Drowning doesn't look like drowning
Photo by Ismail Yanim on Unsplash

With summer coming, you and/or people you love may be spending more time around the water. Today’s tip, in the summer spirit, is all about water safety. Did you know that “drowning doesn’t look like drowning”?

In a great and evergreen write-up for Soundings, author Mario Vittone makes that point emphatically, noting that despite what many people think, “When someone is drowning there is very little splashing, and no waving or yelling or calling for help of any kind.” Drowning doesn’t look like drowning as it’s often depicted on TV and in movies, he says, and as a parent especially, you need to know that so that you can identify signs of real-life drowning when they show. “Of the approximately 750 children who will drown [in 2019], about 375 of them will do so within 25 yards of a parent or other adult. In 10 percent of those drownings, the adult will actually watch them do it, having no idea it is happening.”

When someone is drowning or in danger of drowning, here are the signs Vittone says to look for:

  • 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
  • Hyperventilating or gasping
  • Trying to swim in a particular direction but not making headway
  • Trying to roll over onto the back
  • Appears to be climbing an invisible ladder

Stay safe this summer. For more on water safety, see:



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2 Comments On "Drowning Doesn't Look Like Drowning"
  1. Erin Young|

    I had invited another mother over who had 3 kids to go swimming in our pool. Her middle child and my oldest shared the same birthday and they were about 4 1/2 years old. We both also had a child under 2 years of age. Being a firm believer in water safety, I had extra floatation/swim training devices that I offered her to use. They were declined and she said her daughter would be fine in the hot-tub. I was persistent but did not insist, not my child what am I to do? The child would have been fine if she stayed on the seat of the hot-tub and did not go in the middle which is deeper, but do you really want to temp a 3 1/2 year old? Without a sound or any other indication I looked over to check on her daughter. The girl being very pale and prone to sunburns was wearing a large brim hat and some kind of garment that covered her from neck to toe. I noticed right away that the orientation of the hat was in the middle of the hot-tub and not on the edge. I jumped up from the side of the pool where I was sitting next to her mother and lucky pulled the girl out of the hot-tub. She had not been under long and was fine. She was not scared or even knew what happened or could have happened. I never invited them over again.

    My point in this is that no matter what you think is ok or how mindful you will be, unless you are currently giving your child a swimming lesson and it is one on one; if your child can not swim, then they must have a flotation device on when they are by any body of water.

    A few years ago in our small town, it was Easter, so not the time for swimming. A family on a pond had people over and I do not know the particulars, but a small child drowned, the child made their way to the pond. It does not matter now who was watching, what was happening… A child lost their life and a family was devastated.

    I can not stress enough the importance of teaching kids how to swim, my kids all learned the summer they were 3 years old. And being vigilant at all times around water!

  2. Ray Chartrand|

    If anyone in the water is waving, don’t wave back – seek help.
    Years ago on a spring break in Daytona, I was swept off my boogy board by a rogue wave and carried off shore by a rip tide. I couldn’t break free and was waving and yelling frantically as I drifted further from shore, All my friends were watching and waving back!!!
    I finally dove under a wave that had me trapped in a trough to get free but there wasn’t any good left in me as I crawled to shore.
    No one looking at me had a clue what was going on.

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