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Unrecognized Drowning: A Quiet Killer

The popular perception of drowning is a loud, dramatic event complete with splashing, screams, and time to rush in and save the day. This perception is, however, dangerously false. Read on to learn how to spot the real signs of drowning in time to save lives.



Mario Vittone wrote an article published on Soundings Magazine's website in which he outlined the dangers of unrecognized drowning, saying, "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 10 percent of those drownings, the adult will actually watch them do it, having no idea it is happening." He goes on to say that because drowning doesn't look like a child kicking and screaming for help in the water, most parents won't even realize that their child is in danger.


According to Vitton and other experts, there are some signs you can watch for to identify someone that is drowning, and not just in distress.


Drowning DOES NOT look like:

-Yelling/Screaming. If someone is drowning, their body will save the oxygen to breathe and will consider speech as a secondary function.

-Waving Hands. The body's instinct will be to use the hands and arms to push laterally against the water in order to keep the mouth and nose out of the water. Waving hands in the air makes it harder to keep one's mouth afloat to breathe.

-An Ability to Help In One's Own Rescue. If someone is truly drowning and not just in distress, their instinct will be to keep themselves afloat, and will be unable to voluntarily assist those attempting to rescue them.

-Kid's asking for help. If a child is able to ask for help they are in distress, however, they are most likely not yet drowning. Once drowning starts, natural instinct will take precedent over asking for help.


Signs To Look For:

-Only one's head above water, tilted back, with mouth open.

-Eyes glassy and empty, unable to focus.

-Inability to respond to speech.

-Quiet or lack of speech.

-Eyes closed.

-Hair over eyes or forehead.

-Hyperventilating or gasping.

-Appears to be climbing up invisible ladder.


"So, if a crewmember falls overboard and everything looks okay, don’t be too sure. Sometimes the most common indication that someone is drowning is that they don’t look as if they’re drowning. They may just look as if 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 need to get to them and find out why." - Mario Vittone, "Drowning Doesn't Look Like Drowning"

Find Vittone's full article here, and pay close attention to your surroundings this summer to prevent unrecognized drowning.

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