What drowning really looks like (Hint: It’s not what you think)

Arms flail, splashes fly and a voice screams out: “Help me!”

That’s what drowning looks like, right? Wrong.

Turns out movie drowning and actual drowning aren’t even close cousins. Someone who is actually drowning undergoes an involuntary, automatic set of behaviors known as instinctive drowning response. It’s silent, and it’s scary.

Being able to identify true drowning behaviors is critical as you head out to summer camp with Scouts or even to the local lake or pool with your kids.

The British Red Cross says drowning is subtle, quiet and quick.

1. It’s subtle

While they may splash around and shout while in aquatic distress, once instinctive drowning response kicks in, the drowning person will instinctively spread his arms and paddle down in an attempt to stay above the surface. No matter how good an idea it might seem, a person can’t just “stop drowning” for a few seconds to wave for help – it’s literally beyond their control.

2. It’s quiet

A drowning person will alternately dip below the water and briefly back up again. He’s struggling so hard just to exhale and inhale again — to actually breathe — that speaking doesn’t even come into it.

3. It’s quick

Someone who is drowning will only last from 20 to 60 seconds before succumbing. Scout-age kids are at the lower end of that time spectrum, so it’s vital to recognize the danger signs. Of course, if someone is splashing and shouting for help (aquatic distress) they still need immediate help, but the time to really worry is when they go quiet.

Eight warning signs of drowning

  1. Head low in water, mouth at water level.
  2. Head tilted back with open mouth.
  3. Glassy eyes that are unable to focus, or closed eyes.
  4. Not kicking with legs.
  5. Hair covering the forehead or eyes for prolonged period.
  6. Gasping for breath or hyperventilating.
  7. Inability to respond to the question: “Are you OK?”
  8. Silence.

Source: British Red Cross

Pledge to Pool Safely this summer

The Boy Scouts of America is a supporter in the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission’s Pool Safely efforts.

The pledges below are a great way to get yourself and your kids involved in this important effort.

Pool Safely pledge for kids

I, ___________________, pledge to Pool Safely in 2014 I will never swim alone and will ask my parents to sign me up for swimming lessons. I will stay away from drains in the pool or hot tub. I will have fun, but always be safe when I’m in and around the water.

Sign the kids’ pledge here.

Pool Safely pledge for adults

I, , pledge to Pool Safely in 2014 I pledge to (check all that are applicable):

  • Designate a water watcher every single time children in my care are in or near the water.
  • Make sure my kids know how to swim.
  • As a parent or guardian, learn CPR.
  • Always remove portable pool ladders when not in use.
  • Ensure all permanent pools have a proper fence and gate and safe drain covers.

Sign the adult pledge and learn more here.


H/T: Thanks to Mark Ray, who blogged about this on his blog, and to the BSA’s Keith Christopher for tip.

About Bryan Wendell 2892 Articles
Bryan Wendell, an Eagle Scout, is the founder of Bryan on Scouting and a contributing writer.