Waving Arms and Screaming Are Not Signs Of Drowning

Water-based activities can be fun, but the danger of drowning is never far away. When viewing videos of drownings, experts noticed that often a group of people would be within 15 feet of the victim, but none seemed to notice that the victim was at risk of drowning. That's because most people get their mental image of drowning from the movies: a victim who thrashes about, screaming for help and waving frantically at bystanders. On the contrary, except in rare circumstances, drowning people are physiologically unable to call out for help because their mouths aren’t above the surface of the water long enough for them to exhale, inhale, and call out for help. Drowning people also can’t wave for help because they can't stop drowning and perform voluntary movements such as waving, moving towards a rescuer, or reaching out for a piece of rescue equipment. Unless rescued, drowning people can only struggle from 20-60 seconds before submersion occurs. Look for these 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 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 
  • Appear to be climbing an invisible ladder