Drowning/Rescue

  • Preventing Drowning
  • Making Your Residential Pool Safe
  • What To Do When A Person Is Drowning

    Despite many efforts by the American Red Cross and other organizations, drowning remains a chief cause of accidental deaths in the United States. This is particularly true for children under 14, where it is the second leading cause of accidental deaths, accounting for 940 fatalities in 1998 alone.

    Preventing Drowning

  • Learn how to swim, and if you have children, enroll them in swimming lessons. Besides learning the basic mechanics of swimming, children should learn water safety and a healthy respect for the dangers of water as opposed to a fear of water.
  • Never swim alone.
  • With young children, flotation devices, such as water wings or plastic tubes, should not be assumed to keep the child above water. Children can slip off these devices or the devices can deflate.
  • At lakes or oceans, only swim in designated areas, usually an area enclosed by floating buoys.
  • Wear a personal flotation device (PFD) when out on a boat. It must be worn to be useful, as it is difficult to put on once in the water and in trouble.
  • Never mix alcohol with any activity on the water, be it swimming, boating, water skiing, etc.
  • Never dive or jump into a body of water where you don’t know the depth. The water should be at least nine feet deep for safe diving without threat of a head injury.
  • Even if you are a strong swimmer, do not overestimate the distance you can swim. “Showing off” is an easy way to get yourself in trouble in the water.
  • Always be aware of the weather before participating in any water-related activity. Avoid water-related activities during storms.
  • Do not chew gum or eat while swimming, which can cause choking.
  • If you get a cramp in your leg, float on your back and try to rub the cramped area. When swimming back to shore, use a different stroke than the one you used to get the cramp. Floating on your back is also a good way to get a breather when you still have a long way to swim.

    Most drowning fatalities do not occur in natural bodies of water such as oceans, lakes or rivers, but in swimming pools, and the great majority of these occur in privately owned residential pools, accounting for 60 to 90 percent of all pool-drowning fatalities. The main victims are children 5 years or younger. The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission reports that around 500 young children drown and 3,000 young children nearly drown in residential pools annually.

    Making Your Residential Pool Safe

  • Install a fence at least 4 feet high completely around the pool. The fence’s gates should be self-closing and self-latching, and the latch should be out of young children’s reach.
  • Install a motor-powered safety cover over the pool. This cover should be strong enough to support two adults and a child.
  • Steps and ladders should be secured and locked for above ground pools, or removed when the pool is not in use.
  • If a child is missing, always look for them in the pool first. A young child drowning is described as “an absolutely silent event” since they do not splash or cry for help when they fall into the water. Because of this, adults should constantly supervise young children around swimming pools. Young children can drown in the time it takes to make a “short” phone call.

    Young children can also drown in very shallow water, as little as 2 inches. For this reason, all efforts should be made to remove water hazards from any environment where young children will be. Buckets, especially 5-gallon buckets, should be emptied immediately after use. Children should always be supervised in bathtubs or around toilets.

    What To Do When A Person Is Drowning

    When witnessing a drowning, a few factors have to be taken into account before a person should proceed with assistance. These include the level of life saving/swimming skills of the helper, the size of the victim and the circumstances of the body of water the victim is struggling in.

    For instance, if the victim is a small child who is drowning in water not above the helper’s head, the helper should not hesitate to jump in to pull the child from the water. In the same situation, if the helper is a non-swimmer and the water is above their head, reaching in from the water’s edge to grab the child will not endanger the helper as long as they lay flat on the ground and are of at least medium strength.

    However, in almost all other situations, the helper should consider other rescue procedures first. This is because a drowning person may not behave in a rational manner, and can inadvertently push another person under the water or tightly grab the other person in a panicked attempt to save themselves. Do not allow a bad situation to worsen by becoming a victim as well. Instead, adhere to the following steps to protect yourself and still render adequate aid.

  • Yell and look for help—There may be others around who are trained in lifeguard procedures or who have either boats or floating devices that can aid in the rescue.
  • Self rescue—Attempt to talk the person to safety by giving them instructions on how to get back to the edge or shore, or over to a floating object near them.
  • Reach—Many objects can be extended out to a victim, such as a branch, pole, oar, shirt or towel. After putting the object just in front of the victim, yell at them to grab the object. Brace yourself and keep your weight on your back foot so the victim does not pull you into the water.
  • Throw—Throw a floating object to the victim, such as a life preserver or ice chest. Verbally alert the victim that the object is there. If a rope is available, put one end of the rope firmly under your foot and throw the other end to the victim.
  • Row—If there is a boat available, take it out to the victim and extend them an oar or paddle. Maneuver the victim so they will enter the stern (back) of the boat. If they can’t be pulled in, have them hold onto the boat while you stir to a dock or shore.
  • Go—As a last resort, the helper can enter the water to aid the victim. Take along a floating object to extend to the victim, being careful to avoid personal contact unless you are trained in proper lifesaving procedures.

    Drowning victims may need CPR after they are removed from the water. It has been scientifically established that people who have been submerged in water for periods in excess of an hour can be successfully revived without long-term disabilities under certain circumstances. This is due to what is known as the mammalian diving reflex, or diving reflex, where the body diverts blood from other parts of the body to the most important organs, specifically the heart and the brain. All bodily systems function at a slower rate, and blood remains in the brain to prevent the loss of oxygen that causes brain damage.

    The diving reflex can only occur when the victim is submerged in cold water, and it is much stronger in children than adults. But partly because of its occurrence, all efforts should be made to revive a drowning victim even if there are no signs of life.

    Like in any emergency, 911 should be called the moment a victim of drowning is found. The victim’s feet should be elevated and CPR began, if needed. The victim should be taken to medical personnel at the first possible opportunity. This is necessary even if the victim was revived and appears well; the water that was in the victim’s body can cause permanent damage to their lungs or other organs.