Note: Since water has bad effects on most ballistic vests, it’s not a good idea to wear your duty vest during this training. However, since you are training to survive a plunge on duty, you need to experience what it’s like to go into the water in a vest. I would recommend using old, out-of-service vests from your department for this training.
Once you’re in the water, you need to learn to move like a cop while swimming. First, swim with your head in the water to simulate a simple scenario where you merely have to swim to safety. Do this with and without a weapon. Use Blue Guns or some other full-size, full-weight training tools to simulate your duty guns. Yes, your real guns will work in the water. However, water can rust the springs and cause other damage, so don’t use them for this training.
Now, let’s make the swimming exercise more like what you would probably have to do in the real world. Odds are if you go into the water on duty, you are going to do so for one of two reasons: to rescue someone or because a subject has thrown you in the water. In both cases, you will need to keep your head out of the water, so that you can scan for this person. So for the next part of this training, swim a designated distance with your head above the water. Now repeat the same exercise with your weapon in hand.
When swimming with a firearm, remember to keep your trigger finger off the trigger and alongside the trigger guard. If you are assigned to a watery environment such as marine patrol, or even beach patrol, consider using a lanyard at the base of your weapon to secure it to your dutybelt while swimming.
Remember, this training is specifically designed to teach you to use force and take control of subjects in the water. So the next phase of the training is to learn how to control and stabilize a subject in the water.
It’s here where treading water becomes critical. If you are using your hands to fight a subject, your legs will be your only means of keeping your head above water. Practice grips and grabs, as well as empty hand strikes and other force options while treading water. (For more on how to fight a resistive suspect in water, see the sidebar “Fighting in Water” below.)
Remember, the goal of this training is one, to learn how to survive a sudden plunge into deep water while on duty and, two, to learn how to use force in the water to control and arrest resisting subjects. Consequently, you should train to use your weapons while treading water. These include your baton, your chemical spray, and even a replica of your sidearm. Keep in mind that it might be difficult to determine whether a subject is resisting or merely panicking.
Note: There are very few facilities where you can actually shoot your actual sidearm while treading water. So you may want to use Airsoft pistols for target practice.
As on dry land, there will be times that you will be in water and you may need to evade an attack or seek cover. I recommend that you incorporate such maneuvers into your water training. It’s especially important that you learn how to disengage from an attack from a subject or subjects by swimming away and treading water or even submerging yourself.
Finally, as an officer of the law, you may someday find yourself in the water needing to communicate with rescuers, backup officers, or even with dangerous subjects while treading water. This is more difficult than you might think. So practice these techniques.
Note: Water may damage your radio. So use a replica for training.
Very few officers in the United States have this level of water operations training. But if you work in a jurisdiction where you are near or on boats, docks, or piers, then you need it. It’s also a good idea to learn how to operate in water if your jurisdiction includes rivers, lakes, and even backyard swimming pools.
Dave Young is the Director of Specialized Programs for the Tactical Training Division of Fox Valley Technical College and the Director of Training for RedMan Training Gear. He is a 20-year veteran of both civilian and military law enforcement, and a member of the Police Advisory Board.
Fighting in Water
When fighting around the water you may fall in or be pushed in. Here are some key tips that will help you react quickly, get back in the fight, and win.
Before you hit the water, take a bit of air.
As you fall toward the water, tuck your chin, close your mouth, and protect your head from the subject.
During your fall and in the water, guard your firearm and watch the subject’s hands to keep him or her away from your gear. If the subject grabs your baton or OC, then you will lose the advantage.
Odds are that you have a distinct advantage in this situation. Your adversary is likely not trained to fight in water and will panic. Use this against him.
When you hit the water in a fight do not try to surface quickly. Seize the initiative by taking your attacker under the water. He will probably not be prepared for a sudden forced submersion. And the farther you take a combative subject down from the surface, the harder it will be for him to focus on attacking you.
You can also use this tactic on subjects who try to climb or jump on you. Use the advantage of their sudden panic to get them to release you then swim to the surface.
You may have to reengage them, but the next attack will be on your terms with your choice of positioning, grips, and weapons.
If you want to disengage, 12 feet should be your minimum goal. That’s about four to six freestyle strokes.
If you are assigned to work near or on a watery environment, here is a list of the basic water safety equipment you should have in your car.
• Two life preservers (Coast Guard approved)
• 50 feet of yellow nylon throw rope with float for pull ins
• Waterproof flashlight
• CPR mask
• Automatic external defibrillator
• Complete first-aid kit
• Thermal blanket
• Change of clothes
• Two large towels