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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 9

Notes on swimming, in connection with the Dunedin Swimming School

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Notes on Swimming,

Dunedin: Published by R. T. Wheeler, Stafford Street.

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Notes on Swimming.


This Pamphlet is mainly intended for the guidance of the pupils of the Dunedin Swimming School, containing as it does directions for the course through which they will be expected to pass; the com piler has, however, been induced to publish it in the hope of increasing the interest of the reader in the subject, as well as to add to his safety when in the water.


Swimming may be defined as the art of propelling and sustaining the body in the water, using the legs (assisted by the exertion of the body) as the propeller, and the arms as a support to the head. The hands are placed flat on the water between the chin and the breast, fingers and thumbs closed, the latter touching, the body is inclined gently forward, the legs drawn up with the knee turned out and toe turned up towards the shins (in order to strike the water as wide as possible with the soles of the feet); as the feet are kicked to the rear the hands are sent forward to the full extent of the arms, keeping them there until the heels meet after the kick, when they should be extended nearly square with the shoulders; and then dropping the elbows to the side, bring the hands over the breast to the first position. The beginner should remember that by a careful regulation of the limbs so that all movements tending to retard the motion of the body be made gently, and propelling movement with energy, much unnecessary exertion may be saved with page 4 more favorable results. The kick is to be made from the knees, the feet describing a curve until the heels meet, when the legs should be perfectly straight. Breath should be taken when the head is highest, that is when the arms are square with the shoulders. The arms should not be bent when being brought square with the shoulders.

The Side Stroke.

This stroke has the advantage of speed, and is also most useful when assisting others. It is important here to remember that the head is the helm, the slightest inclination of which will alter the course, and as on the side it is awkward to look ahead, the best way is to steer, if possible, by aligning two objects in the rear. The left side is the best for speed, being the heaviest, and the upper arm which has the most work, being the right, which is generally the strongest. Lie completely on the side (say the left) with the left arm extended, right hand resting on the thigh, legs closed. First motion—Draw the knees gently up until the thighs are nearly at right angles with the body, at the same time strike the left hand downwards, bringing it under the head by bending the elbow, and extend the right arm gently beyond the head as far as possible without lowering the right shoulder. Second motion—Extend the right leg in line with the thigh, straighten the left thigh and bend the leg backwards, and then quickly return the legs to their original position, at the same time hollow the right hand finger and thumb pressed together, then draw it smartly down close to the chest to its original position on the thigh, the left hand being extended to its first position; by making the forward motion of the right arm out of the water there will be a slight increase of speed, which, however, can be more easily gained by keeping the body as horizontal as possible.


Plunging is the art of entering the water head first. The principal plunges are known as the Flat, the Deep, and the Medium, their titles being suggestive. The flat plunge is most useful in page 5 shallow water; it consists in springing forward, with the arm extended, forefingers and palms of the hands touching each other, straightening the body, which must be kept rigid while moving along the surface, the feet and thighs being close together. Care must be taken to close the eyes at the moment of entering the water, opening them afterwards, as well as to prevent the heels rising; and also at all times to prevent the head being suddenly jerked back, which is most dangerous. The same rules will apply to the Medium plunge, which is generally used by the swimmer when plunging from a moderate height without wishing to go much below the surface of the water. The water is entered at an angle of about 45 deg. instead of 10 deg., which is the angle for the Flat plunge. It should be remembered that in plunging, as in swimming, the arms act as a protection to the head by breaking the water, and thus saving the concussion. When beneath the water the back is to be hollowed, and the chin gently raised, which will quickly bring you to the surface, keeping the arms extended. The steep plunge is used for descending a considerable depth into the water. If taken from a small height, stoop down until the head is lower than the knees, which should be opened as well as the feet, incline gradually forward, and when the balance is lost straighten the body from the fingers to the toes; if accurately taken, the body will enter the water noiselessly, hands first. Avoid throwing the heels up, and, if plunging from a moderate height, spring forward with the body, so as to prevent it striking the water perpendicularly.


Diving differs from plunging, inasmuch as the progress is caused by the action of the limbs instead of resulting simply from the spring. Care must be taken to exhale all impure air from the lungs, which may be done by contracting the shoulders and exhaling several times, pressing the abdomen at the same time, and then inhaling fresh air. This not only allows the body to remain longer under the water, but adds to its buoyancy. The act of diving is the same as that of swimming, the head acting as a rudder. One page 6 hand should, however, always be in advance of the head. Should the bottom be reached, the ascent is easily and quickly effected by a spring upwards. Otherwise by ceasing the action of the legs, raisng the hands in front of the body, keeping them together with the palms down, then the body, assisted by the whole frame, will quickly rise to the surface.


Floating is the art of lying motionless on the water, the secret of which is rightly to balance the body, the head acting as a rudder, by putting it gently in the opposite direction to which the body is inclining. The back should be hollowed, chest expanded and inflated as much as possible, to add to the buoyancy of the body, breathing as seldom and then as quickly as possible. The easiest float is with the arms stretched to their full extent beyond the head, which should be bent back until the water reaches the eyes, thighs open and extended, with the legs folded under them. Floating should next be practised with the arms in the same position, and the legs straight, with the body as straight as possible, and with legs and arms straight, with hands resting on the thighs.


This disagreeable subject I would gladly leave to more able pens than mine, were it not that any book for the guidance of swimmers would be worthless without it. The views here set forth do not profess altogether to be original, but they are in a measure verified by experience of which the writer, during a period of some years at sea, has had enough. It is of the greatest importance that the subject should be studied, as experience teaches the writer that persons of all ages will risk their lives for those in distress without a moment's thought for the consequences. To commence then it is too generally believed that a man must be a very expert swimmer before he ventures to rescue another, especially if the one in distress has his clothes on; but as to the latter, the reverse is the case, and as regards the former the writer ventures to assert that as many lives re saved by ordinary as by expert swimmers. Let me earnestly page 7 impress upon the would-be rescuer the utmost necessity of calmness and caution. If you have anything with you that the person in danger can hold, cautiously give him one end of it, telling him to be calm, and to throw himself on his back, and to take hold of it, with his arms extended beyond his head, and to keep his mouth shut. If necessary, however, to approach him, warn him before doing so to keep his hands well under water, which if he does, cautiously approach him, and if he has his clothes on, seize him firmly by the back of the arm, between the elbow and shoulder. When this grip is properly taken it is scarcely possible for the one held to touch the other; then swimming on the side to the nearest place of safety, or quietly rest if assistance is coming. If the one in distress is without his clothes, with the greatest caution approach him and place one hand under the arm-pits, and swimming on the side, push him obliquely upward and forward; persuade him to help you as much as possible. If he should attempt to seize you (as he very likely will), withdraw at once your support, and watch a more favourable opportunity to renew it. Never allow yourself under any circumstances to be taken hold of. A method commonly recommended if the man is struggling at the surface is to get behind him and seize him by the back of the hair, pushing him in the centre of the back with the foot and pulling him with the hand that grasps the hair, thus turning him on his back, and tow him in that position. For myself, however, I fail to see, his arms being free, what is to prevent his seizing you, which of all things you wish, most to avoid. If he is insensible, of course the case is altered; in the present case the man must be warned to keep his arms low. It is of course more difficult to rescue a man who has sunk than one who is struggling on the surface. As he has first to be found—and here it is necessary to know that his rising three times is not certain, as is generally supposed, although it may happen—it is however, as well to wait for his rising before diving for him, and when diving it is of the greatest importance to keep one hand continually before the head, to prevent the possibility of it being seized. page 8 Should this be the case it is almost impossible, I believe, to give any practical advice which would be likely to be followed at so critical a moment, beyond that the rescuer should endeavour to wait until, by exhaustion, the drowning man is compelled to withdraw his hold, when it might be possible to drag him by the hair to the surface. Should the rescuer be seized when both parties' heads are above water, he should at once order the other to let go his hold, which, if not instantly done, the swimmer should immediately force the other's head beneath the water, and keep it there until exhaustion compels the drowning man to relinquish his hold. To rescue a woman or child is of course comparatively an easy matter. In the former case her hair should be used as a tow rope. Two swimmers can, with comparative ease, render assistance to a drowning man by facing him one on each side, and supporting him under the armpits. After having got hold of your man it is well to exert yourself as little as possible, should assistance be forthcoming; and if at sea a life-buoy will probably have been dropped near you, when you must use your judgment whether first to get hold of it, and make with it to your man, or to bring him to it, waiting for the assistance which is sure to come if you can be found. The writer knows by experience how difficult it is to see a man from a boat in the open sea; therefore, make as much noise as possible.

Various Modes of Swimming.

There are a variety of ways of swimming, all more or less useful or amusing, which can, by practice, be done by those who have mastered the methods already detailed. I select a few of them, leaving any further curiosity on the subject to be gratified by perusal of a more extensive work.

Treading-water may most easily be done by simply representing the motion of running up stairs; most useful when caught amongst weeds, or for undressing in the water.

Swimming on the Back.—Lie on the water as when floating, kick from outside to inside, striking the water with the soles of the feet, turn the knees out as in the breast stroke. This can be varied page 9 in a number of ways, the most useful and fastest being the Canoe Stroke; bring the hands behind the head under water; when the arms are extended turn the palms of the hands outwards, and press the hands down to the side, striking the leg at the same moment. Another method is by using the arras as paddles, bringing them out of the water and entering them behind the head at the full extent of the arms.

North American Indian Stroke.—Throw the body alternately on the left and right side, raising the arm entirely above the water, and reach as far forward as possible to dip with your weight and force on the arm under you which is propelling you like a paddle; whilst this arm is making a half circle and is being raised out of the water behind you, the opposite arm should describe a similar one in the air over your head to be dipped as far as possible ahead of you, the head being bent inwards.

The Foot Paddle on the Chest.—Lie on the chest with the hands supporting the head, raise the feet backwards out of the water one after the other, putting a strain on the small of the back, and strike the water quickly.

The Perpendicular Float.—Cross the hands on the breast, throw the head back as far as possible, cross the legs, and keep perfectly still.

The Foot Paddle on the Back.—Lift the feet quickly out of the water in succession, and strike them downward.

The Oar Stroke.—Lie on the back, keep the body quite stiff, toes out of water, the arms close to the sides, work the hands from the wrists in continual quick strokes.

Diving, Feet First.—Keep the elbows close down by the side3, using the hands like skulls, by giving them a semi-rotatory motion from the wrists.

The Boomerang Plunge—'Enter the water as in the Flat Plunge, going rather deeper; turn on the side, and bend the body at the hips so as to give it a curve; this, without swimming a stroke, should bring the swimmer round to the starting point.

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The secret of swimming on the back is to lie on the water, and not sit on it.

Always take in breath before diving, plunging, &c.

To sound for depth keep the legs straight under the body, stretching the arms above the head. To rise, strike out downwards with hands and feet.

In case of cramp exert yourself more than ever, a sudden jerk is the most effective cure.

When swimming against tide remember that by diving and swimming under water the tide will not act so powerfully against you.

To cure deep and slow swimming the chest must lie with greater force on the water, and a strain put on the small of the back.

In swimming on the back the knee should not be visible above the water when the feet are drawn up for the kick.

A man swims faster under water than on the surface.

The hands should work about four inches below the surface of the water; lowering them is the cause of many a mouthful; also in returning them to their original position care should be taken to bring up the hand over the breast for the same reason.

Swimming does not consist in the mere passive working of arms and legs, but by the energetic action of the whole frame.

When swimming amongst weeds, if possible swim with the stream; if entangled dive down and lay hold of them to tear them from the roots or to break them off, and persevere if not successful the first time.

When under water the quickest way of rising to the surface is by throwing up the hands at the full extent of the arm, assisted by the exertion of the whole frame.

Wabbling (a common complaint) is the result of the arms and legs being out of time.

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Breath should be taken in when the head is at its greatest height and the chest most expanded, i.e., when the arms are nearly square with the shoulder, at other times the mouth should be closed.

When diving, should you find yourself in a whirlpool or undercurrent, do not attempt to rise straight to the surface, but take a long slanting dive upwards.

When swimming the greater the half circle the legs make, the greater the distance the body will be sent after each kick, kicking the water as hard and as quickly as possible.

Avoid bathing within two hours after a meal, when fatigued, when the body is cooling after perspiration, &c., (after bathing), when there is a sense of chilliness or numbness of the hands and feet.

Avoid bathing on an empty stomach (except the strong and healthy early in the morning). The best time is from two to three hours after breakfast.

Salt water is more beneficial to the system than fresh, but as regards swimming it is best to leant in fresh water, it being harder to do than in salt water.

When bathing in the evening great care should be taken to dry the head.

There is no danger in bathing, however warm the day, if the water has been well warmed by the sun, otherwise it is dangerous.

Avoid putting on damp clothes, which are the most common cause of cold and rheumatism.

The ordinary bathe should not exceed twenty minutes in length.

Being unable to swim you may float for some time by hollowing the back, heaving the chest up, with the back of the head well under the surface, and all the limbs hanging freely.

Upon entering the water the head should be thoroughly wetted, and that frequently if the sun is out.

Avoid using cork belts, air belts, etc., which only tend to injure you eventually as a swimmer.

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Suddenly jerking the head back when under water has sometimes proved fatal.

A suit of clothes weighing 6lb. in air, when thoroughly immersed in water, weigh 11b. in endeavouring to rescue a drowning man. The fact of his clothes being on is rather an advantage than otherwise, hampering his movements, and enabling the rescuer to obtain a firmer hold of him.

When capsised out of a boat, always cling to it and wait assistance, and try and induce others to do the same.

Sixty yards is the longest known dive; twenty-five yards an average one.

A minute is the ordinary time a man is able to remain under water; nearly two minutes, however, is sometimes done.

When assisting a drowning man, do not forget "That a drowning man catches at a straw," and be careful accordingly.

It may be necessary to practise for three or four hours on the patient when endeavoring to restore life to the apparently drowned.

When leaping into the water keep the body perpendicular (especially at the moment of entering the water) which can be done previously by inclining the arms and head in the opposite direction from the deviation; if a running-leap, incline the body slightly backwards, to stop the descent spread the arms out.

The most inexperienced may safely plunge into a depth of water equal to their own height and half the height plunged from.

Before plunging close the eyes, opening them when in the water.

Cotton-wadding saturated with oil is a useful precaution for the ears.

When slightly out of depth, persons unable to swim may be saved by giving a spring off the ground each time they sink, and taking breath each time they come above the surface, working towards the shallow.

Raising the hands above the head is a sure way to sink.

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Treatment for the Restoration of the Apparently Drowned.

Send immediately for medical assistance, blankets and dry clothing, but proceed to treat the patient instantly on the spot, in the open air, whether on shore or afloat.

The points to be aimed at are, first and immediately, the restoration of breathing and the prevention of any further diminution of the warmth of the body; and, secondly, after breathing is restored, the promotion of warmth and circulation.

The efforts to restore breathing, and to prevent any further diminution of the warmth of the body, must be commenced immediately and energetically, and must be persevered in for several hours, or until a medical man has pronounced life extinct. Efforts to promote warmth and circulation must be deferred until natural breathing has been restored.

To Restore Breathing.

To Clear the Throat.

1. Place the patient on the floor or ground with his face down wards, and one of his arms under his forehead, in which position all fluids will escape by the mouth, and the tongue itself will fall forward, leaving the entrance into the windpipe free. Assist this operation by wiping and cleansing the mouth.

2. If satisfactory breathing commences, adopt the treatment described below to promote warmth and natural breathing. If there be only slight breathing or no breathing, or if fail then—

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To Excite Breathing

3. Turn the patient well and instantly on the side, and—

4. Excite the nostrils with snuff, heartshorn, smelling salts, or tickle the throat with a feather, &c., if they are at hand. Rub the chest and face warm, and dash cold water on the face.

5. If there be no success, lose not a moment, but instantly

To Imitate Breathing

6. Replace the patient on the face, rising and supporting the chest well on a folded coat or other article of dress.

7. Turn the body very gently on the side and a little beyond, and then briskly on the face, back again; repeating these measures deliberately, efficiently, and perseveringly about fifteen times in the minute, or once every four seconds, occasionally varying the side:

[By placing the patient on the chest, the weight of the body forces the air out; when turned on the side, this pressure is removed, and air enters the chest.]

8. On each occasion that the body is replaced on the face, make uniform but efficient pressure, with brisk movement, on the back, between and below the shoulder blades or bones on each side, removing the pressure immediately before turning the body on the side.

[The first measure increases the expiration, the second commences inspiration.]

∵ The result is—respiration or natural breathing; and, if not too late, life.


1. Be particularly careful to prevent persons crowding round the body.

2. Avoid all rough usages and turning the body on the back.

3. Under no circumstances hold the body up by the feet.

To Prevent Further Diminution of Warmth.

N.B.—These efforts must be made very cautiously, and must not be such as to promote warmth and circulation rapidly; for, if page 15 circulation is induced before breathing has been restored, the life of the patient will be endangered. No other effect, therefore, should be sought from them than the prevention of evaporation, and its result, the diminution of the warmth of the body.

1. Expose the face, neck, and chest, except in severe weather (such as heavy rain, frost, or snow).

2. Dry the face, neck, and chest, as soon as possible with handkerchiefs or anything at hand, and then dry the hands and feet,

3. As soon as a blanket or other covering can be obtained, strip the body; but if no covering can be immediately procured, take dry clothing from the bystanders, dry and re-clothe the body, taking care not to interfere with the efforts to restore breathing.


1.Do not roll the body on casks.
2.Do not rub the body with salts or spirits.
3.Do not inject tobacco smoke or infusion of tobacco.
4.Do not place the patient in a warm bath.

Treatment after Natural Breathing has been Restored.

To promote Warmth and Circulation.

1. Commence rubbing the limbs upwards, with firm, grasping pressure and energy, using handkerchiefs, flannels, &c., (by this measure the blood is propelled along the veins towards the heart.)

[The friction must be continued under the blanket, or over dry clothing.]

2. Promote the warmth of the body by the application of hot flannels, bottles, or bladders of hot water, heated bricks, &c. to the pit of the stomach, the armpits, between the thighs, and to the soles of the feet.

3. If the patient has been carried to a house after respiration has been restored, be careful to let the air play freely about the rcom.

4. On the restoration of life, a teaspoonful of warm water should be given; and then, if the power of swallowing have re- page 16 turned, small quantities of wine, warm brandy and water, or coffee, should be administered. The patient should be kept in bed, and a disposition to sleep encouraged.

General Observations.

The above treatment should be persevered in for several hours, as it is an erroneous opinion that persons are irrecoverable because life does not soon make its appearance, cases have been successfully treated after persevering for many hours.

Appearances which generally accompany Death.

Breathing and the heart's action cease entirely, the eyelids are generally half-closed, the pupils dilated, the jaws clenched, the fingers semi-contracted, the tongue approaches to the under edges of the lips, and these, as well as the nostrils, are covered with a frothy mucus. Coldness and pallor of surface increase.

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Mills, Dick and Co., Steam Printers, Stafford Street, Dunedin.