When it comes to water safety, there are few tools as useful as the humble emergency whistle. These devices are often found with lifeguards, but are also crucial for open water swimmers and even boaters.

How Do Lifeguards Use an Emergency Whistle?

As we said, one of the most common places you’ll see an emergency whistle is hanging around a lifeguard’s neck. There is a very good reason for that. Drowning is much faster and quieter than most people realize. Drowning prevention requires swift action and communication.

When a lifeguard is practicing active supervision over a group of swimmers, it pays for them to have a reliable way to communicate. That’s where the emergency whistle comes in. This small device is more than just a noisemaker. In trained hands, it allows the lifeguard to loudly alert all of the swimmers at one time. For beaches and larger pools, lifeguards often work in teams. The whistle is an effective way to alert their colleagues of a potential issue or ask for help.

Let’s take a look at just a few of the ways lifeguards can use an emergency whistle:

One Quick, Short Blast

If you’ve ever been in a community pool, you’ve likely heard the shrill whistle of a lifeguard. Typically, this is a way for the lifeguard to warn swimmers who may be roughhousing or approaching danger. It’s the whistle equivalent of yelling “knock it off!”

gold whistle

The Long Blow

This is often used to alert everyone to get out of the pool. It could be time for a break or something might be wrong.

Two Whistles

If a lifeguard needs assistance, this emergency whistle pattern is often used as a way to alert nearby teammates.

To learn more about universal whistle symbols, watch this informative video:

Emergency Whistles for Open Water Swimmers

Beyond lifeguards, regular swimmers can benefit from carrying a safety whistle as well. For example, if a person is swimming in open water, like a lake, they may find themselves in trouble. In a pool, you’re always relatively close to dry land. However, in the ocean, there are many more areas where a swimmer might run into danger.


It’s always possible to get caught in a current or even to see a boat or jet skier inadvertently approaching you. Blowing an emergency whistle is an excellent way to make your presence and situation known. It could save your life.

Of course, the safest way to practice open water swimming is with others. Swimming with a buddy doubles your chances of getting help if you find yourself in a dangerous situation. Using the whistle, you can alert your partner to your situation. An extra set of lungs can help if you both need to call for help from shore. The shrill blast of the whistle can further assist.

Whistles on Boats

For all of the reasons above, it is a great idea to keep a whistle on a boat. In fact, there are many places where it is illegal to ship off without an emergency whistle or another loud form of communication. Often, these devices are legally required on the vessel. No matter how you call for help, sailors and pleasure cruisers alike will be happy to have an additional form of communication if needed.