How to Recognize Drowning Signs

How to Recognize Drowning Signs

A young girl taking swimming lessons

Ten people die from accidental drowning each day in the United States. Ensure you, your family, and your babysitters are prepared for emergencies and can recognize the drowning signs so they can help keep your loved ones safe.

Drowning looks different than most people think. You may not hear someone calling for help. In fact, it's more typical that a drowning victim is quiet — if you can't breathe, you can't speak.

Contrary to popular belief, drowning people don't go underwater and stay there. Instead, drowning victims sink and then may bob up, typically with not enough time to breathe and call for help. In fact, sometimes the struggle is very short — just 20 seconds or so — making quick help essential.

It's also a myth that someone who is drowning waves his or her arms frantically. If you are drowning, your body is focused on helping you survive, so voluntary arm movements are difficult, if not impossible. In most cases, drowning people are vertical, not horizontal, and they try to use their arms to press on the water, which may help give them a boost in the water to get a full breath. They may also be unable to swim or grab any rescue equipment and may try to float on their backs.

Everyone in water distress reacts differently. Some may indicate they need help by yelling and gesturing wildly; if so, respond. Be extra tuned in when you hear quiet — especially from children. Since drowning can happen quickly and silently, it is important to closely supervise children in the water at all times.


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