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Drowning! Know the Subtle Signs - Aging Well With Marjorie
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Drowning! Know the Subtle Signs

Drowning! Know the Subtle Signs

Our community was shocked and saddened when a 15-year-old boy drowned recently. This has prompted me to re-launch a previous blog.

I was astonished to learn that drowning people don’t shout or wave their arms, as we so often see in movies. Rather, they tend to quietly and unobtrusively drown. Children are usually noisy in the water, so if a child goes quiet, find out why.

Signs to look for

Lifeguards are taught the signs of drowning, which I think everyone should know. Francesco A. Pia, Ph.D. identifies major features of a drowning person. Drowning

  1. Drowning people are unable to call for help. Before sinking again, there is time only to exhale and grab another breath, with no time to yell or shout.
  2. The mouth is at water level, with the head tilted back. A drowning person seems to be looking up, but their eyes will look glassy and unfocused, or may be closed.
  3. The Instinctive Drowning Response results in the arms pressing down in the water, to enable the mouth to come to the surface. They may look like they are simply treading water.
  4. There is no voluntary control of movement, so a person can’t wave their arms to attract attention. Neither can they reach for any assistive device.
  5. Drowning people are vertical in the water, with no leg action.

There may be only 20 to 60 seconds of struggle in the water, before the Instinctive Drowning Response kicks in, when all goes quiet.


Don’t drown trying to help another! In deeper water over the head, untrained would-be rescuers often drown along with the person they are attempting to help. Swim where there are lifeguards. Keep your own eyes open for signs of drowning, and alert a lifeguard.

If you’re a boater, make sure everyone wears a life jacket, and don’t mix boating and alcohol.

If you’re a parent or child-minder, always keep your eyes on the children. I remember as a teenager that one mother used to take me along to the beach. My only job was to keep my eyes on the children at all times, while she chatted with other mothers. (I didn’t know the signs of drowning back then, so I mightn’t have been much help!)

Check out other signs of drowning, and more ideas for water safety.

Please also tell other people what you have learned about signs of drowning.


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