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Helicopter Rescue Swimmer

stew smith

If you were glued to your television during the days after the worst hurricane disaster in US history and concerned for our fellow citizens in New Orleans and other Gulf Coast states, you would have seen some of the fittest, highly trained, and motivated people in our military. The Helicopter Rescue Swimmers of the Coast Guard, Navy, and Air Force have been saving thousands of people stuck in the flooded areas of New Orleans. If it were not for these brave pilots and Search and Rescue (SAR) swimmers several thousand people would have died.

This week is a tribute to the sailors and airmen of the Navy, Coast Guard, and Air Force who risked their lives everyday to save others by hanging from a helicopter and plucking hurricane victims from certain death. If you have ever thought about becoming a Coast Guard Helicopter Rescue or SAR swimmer or you may have been motivated by the heroics played live on your television set. Regardless, if you choose this job for your profession – be prepared because it is tough - the training is some of the most grueling in our military.

When you arrive at Navy SAR (Search and Rescue Swimmer or USCG Rescue Swimmer School, you will be placed in a stressful environment and expected to excel in military education, close quarter living, teamwork, and physical fitness tests (PFT).

According to the SAR Swimmer course syllabus, rescue swimmers must have flexibility, strength, endurance, and be able to function for 30 minutes in heavy seas.

However, the operations manual includes lessons in eight different water deployment procedures; 11 ways to approach, carry and release a survivor; seven ways to release equipment for Navy and Air Force flyers; and ways to detangle the services' different parachutes and backpacks. So, being comfortable in the water is an understatement. You have to be able to think and perform challenging tasks while submerged, holding your breath, and getting tossed around my 10-20 ft. waves.

Rescue swimmers also must have the skills to provide basic pre-hospital life support for rescued individuals. And as part of their training, candidates must complete an emergency medical training course. This is not an ordinary EMT – if you are exposed to high seas, rough terrain and other dangers and ordinary EMT will not survive. The training you are seeking is hardcore physical and mental training that will challenge you to your core. In fact, SAR Swimmer School boasts more than a 50% attrition rate – so it is crucial you go to the training scoring high in your PFT, but more importantly – be confident in the water. Not cocky! You must have a deep respect for the power of the sea, but know that your training will help save your life and the lives of the ocean’s victims.

The required monthly physical training test includes push-ups, situps, pull-ups, chin-ups, 12-minute crawl swim (500-yard minimum), 25-yard underwater swim and a 200-yard buddy tow. I recommend the following scores to better succeed with the training course:

Pushups – 100+ in 2:00
Situps – 100+ in 2:00
Pullups – 15-20+
12:00 Swim – swim 500-750yd
1.5 mile run – sub 9:00
25 yd underwater swim – complete
200 yd Buddy tow – complete

If you are considering this profession, take an Ocean Life Guard course with the Red Cross to see if have what it takes. You will learn how to perform the crawl stroke, underwater swim, and buddy tow properly with this preparatory Life Guard Course.

Check out the article archive at to find articles related to physical fitness tests, running faster, pullups, pushups, abdominal exercises.

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