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I read this on another site. Since we are all around the water thought it would be good to pass along. Have a safe summer.









Drowning Doesn’t Look Like Drowning


The new captain jumped from the cockpit, fully dressed, and sprinted through the water. A former lifeguard, he kept his eyes on his victim as he headed straight for the owners who were 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)


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

* Ladder climb, rarely out of the water.


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.


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As a former USCG officer, we were taught that silence was deadly. If they cannot talk - they are in trouble. As a trained rescue swimmer, I have taken people from the water that could not speak until hours later.


For us skiers - the proper signal for "All OK" after a fall is two hands clasped over the head, mouth out of the water, and a yell of "OK!" If you don't get that, assume the person is in trouble. The single hand wave off is insufficient to establish that the person is in control and aware. I don't know how many time I've seen the boat head off to the dock for the next skier without a solid verification from the fallen skier at a tournament. That is not the way I drive, but then I am considered to be "unqualified" in the AWSA because I have not attended some clinic.

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  • Baller
Had something similar. Daughter and two friends (ages 7, 9, 9) playing at the end of a dock. Father of the two girls reading a book up on the dock fully capable and within 5 feet of where the girls were. Water depth was 3'. Girls closer to 4' in hight. Plus always played with floaty toys. While playing, my daughter noticed her friend face up eyes open on the bottom (very clear water). Her reaction was to think this was not normal went under and pulled her friend up. She then realized her friend was non responsive and called for the girls dad. Within seconds the dad had her on the dock performing CPR. She was and is ok. There was no splashing, noise making, struggling what so ever. Her dad had no idea and was so close that any noise at all would have alerted him. They are older now but we still have an adult on the dock or in the water at all times.
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  • Baller
boarditup you should go to a clinic and get involved. I know the clinics are a pain, but the teaching needs to reach the lowest common denominator. We need people with water rescue background. Clinic to start and three sign offs at a tournament your in. Regional takes that and a few chief safety at tournaments, then you can teach clinics. We don't do this for USA Waterski we do it for us. We could use more knowledgeable people.
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