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Summer Water Safety: Do You Know The Signs Of A Person Who Is Drowning?

As “summer vacation season” heats up in Michigan, many people will head to the beach, soak up some sun and spend time in the water. But, what if someone – maybe a family member – was drowning?  Would you realize it?  Do you think it would be like what you see on TV or in the movies?

I ran across a fantastic video showing TRUE signs drowning (hint: there aren’t many) and thought it was important to share with you.  Spotting a person who is drowning is nowhere near as easy as you’d think.

Something called the “Instinctive Drowning Response” is what people do when they’re in danger of drowning (or feel as though they’re in danger). Check out this list from Frank Pia, PhD to *read* what real drowning looks like – or doesn’t look like.

  1. Except in rare circumstances, drowning people are physiologically unable to call out for help. The respiratory system was designed for breathing. Speech is the secondary or overlaid function. Breathing must be fulfilled, before speech occurs.
  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. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. Throughout the Instinctive Drowning Response, drowning people cannot voluntarily control their arm movements. Physiologically, drowning people who are struggling on the surface of the water cannot stop drowning to perform voluntary movements such as waving for help 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.

Still not sure if you would recognize someone drowning?  Watch this video.

Here are other signs to look for, from Aviation Survival Technician First Class Mario Vittone:

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.

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