What Drowning Really Looks Like (It’s Quite a Bit Different Than on TV)

Lifeguard taking victim out of the poolmicrogen via Deposit Photos

We all know what drowning looks like, right? Wrong— and that wrong vision, fueled by dramatic T.V. scenes, can have catastrophic consequences.

According to data gathered by the World Health Organization, an estimated 360,000 people die due to drowning-related complications annually.

It’s a staggering statistic that gets even sadder when you consider that, by and large, children under the age of 14 make up the most predominant segment in this group.

Currently, the highest rates are centered in Southeast Asia, but the United States also carries a relatively sizable chunk of the responsibility, as drowning is currently the second-leading cause of accidental death in kids aged 1-14 years, behind auto accidents.

Recently, we shared the heartbreaking report of Olympian Bode Miller losing his toddler daughter to a drowning accident at a backyard pool party earlier this summer. After publishing the story, we received an outpouring of emotion from readers, and it got us thinking about drowning in general. How can this happen so often–especially in situations where plenty of adults are present?

After doing some research, we found plenty of evidence that pointed to one, very ominous reality: we have a lot of ideas about what drowning “should” look like, but many of us have the very wrong idea.

How to identify a drowning-in-progress BEFORE it turns into a tragedy

In a piece published in the Coast Guard’s On Scene, Dr. Pia, from lifeguard training and drowning prevention program Pia Enterprises, gave an explanation for why folks drown while under supervision— and how this dangerous trend can be stopped.

Let’s take a look at the not-so-obvious hallmarks of drowning:

  1. Drowning is a silent process

    Unlike what’s depicted in countless movies and TV shows, most drowning victims are unable to vocalize that they are in trouble. This means that you need to rely on your sight, not your ears, to save a drowning victim.

  2. Drowning doesn’t always involve splashing or waving

    Typically, drowning victims don’t have the ability to make big, obvious movements. In fact, the process is usually relatively splash-free, with the individual’s chin usually completely submerged in the water during the emergency.

  3. Drowning can occur in less than a minute

    According to Dr. Pia, an individual’s Instinctive Drowning Response allows for little kicking or wading ability. Because of this, the victim is often forced upright in the water and can only stay on the surface for about 20 to 60 seconds before going under. It can take only a minute for someone to experience permanent injury or death as a result of drowning.

We don’t know about you, but we, for one, are relieved to know that we now have a better understanding of what drowning looks like.

Remember, this information is only effective if its spread, so share it with fellow parents and even your kiddos, too. By considering all three of these factors, you, too, now have the awareness that it takes to save a life.  Let’s make drownings a thing of the past!

We’d love to hear your take on the topic of drowning. Have you ever endured a drowning tragedy? If so, what happened? Do you have any other tips for identifying drownings-in-progress?