The signs of drowning…

Drowning…Reality Does Not Look Like TV!

What does a drowning victim look like? Close your eyes and visualize it.

Are you looking for flailing arms or listening for shouts of help from the drowning person? Are you looking for a group of frantic people pointing to an unfortunate individual“way out there”? Does your visualization look more like Jaws in the ocean or a 5” kiddie pool?

Remember that age-old saying that “there is security in numbers”….But is there? Of the nearly 750 children that drown each year approximately 50% drown within 25 yards of a parent or other adult. Why?

Most of us are not familiar with the signs of a drowning in progress. While children are typically thought to be the most susceptible to drowning, it must be remembered that every user of a swimming pool can be at risk for injury. This includes the young, the old as well as the experienced and novice swimmer.

Here is some information about drowning that may just surprise you.

According to Francesco A. Pia, Ph.D, drowning does not look like what we expect. The following points of information from Dr. Pia’s description of the “Instinctive Drowning Response” give insight into what really happens during a drowning:

  • 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.
  • In 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.
  • 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.
  • Throughout 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.
  • 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.”

Knowing the signs of drowning are critical for quick rescue response and saving lives. A little knowledge goes a long way when it comes to water safety. Enjoy your poolside holiday or beach side vacation, but don’t relax your awareness of swimming safely.


This post was written by Cynthia Roberts-Tamm who is a Senior Risk Control Representative from Westfield Insurance Company’s Lancaster, Pennsylvania Service Office. She has more than 22 years of experience in the risk control field.

Posted on: July 11th, 2013 at 5:23pm by bwittenbaum. Filed under: Safety

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