Signs of Drowning

May is National Water Safety Month! As lifeguards, you already know a lot about water safety, but a refresher is always helpful! Plus, this blog can be a great resource to educate friends and family!  According to the World Health Organization, drowning is the 3rd leading cause of unintentional deaths. As a lifeguard, it’s important to know what to look for when determining if a swimmer is in distress. Take a look at these common myths along with true signs of drowning and apply them to your pool safety knowledge!

Common Drowning Myths

In TV shows and movies, drowning is often portrayed as someone yelling for help while splashing around in the pool. However, drowning actually happens quickly and silently.

  • Myth #1: Drowners yell
    • This is not likely because someone who is drowning won’t be able to speak or make any noises. Speech is physically impossible if the person is not able to breathe.
  • Myth #2: Drowners splash around violently
    • In the media, we often see drowners loudly splashing around in the pool. However, instead of reaching up and splashing, they actually press down on the water in an effort to keep their mouths above the water to breathe.
  • Myth #3: Drowning takes awhile to occur
    • Another myth is that drowning can take awhile. Drowners may only actually have seconds before they slip under the water. People who begin drowning may only struggle for 20-60 seconds.

Common Signs of Drowning

As a lifeguard, you have to be super aware of swimmers’ behavior in the pool. Sometimes signs of a swimmer in distress are subtle. This is why you have to pay close attention to everyone in or around the pool you’re guarding. Here are some common signs of drowning to look for while you’re on duty.

  • Silence
    • Drowners are physically unable to speak because they can’t breathe. Instead of yelling for help, drowners may begin gasping and hyperventilating. However, gasping and hyperventilating is only possible if they are still able to keep their head above the surface of the water.
  • Vertical position in water
    • If you notice a swimmer in a vertical position in the water, who isn’t moving their legs, they may be in trouble.
  • Head low in water/Tilted back
    • While in the vertical position, it is instinctual for drowners to tilt their heads back, trying to keep their mouth above water. The swimmer’s head will be tilted back with their mouth wide open at water level.
  • Floating face down
    • Face-down floating for extended periods of time often not done on purpose. Take action immediately if you see a swimmer in this position.
  • Arms moving downward
    • Drowners try to push themselves back to the surface of the water. If you see a swimmer’s arms moving downward, they may be trying to push from something that isn’t there. Imagine pushing up off of a desk as you stand up from a chair. This is a similar concept. This may also look like trying to climb and invisible ladder.
  • Bobbing up and down
    • If someone is moving in the water or appears as if they’re trying to swim, but aren’t making progress, they may be drowning. Take action ASAP!

Being a lifeguard is an important job, so make sure your water safety knowledge is up to date! Remember, true drowning episodes look completely different than what we’re used to seeing on TV and in the movies. Be sure that you’re able to recognize true signs of drowning, so that you can react quickly and prevent any potential tragedies. Find more tips and information about water safety here.

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