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Signs Of Drowning

Updated on October 11, 2014

What Are The Warning Signs Of Drowning?

Many times we envision the Hollywood version of drowning. The helpless child thrashes about in the water yelling for help, and the lifeguard heroically goes into Bay Watch motions as they run towards the shoreline. Reality is much different. Cases of drowning often happen right before our eyes without realizing that the victim is drowning. Parents may be distracted by other people around the pool, or may simply not be watching, but even if you are that does not guarantee that you will recognize that someone is drowning until it's too late.

Photo: Creative Commons rickpilot_2000

creative commons edenpictures
creative commons edenpictures

1. Body will be in an upright position

Contrary to popular belief, a person in distress will not be doing the dead man's float. When a person is showing signs of drowning, also known as instinctive response drowning, they will be upright in the water. The majority of a person's weight begins to pull down into the water which causes the body to remain up right. If you notice someone in this position, you want to check to see if they are moving around in the water. People erroneously believe someone is floating or relaxing when they are mostly likely drowning. At this point, you have 20 to 60 seconds to respond.

Did you know?

Young children can drown in less than one inch of water, which is less than the depth of this box.

Have A First Aid Bag On Hand At The Pool

creative commons tpower1978
creative commons tpower1978

2. Hands Will Be Extended Out From The Body

While someone is drowning, you will not see the arms voluntarily move. We often think of someone thrashing about and waving their arms wildly. The reality is that arms are slack and spread out from the body. There may be some involuntary movement as they drown, but they have lost the ability to use their arms. Any rescue device you throw out, for instance, can not be reached. They simply cannot control their arms.

creative commons Stan Oleson
creative commons Stan Oleson

3. Legs will remain motionless

One main way you can tell if someone is simply swimming in place or drowning is to observe their legs. Are they kicking their legs to maintain their position? If the legs are moving, then the swimmer is conscious and voluntarily using their limbs. You still need to call out to the swimmer to check on them. Young swimmers may become overtired without realizing it. They may need a break by using a flotation device, or they may need to get out of the water for a while. If the swimmer answers you and they sound out of breath, then it is time to take a break.

Great For The Swimming Pool

Stearns 2000009715 PFD 3864 3D
Stearns 2000009715 PFD 3864 3D

If you are just relaxing around the pool, I recommend this little puddle jumper. I've had one for the past 5 years for my daughter, and it still holds up to wear and tear. She is almost 50 pounds, and it holds her up nicely. We chose this because the swimsuits with built in flotation tend to ride up to the baby's head. My daughter hated it, but with this puddle jumper she will have control over her arms and can kick with ease!

creative commons kicks01
creative commons kicks01

4. The Mouth Will Be Slack And Bob Just Above The Surface.

A person who is drowning will not be able to take a full breath when their mouth reaches the surface of the water. They will often bob up and down in the water with their mouth just at the surface. They may also have their heads back with their eyes closed and mouth open. The mouth will be slack or the person may hyperventilate while trying to catch their breath.

Do you know first aid and CPR?

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    • LisaDH profile image


      5 years ago

      Very important topic. The first time I read an article about the signs of drowning, I was surprised because I always believed the Hollywood version of someone flailing their arms and yelling. Everyone should be aware of these signs.

    • Commandrix profile image


      6 years ago from Benson, IL

      Very good Lens to make -- Not too many people would recognize the signs of drowning. Thanks for caring enough to make this Lens.

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      I need to take another course in first aid and CPR. That is so important to know for parents. With summer here that beaches and swimming pools are alive with children and adults. The more people know, the more people stay alive. - This is very important message, and one I hope people will see on FaceBook, and Google +. I'll be posting this there. - Blessed! :)

      Have a fun and safe summer.

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      great tips for recognizing a drowning person

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      Wonderful lense! Proper for the time

    • sherridan profile image


      6 years ago

      Very interesting - I did a life-saving course many years ago and we were taught to push people away with our feet because they would be panicking and trying to grab us, so this is quite a revelation! I shall now know to be even more concerned when when people are not thrashing.

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      on a recent cruise we took a little girl drowned in a pool full of people... no one noticed the signs until it was too late. Horrible tragedy. This is important information.

    • amkatee profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago

      Two of my aunts saved children from drowning. One, while at a big water park, and the other saw her neighbor's toddler in a kiddie pool.

    • Frischy profile image


      6 years ago from Kentucky, USA

      I once saved a child from drowning & it was exactly as you described. He was directly in front of me in a wave pool. I thought he was bobbing under the waves until he surfaced & I noticed the look of panic on his face. I had my 7 year old under one arm & grabbed him with the other. The lifeguard never even noticed, nor did any other adult in the pool, including whoever was supposed to be watching the little guy. Scary stuff!


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