Sculling water is a basic swimming technique where you use quick horizontal movements of the arms in the water to maintain your head above the water surface.

You float in a vertical position with your arms extended sideways at shoulder level, elbows slightly bent. You keep the water at shoulder level by quickly sculling back and forth with your arms.

A boy sculling water to stay afloat

Once you can scull water you will feel at ease in any pool

Sculling Water Technique

During car trips in your childhood, you probably have played with the wind by extending one of your arms out of the car’s window. If the car was driving fast enough, you could use the wind to push your arm up and down by rotating your forearm.

You will use a similar technique to scull water with your arms. Do the following:

  • Extend your arms sideways below the surface, with your elbows slightly bent.
  • Rotate your forearms 45° forward and move your arms forward, pushing water forward and downward with your forearms and palms. Keep your arms close to the water surface.
  • Invert the movements when your hands are about to touch in front of you. Rotate your forearms backward and move your arms outward and backward. You will now push water downward and backward.
  • Once you cannot move your arms farther backward, reverse the direction and move your arms forward.

The pressure of your forearms and palms against the water creates some lift and allows you to keep your head above the water surface.

Swimming Exercises Video

Here’s a video that shows the various exercises described below to learn how to scull water:

Learn Sculling Water

Use the following sequence of drills to learn how to float with sculling arm movements:

  • First, rehearse the sculling movements while standing on dry land. Visualize yourself pushing with your arms against the water.
  • Go to the shallow area of the pool.
  • Practice mushroom float to get an understanding and feel for the body’s natural buoyancy.
  • Crouch until the water is at your shoulders, and practice the sculling movements as described above. Feel how quick back and forth sculling movements create lift.
  • Grab a water noodle, wrap it around your chest or back and tuck it under your armpits. Assume the same crouching position as before, draw your knees toward your chest so your feet lose contact with the ground, and use the sculling movements to float in the water.
  • Repeat the previous drill once you have internalized it but now remove the water noodle. See whether your arm movements and your body’s buoyancy are sufficient to keep your head above water.

Practice the previous drills for a while until you feel confident in your ability to keep your head above water.

You will venture in the deeper area of the pool to practice the next drills once sculling water with your arms works well. At first, do this under the supervision of a lifeguard or experienced swimmer!

  • Get hold of a swim noodle and place it under your armpits as before. Make sure it supports your weight in the water. Now move toward the deeper area of the pool. When your feet lose the ground, start the sculling movements with your hands and at the same time start to flutter kick with your feet. Practice this for a while.
  • When you feel your sculling and kicking are efficient enough to support your body, it is time to remove the swim noodle. Go to the shallow area of the pool, get rid of the swim noodle, get back to the deeper area of the pool, close to the edge, and repeat the previous drill. Only do short sets in the beginning and progressively build endurance and confidence.

Congratulations! You have learned the technique of sculling water and as a bonus you also have learned how to tread water!

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