Good Practice Guide – Swiftwater Breathing Apparatus

Download Version: October 2023 (PDF)

1. Introduction

1.1 Scope

This guidance is for persons carrying out public safety related activities (operations or training etc.) using Swiftwater Breathing Apparatus (SWBA).

1.2. Definitions.

Adjuncts means devices used to assist swimming such as fins, mask, floatation aids.

Approved Filler means a person who meet local regulatory requirements to recharge a compressed gas cylinder (e.g. SWBA).

Approved Instructor means a person who meets the requirements laid out in this guideline as a SWBA Instructor.

Competent person is a person who meets local regulator requirements to perform visual and hydrostatic testing of gas cylinders.

Cylinder means an aluminum or composite wrapped gas cylinder not exceeding 500 ml (water volume) used as part of a type approved SWBA.

Breathing System means a SWBA product as specified in Annex A.

Guideline refers to this guideline (PSI Global Good Practice Guide – Swiftwater Breathing Apparatus).

Operator a person who is certified to use SWBA under this guideline or someone training to gain such certification under the direct supervision of an Approved Instructor.

Service Technician means a person who is authorised by the manufacturer to carry out maintenance on the respective SWBA.

Swiftwater Breathing Apparatus (SWBA) means the use of an emergency breathing system during swiftwater and floodwater activities to provide respiratory protection from aspiration of water, whilst remaining buoyant at the surface, without the intention to dive below the surface. May also be referred to as Surface Water Breathing Apparatus.

1.3 Abbreviations

ADAS Australian Diver Accreditation Scheme

CMAS Confédération Mondiale des Activités Subaquatiques

DAN Diver Alert Network

DEFRA Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (UK)

EBS Emergency Breathing System

GPG Good Practice Guide

IPSQA International Public Safety Qualifications Authority

ISO International Standards Organisation

NAUI National Association of Underwater Instructors

NFPA National Fire Protection Association

PADI Professional Association of Dive Instructors

PFD Personal Floatation Device

PSI Public Safety Institute

SCBA Self-Contained Breathing Apparatus (Closed Circuit)

SCUBA Self-Contained Underwater Breathing Apparatus

SSI SCUBA Schools International

SWBA Swiftwater Breathing Apparatus, may also be known as Surface Water Breathing Apparatus

UHMS Undersea & Hyperbaric Medical Society

WRSTC World Recreational Scuba Training Council

1.4 Acknowledgement & Creative Commons License

1.5.1 PSI Global acknowledge this Good Practice Guide has been adapted from the WorkSafe New Zealand Good Practice Guideline for Diving.

1.5.2 As part of the creative commons license set by WorkSafe New Zealand on their guideline, the PSI Global Good Practice Guideline for SWBA is an open access document.

1.5.3 This Good Practice Guide is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Non-commercial 3.0 NZ license.

2. Safety Management System

2.1 Personnel

2.1.1 Personnel who undertake or support SWBA activities should be given an orientation to this guideline.

2.1.2 Operators should not be referred to as divers unless they are intending to dive and operate outside this guideline.

2.2 Fitness for work

2.2.1 Operators should have the strength, physical fitness and mental health to undertake SWBA activities safely.

2.2.2 As a minimum they should be able to comfortably:

2.2.3 Operators should also have and maintain a medical clearance to a recreational dive medical or higher standard (CMAS, DAN, RSTC, UHMS).

2.2.4 Operators and Approved Instructor carrying out SWBA activities must not be impaired by fatigue, drugs or alcohol.

2.3 Training

2.3.1 Operators must hold and maintain a recognised dive certification that meets ISO 24801-1 (supervised diver) or higher (such as a military or commercial diver certification).

2.3.2 Operators must hold and maintain a recognised swiftwater rescue technician certification (e.g. , IPSQA, PSI Global, Rescue 3, DEFRA, PUASAR002, NFPA etc.)

2.3.3 Operators should complete a recreational dive medical questionnaire and supply this to an approved instructor prior to commencing practical training. Practical training should not be undertaken if the operator fails any initial screening question, unless medical clearance is provided by a physician or medical practitioner.

2.3.4 SWBA certification and recertification training must consist of:

2.3.5 Maintenance of SWBA certification (2.3.4) should be done using a real-time verifiable document (i.e. online QR code).

2.3.6 Operators are exempt from Clauses 2.3.1 to 2.3.5 where they hold and maintain micro-credential certification in accordance with IPSQA Standard 5002 (Swiftwater Breathing Apparatus Operator) as this certification exceeds such requirements.

2.3.7 Operators should undertake an annual skills check to ensure proficiency in between recertification.

2.3.8 Approved Instructors must hold and maintain the following:

2.3.9 Demonstrations of SWBA may only take place in flat confined water (i.e. pool), limited in depth to the users chest height and the user has no contraindications on the dive medical screening form, and the demonstration is conducted under the direct supervision of a SWBA instructor.

2.4 Equipment

2.4.1 Cleaning SWBA equipment should be cleaned and sanitized after use and between users to avoid infection. Solutions may include: SWBA equipment used in natural waterways should be inspected and cleaned in accordance with local regulatory requirements (if any) to avoid spread of biosecurity risks (e.g. didymo)

2.4.2 Storage SWBA equipment should be stored in protective cases in a secure, clean, dry and cool environment. Storage of SWBA equipment in hot environments and in direct sunlight should be avoided as it may cause air expansion leading to burst disc rupture. SWBA fitted with mouth pieces should be stored with a plug or cap to prevent dust, insects or other contaminants from entering.

2.4.3 Maintenance SWBA cylinders must be visually inspected by a competent person, no less than every two years. SWBA cylinders should undergo a hydrostatic test by a competent person, no less than every five years. SWBA cylinders should have their visual inspection and hydrostatic test certificate dates marked on their exterior. SWBA fittings (regulators, hose, gauge) should be serviced annually or as per the manufacturers instructions by a service technician. Recharging of SWBA cylinders must be done by an approved filler using breathable (non-enriched) air that meets air quality for diving. Air quality should be periodically tested to ensure it is not contaminated. SWBA cylinders should be fully charged (100%) before being stowed ready for use. Where SWBA cylinders are to be stored not fully charged, they should be stored with nominal pressure (approximately 30 bar) to avoid moisture and other contaminants entering. In the event of a burst disc, it should be replaced and the SWBA should be checked by a service technician. SWBA cylinder should be labelled as per Annex A. SWBA cylinders should be refilled with fresh air every 6 months. Records of maintenance, servicing and testing must be held in accordance with local regulations. Customization of type-approved devices (i.e. adding valves, substituting parts etc) must be approved by the manufacturer. Kevlar or similar advanced cut protected hoses should not be used as these reduce the ability to cut if entangled in an emergency.

2.4.4 Fitting Masks and mouthpieces used in conjunction with SWBA should be fitted and tested.

2.5 Risk Management

2.5.1 A risk management or safety plan must be developed by the entity responsible for SWBA activities and communicate this to those who are affected by it.

2.5.2 The risk management plan must include hazard identification, hazard control, normal operating procedures, emergency operating procedures and be approved by the entity. Normal operating procedures must include:

Such as where the user has no intention to dive but is forced underwater at depth requiring the operator to use SWBA (i.e waterfall hydraulic) Emergency operating procedures must include:

2.5.3 The risk management plan must be reviewed no less than annually.

2.6 First Aid

2.6.1 Adequate first aid facilities and trained first aiders must be available when undertaking SWBA activities.

2.6.2 First aiders must be qualified to:

2.6.3 First aiders must re-qualify their training in accordance with local requirements, but no less than every three years.

2.6.4 SWBA activities should have access on-site to oxygen and an Automatic External Defibrillator.

2.7 Incident Reporting

2.7.1 Near misses, incidents causing harm or damage, injuries, illness and death must be recorded and reported in accordance with local regulatory requirements.

2.7.2 Any user of SWBA or their supervisor must report SWBA safety incidents and near-misses within 7 days using the PSI SWBA incident reporting form.

3. Safe Operating Procedures

3.1 Intent

3.1.1. SWBA activities must not performed with the intention to dive. Where there is intent, public safety or commercial diving protocols must be followed.

3.1.2 SWBA activities shall ensure that the operator is positively buoyant and no weight belt system is used.

3.1.3 SWBA may be administered to a victim facing a life-threatening emergency, provided that such intervention does not compromise the safety of rescuers.

3.2 Team Positions

3.2.1 In addition to normal swiftwater crewing and positions, SWBA activities must have the follow dedicated positions on-site:

3.2.2. A Safety Officer should be designated and where possible, this person should meet SWBA operator certification requirements.

3.2.3 The Primary Operator, Secondary Operator, Attendant and Supervisor must meet SWBA operator certification requirements.

3.3 Briefing

3.3.1 A briefing must be given prior to commencing SWBA activities by the supervisor. It must include:

3.3.2 The briefing may also include additional information such as:

3.4 Minimum equipment

3.4.1 Operators shall be equipped and be fitted with a minimum of:

3.4.2 Operators may be equipped and fitted with other equipment including, but not limited to:

3.5 Prohibited Activities

3.5.1 SWBA activities under this guideline shall not be used in the following circumstances or conditions:

3.6 Recommended Signals

3.6.1 The briefing shall include signals to communicate between the operator and attendant:

3.6.2 The briefing may use the recommended SWBA signals as per the table below.

Hand SignalWhistle
Are you ok?Flat hand on head
I am okFlat hand on head in response
Something is wrongFlat hand tilting
I am low on airFist on front of helmetN/A
I am out of airLevel hand sliding back and forth across front of helmetN/A
HelpHand extended above wavingContinuous
Recall Operator Finger swirling (eddy out) then pointing in safe exit direction
Stop/AttentionHand extended in front above water with palm raisedOne short blast
UpTwo short blasts
DownThree short blasts
Rope Free/Release Hand level moved swinging wide backwards/forwards above waterFour short blasts


Annex A: Recommended SWBA cylinder labels

Annex B: Type Approvals

Type Approved EBS for SWBA activities:

Type-Approved Mounting System:

Type-Approved Refilling Devices

Annex C: Skills Check Form

PSI Global: Skills Check – SWBA e-form

Annex D: Generation Versions

1.0 Oral regulator type with standard horizontal second stage.

1.1 Oral regulator type with vertical second stage.

2.0 Mask type with ambient air valve

2.1 Mask type with ambient air value and integrated communications


Author: Steve Glassey

Date: 22 November 2023


For further information on the PSI Global: Good Practice Guide – Swiftwater Breathing Apparatus or for information on operator and approved instructor training, please contact us.


This publication provides general guidance. It is not possible for PSI Global to address every situation that could occur in every workplace. This means that you will need to think about this guidance and how to apply it to your particular circumstances.

PSI Global regularly reviews and revises this guidance to ensure that it is up-to-date. If you are reading a printed or PDF copy of this guidance, please check this page to confirm that your copy is the current version.

Version Control

22 November 2023: Added PUASAR002 Trainer/Assessor as equivalent instructor requirement (2.3.8)

12 January 2024: Add sterilizing solution examples (2.4.1), Mask fitting added (, victim use (3.1.3).

26 January 2024: New incident reporting requirements added including PSI/DAN incident reporting form URL (2.7.2)

23 February 2024: Shears preferred, no customization unless approved, no Kevlar hoses, type-approvals updated.

17 June 2024: Mouth piece type (1st generation) SWBA should be stored with protective cap/plug (, cylinder volume updated, SWBA may also mean Surface Water Breathing Apparatus.

19 June 2024: Demonstration conditions added (2.3.9) and Annex D (generation versions) added.