What does drowning sound and look like?

Do you imagine drowning to be splashy and loud, with arms flailing and screams for help, as perhaps seen in a movie? If you thought you could hear if a loved one was drowning, you would be sorely mistaken. The reality is that someone could be drowning a few feet away from you and you wouldn’t know it – because drowning is often silent.

Did you know drowning is often silent?“When people are drowning, all of their energy is going into trying to breathe and staying above water,” says Shelley Dalke, Director, Swimming and Water Safety Programs for the Canadian Red Cross. “They are not yelling for help or waving their hands around. Drowning is often very silent.”

On average, 51 people drown during the summer, each year, from non-aquatic activity incidents such as a fall into water, where the person did not intend to be in the water.

The majority of 1 to 4 year old fatalities fell into backyard pools (52%), and 77% of fatalities occurred when children were alone (without adult supervision or their caregiver was momentarily absent).
That’s why active supervision of children around the water is key. More than 90% of kids who drown in shallow water are either not with an adult or being effectively supervised by an adult.

“Caregivers should always designate one person who is responsible for supervising children in, on or around water,” adds Dalke. “That person should never take their eyes off the child, not even for a second.”

Children who cannot lift their face out of the water can drown in just a few centimetres. And many children who drown never intended to be in the water in the first place. Some people with limited or no swimming ability, may disappear underwater in less than a few seconds without any clear sign of distress.

The “instinctive drowning response” position is when the drowning person has the ability to attempt to stay above the water’s surface. However, in this position it is very difficult to keep the mouth above the water’s surface and to maintain enough air in the lungs for the person to stay afloat.

7 warning signs that someone is drowning:

1. Struggling to keep their face above the water in an effort to breathe – head is low in the water, tilted back, and mouth is at water level.
2. Has arms extended to the side pressing down for support.
3. Has a vertical or approaching vertical body position with no supportive kick, appear as if they are bobbing.
4. Might continue to struggle underwater, but isn’t making any headway, often facing the nearest point of safety, for example land, a person, shallow water, a buoyant support toy or a boat.
5. Eyes appear big, glassy and empty, unable to focus;
6. Inability to respond to the question: “Are you okay?”
7. Silence

Learn what to do if someone is drowning; take a Red Cross Swim or Red Cross Lifeguard course – find one near you here.

Find more swimming and water safety tips here.

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