pair of hands in the water

Drowning doesn’t look like drowning.

We have all seen actors 'drowning'

So we know we’d never miss a person drowning in real life, don’t we?

Based on work by  Francesco A. Pia, Ph.D, Mario Vittone a leading expert on immersion hypothermia and drowning, argues that people who are REALLY drowning look and behave in a very different way to actors in front of a film crew. 


'Over half of children who drown are within 25 yards of a parent or adult.'

Mario states that in the USA the second highest cause of death for under 15 is drowning. Over half of the children who drown are within 25 yards of a parent. His research also shows that in 10% of cases the parent or adult is watching, but does not recognise that the child is drowning. 

Key signs and indicators for drowning

  1. Most drowning victims can not call out for help. Breathing is prioritised over speech. 
  2. People’s mouths alternately sink below and reappear above the surface of the water, without then being able to take a breath or shout for help.
  3. Drowning people do not have the control of their arms to wave for help, as their arms are instinctively leveraging down into the water to try and push their mouth out of the water.  
  4. What he calls the ‘Instinctive Drowning Response’, people lose control of their arms. This means they can not grab a piece of safety equipment, move towards a rescuer or wave. 
  5. When the ‘Instinctive Drowning Response’ takes over the victim may only be able to keep on the surface for 20-60 seconds. 

So what do you do next?

CPR chest compression diagram

If you follow Mario’s advice you could get to the victim in time. On our 3-day First Aid at Work and the 2-day Outdoor First Aid Course, we cover drowning. 



Here is a quick reminder:

  • Assess, check for danger to yourself! Is it safe to approach the casualty? If yes, carry on. 
  • Are they alert or responding in any way?  If not, shout for HELP! And then carry on. 
  • Is the airway blocked? If water or vomit are blocking the airway roll them to clear it.
  • Are they breathing? Look, hear or feel for 2 breaths in 10 seconds. No breaths? Remove any obstruction like a buoyancy jacket or heavy clothing and if possible drag them to a hard surface if the victim is lying on a soft surface like mud. 
  • 5 rescue breaths to get oxygen back into their lungs
  • 30 chest compressions
  • 3 rescue breaths
  • 30 compressions
  • 3 rescue breaths
  • 30 compressions

If you have help, ask them to call the emergency services and if possible get a defibrillator. Carry on with CPR until you are exhausted or help arrives. 

No help? You need to stop after the 5 rescue breaths and 3 cycles of compressions and breaths and get help. On your return re-assess for danger and carry on CPR, 30 compressions followed by 3 rescue breaths until help arrives or you can not continue. 

Please read the full article here.


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