Drowning Doesn’t Look Like Drowning – water safety info every parent needs

The new captain jumped from the cockpit, fully dressed, and sprinted through the water. A former lifeguard, he kept his eyes on his victim as he headed straight for the owners who were swimming between their anchored sportfisher and the beach. “I think he thinks you’re drowning,” the husband said to his wife. They had been splashing each other and she had screamed but now they were just standing, neck-deep on the sand bar. “We’re fine, what is he doing?” she asked, a little annoyed. “We’re fine!” the husband yelled, waving him off, but his captain kept swimming hard.

”Move!” he barked as he sprinted between the stunned owners. Directly behind them, not ten feet away, their nine-year-old daughter was drowning. Safely above the surface in the arms of the captain, she burst into tears, “Daddy!”


We’ve been conditioned to think drowning is some sort of dramatic thrashing about. As parents watching our children in the water, we assume that we’d obviously notice any trouble (as we occasionally look up from our book) and know that he or she was in danger.

But we’ve been misled.

Television and movies are designed to depict the drama – not the everyday.

When a person begins to drown, the Instinctive Drowning Response kicks in. They aren’t able to cry out, their respiratory system is busy trying to breathe. They aren’t able to wave their arms overhead like you expect. In fact it may look very much like just playing quietly in the water. Very undramatic. Until the person slowly sinks below the water surface.

Read some scary statistics on unintentional drowning

When you are watching children in the water, talk to them constantly. If they cannot answer you, they very well could be in trouble. You may have as little as 20 seconds to stop the drama — and you better hope that there is a trained lifeguard around.

Surface drowning is quiet and undramatic. It is said that of the about 375 of the children that drown each year will do so within 25 yards of a parent or other adult; and in ten percent of those drownings, the adult will actually watch them do it, having no idea it is happening (source: CDC).

Learn the characteristics of the Instinctive Drowning Response.

1. Except in rare circumstances, drowning people are physiologically unable to call out for help.
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.
3. Drowning people cannot wave for help. Nature instinctively forces them to extend their arms laterally and press down on the water’s surface.
4. Drowning people cannot voluntarily control their arm movements. Physiologically, they cannot perform voluntary movements such as waving for help, moving toward a rescuer, or reaching out for a piece of rescue equipment.
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.

(Source: On Scene Magazine: Fall 2006, page 14)

Educate yourself and your children. Knowing the signs of distress in the water just may be what you need to save a life.


2 responses to “Drowning Doesn’t Look Like Drowning – water safety info every parent needs

  1. Pingback: Drowning signs aren’t like the movies | Southwest Wisconsin Community of Homeschools

  2. Pingback: Drowning: What You May Not Know | Southwest Wisconsin Community of Homeschools

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