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How to Prevent Drowning Accidents

As a swimming teacher for over 45 years, safety is the most important thing to be taught while in the water.

A vintage poster from the National Archives and Records Administration

A vintage poster from the National Archives and Records Administration

Water Safety for All Ages

We have become used to thinking of what a drowning situation looks like from what we see on television or on the movie screen, but do you know what it looks like when a person is actually drowning? Many water safety organizations have been trying to educate the public on ways to prevent drownings and to be aware of what happens when a person is really drowning.

As a person who has been in and around all types of water, I would like to help educate you on drowning, it's signs and symptoms, and also set in place the other water distress signals that you may see when you are around the water.

Drowning Poll

Aquatic Distress

Most common type of water distress

Humans often find themselves in aquatic distress in the water for various reasons including, a cramp, an injury, or fear from something in the water. This is the condition where a person thinks they are drowning, but they are just in a stressful water situation. They can scream for help, move their arms, kick their legs strenuously, and even move in the water. They could possibly even get themselves to a safe area. You are capable of helping someone in aquatic distress.

This is the type of action we think of when we hear the word "drowning" since we have seen it portrayed in the movies and even pretend to say "help me! I'm drowning" as a youngster may do in the pool.

Safety Devices - To Throw or Reach

A safety lesson is included in the swim lessons I teach (except for babies). The mantra we repeat is, "Reach or Throw, Don't Go!" A ring buoy is stationed at the ready and several floating devices are poolside, mostly for fun but serve a dual purpose.

Can a child be a lifesaver? You bet they can! Not by going in the water but by throwing an object that floats or by extending an object to the swimmer in distress. Then by getting adult help. Last resort is calling 911 when they cannot assist in either of these ways. Training is simple and lasting.

We also include the opportunity for children to experiment in the water wearing a life jacket.



When a human is actually drowning, he or she is in what is called the instinctive drowning response. This is a physiological response that we cannot control for any length of time. We cannot scream or yell for help when we are really in a drowning situation. The persons arms go slowly up and down in the water, as well as their body, to try to lift themselves above the water line in order to grab a breath of air. The body will rise above the water just enough for the mouth to be above water to get a breath then the body will sink back down under the water line. This process happens over and over and it is why you cannot make a noise when you rise above the water - you need air. It is a human response to a situation that is dire and serious.

A trained lifesaver will recognize these signs and should set out on a rescue when they see them.

The reason this is called the silent killer is because we all have in our minds that when we are drowning, we can yell for help and make noise to get someones attention. That is aquatic distress. A person who is drowning has seconds or minutes before they will just slip under the water. I know this is a difficult subject matter, but it is important that we are able to tell the difference if we want to be educated on drowning.

Drowning Can Still Occur Even If You Know How To Swim

No one is drown proof. Many people overestimate their swimming ability and that of their children, especially in a panic situation. Drowning can occur in as little as 2 minutes with brain damage occurring in as little as 4 minutes.

Dry Drowning

A Condition All Parents Should Be Made Aware Of

The words dry drowning have been prominent in recent years. To clarify, this is a very dangerous situation but the occurrence is actually rare. A "wet" drowning is what we know as "a drowning" however, you should be aware of the following symptoms that occur when a person (usually a young person) is in distress from the "dry" drowning condition.


  • Difficulty breathing
  • Extreme tiredness
  • Changes in behavior

These can be mistaken for just a busy day, a cranky child, or even a child being stubborn. These could be the symptoms of dry drowning and if you are in doubt, please go to your nearest emergency room. The medical experts can treat the condition in a timely manner. I am sorry to say that for those who do not know about this condition or who do not seek proper medical treatment, children have been found unresponsive in their beds and did not survive.

Again, this is a rare occurrence, as our local metropolitan size children's hospital has seen only 1 case in the past 9 years. I believe with all the emphasis on water safety, new definitions of drowning have evolved. The bottom line is and shall remain to always have your eyes on your children in the water and be able to recognize when they need help or a rest. Also, adults taking children swimming should be able to swim themselves.

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Be Proactive on Water Safety - Swimming Prowess

  • It is now recommended to give your child swim lessons as early as possible from a trained water safety instructor.
  • If you own a pool in your backyard, child proof the area with not one or two, but even three measures of safety.
  • Have your family take a CPR course (age appropriate).
  • Learn to swim yourself, or be comfortable in the water so you can provide the first step to safety.
  • Keep the proper extension and throwing devices clearly visibile and with easy access in your pool area.
  • Be within an arms reach of your young children when they are swimming; leave your cell phone in the house! It is up to you to lifeguard your child.
  • Memorize this mantra, "reach and throw - don't go!" Always make going into the water for a rescue the last choice you make unless you are trained to do so.
  • "Be informed, be alert, be prepared"

The national campaign to educate and help pool owners ensure safety can be found at the website entitled poolsafely.

Excellent Video on Pool Safety Measures

Posted Warning - Take Heed

Never dive into shallow water

Never dive into shallow water

Safety Devices For Your Home and Backyard Pool

There are several measures you can take to keep your pool as safe as possible, nothing of course, is safer than having eyes on your pool, but here are devices that add protection in various ways.

  • a pool cover,
  • a door latch or alarm,
  • a floating security device,
  • keep your ladder out of an above ground pool, and
  • know the difference between water toys and a water safety device. A water safety device will have a US Coast Guard approval number on it. Usually water toys have a disclaimer on them, which is helpful to recognize the difference.

Puddle Jumpers Flotation Devices

For years the inflatable "floaties" were put on each arm of a young child to help keep them above the water for safety reasons. The Puddle Jumper chest float is an innovative, safe design and makes a child feel more secure. In my experience, even when a child tries to turn over on their back, the design prevents them from doing so and returns them to an upright, above-the-water position. In addition, this is an approved personal flotation device by the US Coast Guard. (This will be printed on any device approved by the USGC - look for it!) Be aware there are "spin-offs" that are not approved flotation devices. As always, it should never take the place of an adult supervising a child in the water, not for even seconds!

Wrist Band Monitor and Pool Gate Alarm

The wrist band monitor is a device worn by your child and is activated when the device hits the water. Thus you know when your child is in the water. Very effective for an active child, especially a toddler.

A pool gate alarm can be installed on your gate and is activated by motion, thus you would know when the gate is being opened for entry.

These are two different levels of safety combined with always having eyes when someone is in the pool.


States With the Highest Drowning Death Rate

Data compiled with results for 2019 show that the death rate for drowning has decreased by 34% in the last 10 years - that is great! However, drownings still occur and these are the 5 states with the worst drownings in 2019. I happen to live in a hot spot!


To Sum It Up

This is a very difficult subject to tackle especially for those who have suffered a loss from drowning, but the goal is to help more people become aware of the dangers of drowning and hopefully correct or improve a situation they can control.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2014 Joanie Ruppel

Please Share Additional Community Affairs on Water Safety

Joanie Ruppel (author) from Keller, Texas on June 30, 2014:

@nicenet: My deepest sympathy on your losses and I hope some day you can be more comfortable in the water with no fear. I appreciate you sharing your thoughts on such a hard subject.

nicey on June 27, 2014:

I wish my family knew about the facts on how to save a drowning victim. My elder brother drowned together with his friend when he was trying to save him.

I actually stopped swimming because the depth of water scares me.

Thanks for educating us more on drowning.

Joanie Ruppel (author) from Keller, Texas on June 26, 2014:

@ColettaTeske: Thank you!

Heidi Vincent from GRENADA on June 26, 2014:

Very informative, useful and important lens!

meloyelo on June 26, 2014:

Very important information for summer! Thank you for sharing

Scindhia from Chennai on June 25, 2014:

Informative lens. Thanks for sharing on this topic!

Marten22 on June 24, 2014:

informative lens. Good that you share this!

Kim from Yonkers, NY on June 23, 2014:

I was somewhere between kintergarden & 2nd grade age when I got swimming lessons. (you could never get me out of the water!!) Though I know soeone in Switzerland who brought their baby to baby swimming lesson classes! so I th ink they knew how to swim before walking.!

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