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A traditional skill for Guides and Scouts is the ability to throw a lifeline so that it will land close to a person who needs rescuing, or over a branch. People also learn it in water rescue classes.

But a lot of leaders have trouble teaching it. It's not hard, but the girls do need to be taught the skill, and practise it regularly.

How to do it

Step 1 - Start to loop

Hold the end of the rope in your non-throwing hand
(I'll call it the left hand here).

Grasp the next part of the rope in your throwing hand
(I'll call it the right hand here),
and loop it over your non-throwing hand.

Holding the lifeline

Step 2 - Loop the rope

Loop the rope over your left hand so that the loops are approximately as long as the difference between your outstretched hands.

Lay each new loop NEXT TO, not on top of, the previous loop.

This is how the rope should look when it has all been looped. Notice that the loops are next to each other.

Step 3 - Separate the rope

Separate the rope so that you have some in your right hand and some in your left hand. If you looped it correctly, it should be easy to separate them so that there is one strand in the middle.

Step 4 - Anchor the rope ready to throw

You are now preparing to throw. Because people often forget to anchor their rope before they throw it, the whole rope ends up in the water and the drowning person can't get near it.

So the way I teach my Guides is to stand on one end of the rope.

Normally I would NOT advocate standing on any rope, because it damages the fibres and weakens the rope. However, in this case, I make an exception.

Step on the rope with the FRONT foot, because when you throw the rope, your back foot tends to lift off the ground, and the anchor is lost. Your weight will end up on the front foot.

Step 5 - Throw the rope

The bulk of the looped rope should now be in your throwing hand. Stand side on to the direction in which you will throw, with your throwing hand at the back (away from the direction of throw).

Swing your throwing hand with its rope back and forth for a few times, to get up momentum. When you think you're ready, throw it (underarm) in the direction of the rescuee, transferring your weight onto the front foot as you do so, to anchor the rope.

When the rescuee has grasped the rope, pull her in! Don't forget to tell her it's coming first!


Thanks to Aribella L. and Ashleigh A. who took these photographs.  


Alternate method

When I tried to teach my Guides the above method recently, my Junior Leader objected that water rescue classes teach it differently. She said that the way to wind up the rope was around your elbow.

So we tried an experiment. One Guide wound her rope around her elbow, and I did it the way I talk about above. I beat her, hands down. We swapped ropes. Same result.

So girls might find it easier to wind the rope around their elbow (that is, hold the end of the rope in your hand, and wind the rope around your elbow and back to the hand; repeat until you get to the end of the rope), but it is certainly not as fast as the other method (once you practise it, that is!).


Ways of making it fun

Rescue a drowning person

The last time we did lifeline throwing at our Guide meeting, one of the patrol leaders moved away from the group and opened a cupboard. I wondered what she was doing, until I saw her pulling out the cushions we use when we sit on cold chairs or on the floor. Then I understood. She wasn't bored and inattentive, she knew what we were about to do, and set it up so that the girls would have some extra fun.

What she did was this. She lined up one cushion with each patrol, but in the middle of the hall. Then she sat on the middle cushion. When I demonstrated how to throw the lifeline, I threw it to her. She caught it and braced herself. That was my cue to pull her in. The cushion meant that she was very easy to pull, and it was fun for both the rescuer and the rescuee. This is a fantastic way to get the girls excited, and to demonstrate the practicalities of this skill.

Rescue Relay

You can also have a rescue relay, using cushions. Line up the patrols. Give each patrol a lifeline. The task is for everyone in the patrol to throw a lifeline to a drowning person, and pull her to shore. Then the rescuee throws the lifeline to the next victim while the rescuer goes to the end of the line. The first patrol to rescue everyone in the team wins.

Extended relay

I haven't tried this idea, but it should work.

You need a large field for this. Put each patrol in either an extended line or a huge circle: each person should be positioned somewhere near the length of the lifeline apart. The idea is that the first person throws the lifeline to the second person, who throws it to the third person, and so on. The first patrol to get the lifeline back at the start (if in a circle) or to the finishing line (if in a line) wins.


If you use the relay idea in teaching lifeline throwing, you also introduce the concept of urgency, which, after all, is important when you are actually having to rescue someone! It also gives the girls the skills to do it properly but quickly.