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Learn Sculling Water, a Basic Swimming Technique

Sculling water is a basic swimming technique where you use quick horizontal movements of the hands 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 hands.

Underwater sculling movements
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 changing the orientation of your hand against the wind.

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

1) Extend your arms sideways below the surface, with your elbows slightly bent.

2) Rotate your forearms 45° forward and move your hands forward, pushing water forward and downward with your hands. Keep your arms close to the water surface.

3) Invert the movements when your hands are about to touch in front of you. Rotate your forearms backward and move your hands outward and backward. You will now push water downward and backward.

4) Once you cannot move your hands farther backward, reverse the direction and move your hands 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

The following video shows various exercises you can do to learn how to scull water. These exercises are described further below.

Learn Sculling Water

Use the following sequence of drills to learn how to float while sculling your hands against the water. For a demonstration of those drills, have a look at the video above.

Exercise #1

First, rehearse the sculling movements on dry land. Visualize yourself pushing with your hands against the water.

Exercise #2

Go to the shallow area of the pool.

Practice the mushroom float to get an understanding and feel for the body’s natural buoyancy.

Exercise #3

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.

Exercise #4

Grab a swimming 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.

Exercise #5

Repeat the previous drill once you have internalized it but now remove the swimming noodle.

See whether your hand 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 stay afloat and keep your head above water.

Exercise #6

You will now venture into the deeper area of the pool to practice the next two drills.

At first, do this under the supervision of a lifeguard or experienced swimmer!

Get hold of a swimming 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.

Exercise #7

When you feel your sculling and kicking are efficient enough to support your body, it is time to remove the swimming noodle.

Go to the shallow area of the pool, get rid of the swimming 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!

Related Pages

You may also be interested in the following articles that cover basic swimming techniques:


Saturday 16th of September 2017


Is it possible to keep your head out of the water just by sculling, without a flutter kick? I tried to learn the flutter kick but I couldn't.


Sunday 17th of September 2017

Sure. If you look at the video above, in the second sequence, I scull water without kicking.


Tuesday 28th of October 2014

I find that when I try to scull or tread water, I sink like a stone. I'm able to float on my front quite well. It also makes me panic and that just makes it all worse.


Tuesday 28th of October 2014

Hi Jan, it can take some time to be able to scull or tread water efficiently so that your head stays above the water surface.

We have an article covering the fear of sinking here:

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