Each branch of the military has a version of rescue swimmers, most often referred to as Search and Rescue Swimmers or SARs. They’re a specialized group who have earned their Aviation Survival Technician (AST) and Helicopter Rescue certification, and Coast Guard rescue swimmers are mobilized to perfect extreme rescue missions at sea.
In total, there are approximately 350 active duty Coast Guard rescue swimmers and since the 1980s, only 900 people have qualified to become one. Let’s just say, it’s a difficult job to get.
Here, we’ll be talking about Coast Guard rescue swimmers, including the strenuous training involved, how much they’re paid, and what kind of job duties they’re responsible for.
U.S. Coast Guard Rescue Swimmer
The primary role of a rescue swimmer is rescuing distressed persons from various dangerous situations. The work they do is truly heroic and it’s sure to be fulfilling as a career. However, it can just as often be heartbreaking, and on a day-to-day basis the job can be more mundane than you might expect.
It’s important to be aware of these less romantic and more mundane parts of the job such as the preparation and maintenance of emergency rafts and floatation devices, storage and handling of ordnance and pyro, and general administrative duties.
Overall, it’s an incredibly demanding role, one of the most difficult to attain in the military, so it’s important that you understand what’s really involved before diving in – no pun intended.
After all, it’s not all heroics.
Coast Guard Rescue Swimmer Salary
Since Coast Guard Rescue Swimmers are sometimes involved in life-threatening work, you might assume that their salaries are through the roof. But, just like many other soldiers who risk their lives every day, the annual pay isn’t so impressive.
According to various sources, the annual salary of a Coast Guard rescue swimmer is $38,000 or $18 an hour. Rescue swimmers of other military branches are typically paid more than in the Coast Guard swimmers but it depends on several factors. It’s always best to consult with your superiors about promotions and salary increases.
Still, serving in the military isn’t your typical job. You’re supported by the federal government and are offered many perks like a stable income, time off, educational benefits, retirement benefits, discounts, and more.
Coast Guard Rescue Swimmer School
Located in Elizabeth City, North Carolina, Coast Guard rescue swimmer school lasts 24 weeks. It includes extreme fitness tests, spending significant time in pools completing strenuous water drills, as well as classroom instruction.
It’s one of the toughest training courses in the military and only between 75 to 100 candidates who attend swimmer school are selected for further training to become a Coast Guard rescue swimmer.
Rescue Swimmer Coast Guard
If you haven’t put the pieces together – surprise! You have to be an excellent swimmer to become a Coast Guard rescue swimmer. They’re often called upon in times of natural disasters like hurricanes and floods, so the conditions in which they’ll be swimming can be treacherous and require the utmost skill.
Rescue swimmers must demonstrate advanced strength, flexibility, and endurance with the ability to function in rough seas for at least 30 minutes. In rescue swimmer school, you’ll be tested on holding your breath and interacting with waves as large as 20 feet high.
To qualify for the selection process of becoming a Coast Guard rescue swimmer, you’ll have to meet the following qualifications:
- No chronic orthopedic problems
- Be in superior physical shape
- Have a high level of mental acuity and military bearing
- Extreme confidence in, around, and below the water
- An aptitude for mechanics
- An educational focus on courses like algebra, geometry, and machinery
- The ability to pass a physical examination
- Qualifications for a “secret security” clearance
Let’s explore more of what’s involved in the actual training process.
Coast Guard Rescue Swimmer Training
After completing the Coast Guard rescue swimmer school, the candidates selected will move on to even more intensive training. You’ll go to an AST “A” School and then attend seven weeks of training in Petaluma, California at the Coast Guard Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) School.
The training doesn’t stop there. After EMT school, candidates attend a one-week Advanced Helicopter Rescue School (AHRS) in Washington. Only then are they able to accept an apprenticeship, which lasts for six months.
Once the full training syllabus is completed as an apprentice, one is considered a team member on the Coast Guard rescue swimmer team. It’s a grueling process and not many applicants make it all the way through. The amount of training necessary goes to show how taxing and important this job really is.
To give you a clear idea of what the physical fitness training standards to become a Coast Guard rescue swimmer entail, here is the breakdown:
- Shoulder width push-ups: 50
- Sit-ups: 60
- Pull-ups: 5
- Chin-ups: 5
- 500-yard crawl swim: Completed within 12 minutes
- 25-yard underwater swim: 4 repetitions
- Buddy tow: 200 yards
Furthermore, in order to succeed in Coast Guard rescue swimmer training, it’s recommended that you train using the following schedule:
- 100 push-ups in 2 minutes
- 100 sit-ups in 2 minutes
- 15 to 20 pull-ups
- Swim 500 to 750 yards in 12 minutes
- 1.5 mile run in under 9 minutes
- Underwater swim for 25 yards
- Buddy tow for 200 yards
If you use this as your training regimen, you should have no problem completing Coast Guard rescue swimmer school and training. However, keep in mind that this is a very rigorous exercise routine and you should build your way up to this level before attempting it as a beginner.
How to Become a Coast Guard Rescue Swimmer
The first step to becoming a Coast Guard rescue swimmer is meeting with your local Coast Guard recruiter. They’ll be able to assess your skills and qualifications to make sure you’re eligible to become a candidate. From there, it’s a lot of hard work.
We’ve mentioned what goes on in Coast Guard rescue swimmer school and all the training that takes place thereafter, and as you can probably gather, it’s intense. But, working as a Coast Guard rescue swimmer is also incredibly rewarding and can be a fulfilling career choice for many service members.
So, if you’d like to pursue this career path and be part of this specialized group of Coast Guard rescue swimmers, then go ahead and get your feet wet. Talk to a Coast Guard recruiter today.