Marine Combat Instructor of Water Survival

A Marine undergoes water survival training

A Marine Combat Instructor of Water Survival (MCIWS) is the primary source of water survival instruction in the United States Marine Corps. A MCIWS qualifies, re-qualifies, and upgrades Marines in Marine Combat Water Survival Training (MCWST) levels. They are responsible for ensuring compliance with Marine Corps orders, directives, and training standards that govern MCWST. A MCIWS possesses the second highest water survival qualification level in the Marine Corps, superseded only by a Marine Combat Instructor Trainer of Water Survival (MCITWS). MCIWS is level 7 of the eight qualification levels. The MCIWS is certified by the Marine Corps to teach beginner, intermediate, and advanced water survival skills, and may serve as the subject matter expert, coordinator, planner, and safety swimmer for water survival and other various aquatic training events. In addition to Marine Corps certifications, an MCIWS also holds American Red Cross Lifeguarding, First Aid, and CPR for the Professional Rescuer certifications.


School Locations

MCIWS training is conducted at the two primary formal schools at Expeditionary Warfare Training Group Pacific (EWTGPAC), Naval Amphibious Base Coronado, California, and at Combat Water Survival Swimming Schools (CWSSS), Marine Corps Combat Service Support Schools, Camp Lejeune, North Carolina.

Course, Training

A MCIWS course is usually three calendar weeks long, with training taking place on work days, and remediation conducted as necessary. In the past, the course used to yield attrition rates of up to 60 or even 70 percent, due to high physical and skills performance demands. Students are conditioned daily in lap swim sessions, and their endurance and technique are tested in rescue practice training blocks that add combat uniform and gear in increments each time. Confidence and a calm mindset are consistently put to the test with end-of-day water aerobics sessions that mix aerobic and anaerobic speed, endurance, and technique-based exercises. Every training event is designed to enhance proficiency in multiple disciplines.


Academics is just as important as performance, as an MCIWS must be able to teach survival skills with precision, with a full understanding of characteristics of survival techniques, aquatic environments, physics, physiology, and even psychology. A MCIWS is trained to recognize fear of water, and based on observation, apply teaching methods that develop student confidence and trust. Building on these basics, an MCIWS uses the "crawl, walk, run" principle by encouraging a student to perform increasingly challenging water survival skills. A MCIWS' teaching skills are evaluated multiple times during a course, with unforgiving emphasis on safety. Observing students, managing the classroom, and enforcing safety regulations are all evaluated, and failure to cover even a small safety point may cause the MCIWS student to fail instruction evaluation. In addition, all students that go through the training at the Water Survival School of Excellence, Camp Lejeune, North Carolina will also receive training and receive certification in Helicopter Underwater Egress Training.

Operational Role

In the operating forces, an MCIWS may advise a unit commander in aquatic training and safety matters, and may be the primary water safety for aquatic training. Helo-casting, surf qualification, and open water swims often require an MCIWS. Currently, an MCIWS is an additional or secondary, instructor Military Occupational Specialty (0918, formerly 8563), focused mainly on training, with no Table of Organization (TO) requirements for operating forces.

Future of MCIWS

With the current revision of the MCWST program, the job and name of an MCIWS are undergoing significant changes, but the mission remains essentially the same: train Marines in water survival.

See also

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