Water Safety, Do you know what 'DROWNING' really looks like?

DaleH

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FYI, there have been a few drownings in this area recently, so I was reminded of a post that I once added to my Parker boat website when I was actively running it. It is my hope that this awareness may help save a life ...

Drowning Doesn’t Look Like Drowning, by Mario on May 19, 2010

“The 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, as 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 two stunned owners. Directly behind them, not 10’ away, their 9-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 50’ away, what the Father couldn’t recognize from just ten feet? 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 #2 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 10% 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!” – as Dr. Pia, in an article in the Coast Guard’s On Scene magazine, described the instinctive drowning response like this:

“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. 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.

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. 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 instead perform voluntary movements such as waving for help, moving toward a rescuer, or reaching out for a piece of rescue equipment.

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 people are in the water:

* Head low in the water, mouth at water level
* Head tilted back with mouth open
* Eyes glassy & 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 their 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 … get to them fast and find out why!


Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed by the author of the referenced article are not necessarily those of the Department of Homeland Security or the U.S. Coast Guard.
 

Stumpalump

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I just watched a vid of a guy drowning in India and it was just like that. Little drama on the surface. It took about a minute before it was over. Freezing cold water is different. The shock takes your breath away. Trick is that it eventually always comes back. If you fall in and are becoming to incapacitated to climb out then just relax, keep gasping until you regain control of your breathing. It can take up to two minutes to regain so do not give up. Your breath will always come back if you don't freak out.
 

ppine

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Thanks for posting.
People drown often around cold water.
Wear a PFD and dress for immersion.
 

DaleH

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RE-POSTING as a remnder ...

FYI ... RIP, our boatclub recently lost one of its long-time members last week in a drowning accident whilst swimming off their boat. I had first posted this many, many years ago when I owned the Classic Parker website, so this is a reprint of that ... as a gentle reminder to all.
 

KMixson

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If a child goes missing, the first thing you look for are bodies of water. Pools, ponds, rivers, ditches or anywhere there could be water accumulated. If you have children it is good to know where there are bodies of water nearby before they go missing. It can narrow your search down.
 

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