Ensuring safety in Bulgarian waters

In the early 1960s, approximately 500 people in Bulgaria would fall victim to the waters of the Black sea each summer. With no water safety regulations and limited knowledge of the risks that being in the water can pose, tourists and locals alike would drown in otherwise preventable accidents. To tackle the problem, the Bulgarian Red Cross founded the Water Rescue Service in 1964 with the aim of reducing water-related incidents in the country.

Thanks to the hard work of Red Cross experts throughout the years, the number of incidents continues to dramatically decrease – in the summer of 2018 for example, there were 12 recorded drownings.

The Bulgarian Water Rescue Service works in several areas to protect people in the water. It strengthens knowledge and skills among children and teenagers of safe practices, possible precautions, and first aid. The service also oversees the training of lifeguards and other experts working in the field, as well as providing logistical support to state institutions during floods and other water-related emergencies.

Aquatic rescue activities are carried out not only at sea, but also in other bodies of water in the country, such as lakes and rivers © Bulgarian Red Cross

The Water Rescue Service has worked together with the Bulgarian government to define regulations for water-saving activities, and as a result, Bulgaria is one of the countries where these regulations are state-mandated and legally binding. This means that the Bulgarian Red Cross is the only provider of training for certified lifeguards in Bulgaria. An average of 1,200 lifeguards are trained every year. Some receive qualifications to only work in swimming pools and water parks, others are certified to operate in rescue stations along the coastline, while others can become instructors and conduct their own rescue courses.

The service has been a member of the International Life Saving Federation (FIS) since 1967. Since then, representatives from Bulgarian teams have participated in the international aquatic rescue championships, where they have won 7 individual and 6 world titles, as well as several other awards. These competitions ensure high standards in the lifeguard profession across the world.

Children showcased their training during an event in Yambol, 27 July 2018 @ Red Cross EU Office

To ensure the prevention of potential future incidents, the Bulgarian Red Cross makes sure that safety education starts early in people’s lives. A programme managed by the Water Rescue Service, “Friends with Water”, targets children between the ages of 6 and 9; teaching them the basics of aquatic safety through hands-on lessons and group exercises.

Other initiatives, such as “Water rescue minimum” aim to train children up to the age of 14 in safe conduct and the first-aid measures to take in cases of drowning. The important role of parents is not overlooked, as the programme “Keep an eye out” for example, increases parental awareness of the risks that their children face in various situations – not only at sea, but also at home, for example. in the bathtub.

“These training programmes are immensely valuable to our pupils – they create incredible memories and the kids are very excited about what they have learned. They often play at lifeguarding long after the lessons are done”, says Galina Alexandrova, the principal of a school near the city of Yambol. “They are naturally drawn to the water, so the best we can do is show them how to be safe around it.”

Over the years, the service has also provided valuable experience and ideas to other National Red Cross Societies in Europe – when Malta Red Cross was in the process of establishing its own water rescue capacities, Bulgarian Red Cross experts were sent to train 10 lifeguards and help establish rescue stations in Malta.

Official website of the Bulgarian Water Rescue Service (in Bulgarian).