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Old 21-06-2012, 15:48   #1
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Drowning Doesn't Look Like Drowning

A friend recently posted a link to this article on facebook and I thought it would be useful to share here.

"The new captain jumped from the deck, fully dressed, and sprinted through the water. A former lifeguard, he kept his eyes on his victim as he headed straight for the couple swimming between their anchored sportfisher and the beach. “I think he thinks you’re drowning,” the husband said to his wife. They had been splashing each other and she had screamed but now they were just standing, neck-deep on the sand bar. “We’re fine, what is he doing?” she asked, a little annoyed. “We’re fine!” the husband yelled, waving him off, but his captain kept swimming hard. ”Move!” he barked as he sprinted between the stunned owners. Directly behind them, not ten feet away, their nine-year-old daughter was drowning. Safely above the surface in the arms of the captain, she burst into tears, “Daddy!”

How did this captain know – from fifty feet away – what the father couldn’t recognize from just ten? Drowning is not the violent, splashing, call for help that most people expect. The captain was trained to recognize drowning by experts and years of experience. The father, on the other hand, had learned what drowning looks like by watching television. If you spend time on or near the water (hint: that’s all of us) then you should make sure that you and your crew knows what to look for whenever people enter the water. Until she cried a tearful, “Daddy,” she hadn’t made a sound. As a former Coast Guard rescue swimmer, I wasn’t surprised at all by this story. Drowning is almost always a deceptively quiet event. The waving, splashing, and yelling that dramatic conditioning (television) prepares us to look for, is rarely seen in real life.

The Instinctive Drowning Response – so named by Francesco A. Pia, Ph.D., is what people do to avoid actual or perceived suffocation in the water. And it does not look like most people expect. There is very little splashing, no waving, and no yelling or calls for help of any kind. To get an idea of just how quiet and undramatic from the surface drowning can be, consider this: It is the number two cause of accidental death in children, age 15 and under (just behind vehicle accidents) – of the approximately 750 children who will drown next year, about 375 of them will do so within 25 yards of a parent or other adult. In ten percent of those drownings, the adult will actually watch them do it, having no idea it is happening (source: CDC). Drowning does not look like drowning – Dr. Pia, in an article in the Coast Guard’s On Scene Magazine, described the instinctive drowning response like this:
  1. Except in rare circumstances, drowning people are physiologically unable to call out for help. The respiratory system was designed for breathing. Speech is the secondary or overlaid function. Breathing must be fulfilled, before speech occurs.
  2. Drowning people’s mouths alternately sink below and reappear above the surface of the water. The mouths of drowning people are not above the surface of the water long enough for them to exhale, inhale, and call out for help. When the drowning people’s mouths are above the surface, they exhale and inhale quickly as their mouths start to sink below the surface of the water.
  3. Drowning people cannot wave for help. Nature instinctively forces them to extend their arms laterally and press down on the water’s surface. Pressing down on the surface of the water, permits drowning people to leverage their bodies so they can lift their mouths out of the water to breathe.
  4. Throughout the Instinctive Drowning Response, drowning people cannot voluntarily control their arm movements. Physiologically, drowning people who are struggling on the surface of the water cannot stop drowning and perform voluntary movements such as waving for help, moving toward a rescuer, or reaching out for a piece of rescue equipment.
  5. From beginning to end of the Instinctive Drowning Response people’s bodies remain upright in the water, with no evidence of a supporting kick. Unless rescued by a trained lifeguard, these drowning people can only struggle on the surface of the water from 20 to 60 seconds before submersion occurs.
(Source: On Scene Magazine: Fall 2006 (page 14))
This doesn’t mean that a person that is yelling for help and thrashing isn’t in real trouble – they are experiencing aquatic distress. Not always present before the instinctive drowning response, aquatic distress doesn’t last long – but unlike true drowning, these victims can still assist in their own rescue. They can grab lifelines, throw rings, etc.
Look for these other signs of drowning when persons are in the water:
  • Head low in the water, mouth at water level
  • Head tilted back with mouth open
  • Eyes glassy and empty, unable to focus
  • Eyes closed
  • Hair over forehead or eyes
  • Not using legs – Vertical
  • Hyperventilating or gasping
  • Trying to swim in a particular direction but not making headway
  • Trying to roll over on the back
  • Appear to be climbing an invisible ladder.
So if a crew member falls overboard and everything looks OK – don’t be too sure. Sometimes the most common indication that someone is drowning is that they don’t look like they’re drowning. They may just look like they are treading water and looking up at the deck. One way to be sure? Ask them, “Are you alright?” If they can answer at all – they probably are. If they return a blank stare, you may have less than 30 seconds to get to them. And parents – children playing in the water make noise. When they get quiet, you get to them and find out why."

Drowning Doesn’t Look Like Drowning
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Old 21-06-2012, 16:20   #2
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Re: Drowning Doesn't Look Like Drowning

Very sobering. My lesson for the week. Thank you very much.
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Old 21-06-2012, 16:25   #3
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A thrashing responsive person is usually not fighting for their life on land or water.

The unresponsive listless person is the one in trouble.

I suppose it can be characterized as exhaustion rather than drowning.

One day we rented an underpowered ski boat and loaded too many people on it. The boat simply could not pull my fat butt out of the water. After being drug around for over an hour we bagged it and I tried to climb aboard. I barely made it up the ladder and did not realize how exhausted I had become.

We traded the skis for a float and had a blast the rest of the day.

That same trip we had my 4 y/o aboard. He was seated at the bow wearing a loaner pfd with no crotch strap. I turned away to help board a floater, maybe 15 seconds. When I turned around all I saw were fingers holding the bow rail. I got to the bow and lifted him by the jacket, he let go the rail and fell out of the jacket and immediately sunk. The water was not clear and I could not see him. I dove straight down, found him and lulled him up.

Never put a small kid in a pfd without a strap. False sense of security. We rigged a strap from a piece of the bow painter for the rest of the day.
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Old 21-06-2012, 20:11   #4
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Thanks for sharing. Most likely the most important article I read in a long time. I will share with others.
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Old 17-07-2012, 14:37   #5
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Re: Drowning Doesn't Look Like Drowning

This reminds me the need to teach people how to float vertically using breathing
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Old 17-07-2012, 16:47   #6
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Re: Drowning Doesn't Look Like Drowning

Good to see this come back around.

It is really good for all to see and me to review.

Who knows what is next.
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Old 17-07-2012, 17:38   #7
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Re: Drowning Doesn't Look Like Drowning

My girlfriend and I are both strong swimmers and comfortable in the water. She grew up on the ocean and I've been swimming as long as I can remember. Two years ago we went out to a lake for 4th of July. We got in the water to cool off after a while. After just a few minutes she looked at me and asked for help. The look on her face and the fact that she never asks for help made me know she wasn't joking. She was calm enough that I didn't have to fight her but it shocked me how fast it went from fun to dangerous.
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Old 17-07-2012, 17:56   #8
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Re: Drowning Doesn't Look Like Drowning

Yeah, I forwarded that to my kids afew weeks ago. Good info.
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Old 17-07-2012, 18:33   #9
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Re: Drowning Doesn't Look Like Drowning

jago-many years ago in USMC pilot's survival trainin we were taught to float. Most don't ralize, but you cannot tread water for more than about 5 maybe 10 minutes before you are exhausted. the survival float is not quite a vertical, but a "dead man's float", face down, arms out. Minimal movement, one slow sweep of the arms brings you up to breathe. In the course, we had to float for 4 hours to pass. I know one pilot shot down who was in the water for about 30 hours before being rescued. It works, but requires not freaking out in the water.
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Old 17-07-2012, 18:47   #10

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Re: Drowning Doesn't Look Like Drowning

great thread.

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Old 17-07-2012, 18:48   #11
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Re: Drowning Doesn't Look Like Drowning

Great article! Someone (not my parents) noticed me drowning when I was 4. Thanks to them, I'm alive today. All I remember was looking up at the surface of the water, then waking up on the beach. I got enrolled in swim class the next day, and all my kids got swimming lessons before they were 2.
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Old 17-07-2012, 19:10   #12
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Wow, thanks for posting this.
I am going to forward it to my crew and friends.

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Old 17-07-2012, 19:27   #13
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Re: Drowning Doesn't Look Like Drowning

Some good lessons here, not the least of which is the necessity of specifically appointing at least one adult to do nothing but supervise swimming children from a vantage point above the surface of the water. You can't "guard" and recreate (or be involved in anything else, like tying a dock line) at the same time.

I'm a former lifeguard, and several years ago, while in a backyard pool with several family members, did not notice a very young cousin in distress only three feet from me, (much like the parents in the article) for the very reasons Terminal re-posts: when people become distressed in the water, they are quickly unable to call out, and their movements aren't what we expect from some in trouble, so don't trigger recognition.

The best prevention against drowning is swimming skill: self-rescue is then possible even when alone.

Thanks for posting, Terminal.
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Old 17-07-2012, 19:31   #14
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Re: Drowning Doesn't Look Like Drowning

Very good thread, there is also another point very worthy of being added to this.

When a person has been rescued after a drowning incident in SALT water, you must monitor them afterwards, if they have ingested salt into their lungs they can drown as the moisture from there tissue is drawn into the lungs by that salt, it's a situation that can and does kill and usually some time after the initial rescue. Frank
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Old 17-07-2012, 22:59   #15
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Re: Drowning Doesn't Look Like Drowning

A few years back I came across 5 people who were drinking when their boat sank. The one they pointed to get first wasn't there, he would just break the surface every 45 seconds or so to gasp for air. The article describes drowning perfectly. I hate to think what would have happened if we showed up even 10 minutes later.
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