He Doesn't Appear to be Drowning...

...but he might be

By Tammy McKillip (with content from the U.S. Coast Guard "On Scene", CDR Steven Stilleke Editor) July 13, 2010

What do you think a drowning person looks like? If you're picturing a person wildly thrashing about, screaming for help, you will probably be surprised to learn that that image--the one we've all seen a hundred times in movies and television programs--is dead wrong.

Keep your kids safe on the beach and at the pool this summer by watching them at all times, choosing a swimming spot that is within easy sight of a trained lifeguard and being able to recognize the signs when they are in trouble. The following information comes from the U.S. Coast Guard periodical, On Scene Magazine, 2006:


Characteristics of the Instinctive Drowning Response:

1. Except in rare circumstances, drowning people are physiologically unable to call out for help. The respiratory system was designed for breathing. Speech is the secondary, or overlaid, function. Breathing must be fulfilled, before speech occurs.

2. Drowning people’s mouths alternately sink below and reappear above the surface of the water. The mouths of drowning people are not above the surface of the water long enough for them to exhale, inhale, and call out for help. When the drowning people’s mouths are above the surface, they exhale and inhale quickly as their mouths start to sink below the surface of the water.

In other words, people who are drowning are usually unable to call for help.

3. Drowning people cannot wave for help. Nature instinctively forces them to extend their arms laterally and press down on the water’s surface. Pressing down on the surface of the water,
permits drowning people to leverage their bodies so they can lift their mouths out of the water to breathe.

4. Thoughout the Instinctive Drowning Response, drowning people cannot voluntarily control their arm movements. Physiologically,drowning people who are struggling on the surface of the water cannot stop drowning and perform voluntary movements such as waving for help, moving toward a rescuer, or reaching out for a piece of rescue equipment.

In other words, drowning people do not thrash about and call attention to their prediciment--They may appear to be swimming normally.

5. From beginning to end of the Instinctive Drowning Response people’s bodies remain upright in the water, with no evidence of a supporting kick. Unless rescued by a trained lifeguard, these
drowning people can only struggle on the surface of the water from 20 to 60 seconds before submersion occurs.

You have less than 60 seconds to save a drowning child before they become submerged in the water--one minute.

(Source: On Scene Magazine: Fall 2006)