Drowning is not the violent, splashing call for help that most people expect. Drowning is almost always a deceptively quiet event. The waving, splashing, and yelling that films and TV prepare us to look for is rarely seen in real life.
The Instinctive Drowning Response is what people do to avoid actual or perceived suffocation in the water. And it does not look like most people expect - there is very little splashing, no waving, and no yelling or calls for help of any kind.
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.
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.”
Look for these other signs of drowning when persons are in the water:
  • Head low in the water, mouth at water level
  • Head tilted back with mouth open
  • Eyes glassy and empty, unable to focus
  • Eyes closed
  • Hair over forehead or eyes
  • Not using legs—vertical
  • Hyperventilating or gasping
  • Trying to swim in a particular direction but not making headway
  • Trying to roll over on the back
  • Appear to be climbing an invisible ladder
Sometimes the most common indication that someone is drowning is that they don’t look like they’re drowning. They may just look like they are treading water and looking up at the deck.
Is there one way to be sure? Ask them, “Are you all right?” If they can answer at all—they probably are. If they return a blank stare, you may have less than 30 seconds to get to them.
And parents - children playing in the water make noise. When they get quiet, you get to them and find out why. Children can drown in just a few centimetres of water and should be supervised at all times when near any water.
Make sure you always follow some simple safety precautions:
  • Never leave babies or children in the bath unsupervised, not even for a minute.
  • Do not leave uncovered containers of liquid around the house.
  • Store away paddling pools when they are not being used.
  • Preferably, fill in garden ponds while children are small. If this is not possible, cover ponds with a rigid grille or securely fence them off. Be careful when your children visit other people’s gardens.
Have a great and safe summer!
Occupational First Aid Instructor