Many victims of drowning fatalities are lay-people attempting to rescue another. This review aims to identify the safest techniques and equipment (improved or purpose made) for an untrained bystander to use when attempting a water rescue.
Method: A sample of 249 papers were included after the bibliographic search, in which 19 were finally selected following PRISMA methodology and 3 peer review proceeding presented at international conferences. A total of 22 documents were added to qualitative synthesis.
Results: Geographical location, economic level, physical fitness, or experience may vary the profile of the lay-rescuers and how to safely perform a water rescue. Four lay-rescuers profiles were identified: 1) Children rescuing children in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs), 2) Adults rescuing adults or children, 3) Lay-people with some experience and rescue training, 4) Lay-people with cultural or professional motivations. Three types of techniques used by those lay-rescuers profiles: a) non-contact techniques for rescues from land: throw and reach, b) non-contact techniques for rescue using a flotation device and, c) contact techniques for rescue into the water: swim and tow with or without fins.
Conclusion: The expert recommendation of the safest technique for a lay-rescuer is to attempt rescue using a pole, rope, or flotation equipment without entering the water. However, despite the recommendations of non-contact rescues from land, there is a global tendency to attempt contact rescues in the water, despite a lack of evidence on which technique, procedure or equipment contributes to a safer rescue. Training strategies for lay-people should be considered.