What Drowning Looks Like

Do you know…how to identify someone in danger of drowning?

According to the CDC, every day ten people die from unintentional drowning. Of these, two are children age 14 and under. We live on a barrier island surrounded by water with frequent rip currents and our community has several pools. Even with careful supervision an accidental drowning could occur. Most people think they know what drowning looks like, but may be wrong.

Recently, Soundings, an on-line blog for boaters, published an interesting article with tips on how to identify whether someone is drowning. The article cautions that drowning doesn’t resemble the wild splashing of arms and yelling for help that is usually depicted in movies or on television. Drowning is actually a quiet, undramatic event. To read the Soundings article about drowning, click here.

According to WebMD, a drowning person is likely to be:

  • Silent: The drowning person can’t call out for help. They are working hard just to breathe. Their head tilts backwards and their mouth opens as if they’re gasping or struggling to get a breath.
  • Bobbing up and down: When the drowning person’s mouth is above the water surface, they exhale and inhale quickly before sinking below the surface.
  • Stiff armed: A drowning person doesn’t wave their arms. Instead, their arms are out to the side, hands pressed on the water trying to stay afloat.
  • Still: The person’s body is straight up and down, like standing in the water. Kicking stops because they no longer have the energy to do so. 

When you are on the beach or at the pool, stay vigilant to these signs of drowning and call 911 for help if needed.

To read guidelines from WebMD, click here.
To read the Tidelines article about rip currents, click here.

Property owners should share this information with visitors and rental guests. 

Tidelines Editors

(Image credit: iStock Photo/bingokid)

Updated March 2023