

    thanks. Best Regards


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