Would you know what to do if someone was drowning?
July 17, 2017 at midnight
If you saw someone drowning, would you spring into action or freeze in your tracks? Are you confident enough you'd even recognize the signs of someone struggling in the water?
Thousands of people drown each year in the United States—often with friends and family looking on—either unsure of what to do or unaware that it's happening.
The ocean often seems so innocent when you're looking out over it on a calm day, but its power should never be underestimated. Being prepared now could allow you to save someone's life—or perhaps your own.
When swimming, consider the situation
Drowning can happen in multiple unique situations, so your response may require you to understand the context. For example, if you're swimming in a pool with lifeguards and see someone drowning, it might make more sense to get the lifeguard's attention before going in after them. However, unless you've got a personal
lifeguard with you at all times, most other water sources may require someone watching to take action in their stead.
The most important step is to make sure an adult who can swim and knows at least basic CPR is on the lookout. This includes anytime children or weak swimmers are out in the water. With numerous adults around, this responsibility can rotate—as long as someone sober and qualified is watching at any given moment.
It may seem obvious to spot someone drowning, but the signs we've seen in movies and on television are rarely the same signs you'll see in real life. The real signs are what is referred to as the Instinctive Drowning Response.
A person drowning is alternating between having their mouth above and below water, and the amount of time above water might barely be enough time to inhale and exhale. Because our respiratory system gets first dibs on using the mouth, an attempt to breathe takes precedent over any attempt to make a sound. If you're expecting to hear a call for help, you'll probably wait in vain.
Likewise, if you're expecting to see flailing arms, you should be aware that the instincts of the person in trouble will more likely be using their arms as leverage against the surface of the water in an attempt to keep themselves above it.
If you do spot someone drowning and you're able to get them out of the water, you must immediately be able to determine if they need CPR. Before starting with CPR, however, there are a few things to consider.
First, check to see if the person is conscious or unconscious. If they appear unconscious, shake their shoulder and speak loudly. If they are unresponsive, perform CPR for a minute before calling for emergency assistance.
￼￼￼￼￼In most cases of unconsciousness, you'd call 911 before starting CPR, but drowning incidents require you to start for a short time before making the call. Ideally, if there's more than one person around, one can do CPR while the other makes the call.
If you are untrained or not fully confident in your abilities, focus on chest compressions only until emergency rescue or someone with CPR training can take over.
Boating and water skiing
Wearing a life jacket should not be optional, as life jackets are not worn in 85% of drownings. Also, make sure someone responsible has an ignition kill switch. If you're boating and someone falls overboard, or a waterskier is having difficulty, this should give the best chance for the person in the water to get back on the boat.
Before leaving on a boating trip, be sure to have something buoyant available that can be thrown to the swimmer. It should be attached to a line so one can pull them in, but even if it isn't, it can still provide the swimmer with something to hold them up.
To learn how to prevent boating accidents that lead to drowning, there are excellent Boater Education courses available.
Kayaking and canoeing
Rivers are different waterways to the ocean and require a different understanding to prevent accidents. Rivers are graded based on several skill factors, including navigating rapids, the length of the rapids, and the need for maneuverability. Before embarking on such an adventure, be certain your skill level is high enough for the river you're about to take on.
As with boating, be sure to have something buoyant that can be used in rescue attempts. A river situation presents a different scenario, however, because it's not so easy to get back to a person who has gone overboard. Be sure to bring along a throw line or throw bag of at least 60-70 feet that can be used to rescue someone who's fallen overboard and has started struggling.
Ultimately, the best way to save someone from drowning is to be prepared before any situation arises. Educating yourself on the causes of drowning, having safety equipment handy, and knowing how to use it before hitting the water is the best way to keep your friends, family, and yourself safe.