Do You REALLY Know the Signs of Drowning?


I’ve been swimming for several decades now, but I’ve never heard the information that is currently being offered about drowning. This is valuable information for everyone who spends even a single day by a pool, pond, lake, bay, or ocean. 

First, forget everything you think you know about what a drowning person looks like. Try to erase the memory of all the movie and TV show portrayals of drowning. It’s all wrong. The following information comes from an article on called Drowning Doesn’t Look Like Drowning.

Here’s what’s right, based on what’s known as the Instinctive Drowning Response, as first described by Francesco A. Pia, Ph.D.:

  • Drowning is silent. Except in rare situations, there is no waving, yelling, splashing, or kicking.
  • Physiology is paralyzing. A person who is drowning CANNOT wave for help or even control their arm movements. While drowning, a person’s arms automatically extend out to the side to press down on the surface of the water.
  • There is no time to breathe. A drowning person will bob up to the surface, sink, bob up, and sink again. While they are above the surface, there is no time to exhale and inhale again. There is not enough time or breath to shout for help.
  • Don’t expect assistance. A drowning person cannot help his rescuers. He cannot reach out or grab for a lifeline or a floatation device.
  • Don’t ignore a yelling, splashing person. These are signs of “aquatic distress,” which could turn into an actual drowning situation. But a person who is in the actual process of drowning has only 20 to 60 seconds of struggle in the water before going under.
  • If you have doubt, ask. If you notice signs of drowning but aren’t sure, ask: “Are you all right?” If they can answer, then they are probably fine. If not, then you have just a few seconds to rescue them. That goes for children, too–when they stop making noise, that’s the time to worry.

According to, here other other signs of drowning to watch for when a person is 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
Here is a video of the Instinctive Drowning Response: Mario Vittone site video
Stay safe, everyone!
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