Drowning – Preventing drowning in children

Legal Information That Will Change & Save Your Life…

In 2010, I worked on the wrongful drowning death of a 4 year old boy.

Toys floating where the little boy died…

He died in about 3-4′ of water, but he was only about 2′ from safety. Unfortunately he didn’t have any water safety skills at all; no swimming experience, no ‘bob to shore’ experience, nothing. He just rolled down a hill, hit the water, drifted away from the edge of the pond, and died. I came away from that, motivated to make sure my young son gained those critical skills – it’s as important as ‘looking both ways’.

According to the CDC 10 people die by drowning every day, two of which are age 14 or younger. Drowning is the fifth leading causes of unintentional injury death in the United States.

Drowning is a danger anywhere there is water…

But most people have no idea what a drowning person really looks like. It’s not like you think from TV; there’s no shouting for help, waving of arms, etc, it’s real quiet, and most people drown very close to people who could save them. For young children its even worse, drowning can look like they are doing the dog paddle.

When a person is drowning, instinct takes over to try to get their mouth out of the water, their autonomic nervous system takes control. They don’t wave their arms, because instinct tells them to use their arms to ‘push’ down on the water to get their head up. They don’t shout, because they don’t have air to breathe let alone shout, and they arnen’t ‘thinking’ to get help, they are acting on instinct. They are literally incapable of calling for help…

So how do you learn to recognize drowning? There are some articles out there, but what works best is to see some videos; watch these videos in order, as they will walk you through what you need to know:

This is what drowning really looks like: (happy ending):

Here’s another one, but see how silent, fast, and deadly it is? At 38 seconds in the kid starts drowning. See how fast it happens? One second he is happy playing in the water, the next his head is underwater, and he’s in trouble. There is no hand waving, no cries, no splashing, nothing to warn the adults, his head is just underwater and he’s drowning! If the guy wasn’t watching the kid, there would be no indicators that this kid was dying… (happy ending):

Even when a kid can touch the bottom, they can get in trouble, and you can see that it’s real easy for them to drown right next to their mother. At 7 seconds the kid stumbles, loses his footing in the pool and goes face down into the water, you can see him struggle to get his feet under him, but he can’t, so he’s drowning. Again it’s silent, no flailing arms, he’s just face down drowning, for 5 seconds until his mom notices it and yanks him back to his feet. You really can drown in one inch of water… (Happy ending).

Signs of the Instinctive Drowning Response

  1. No “Help!”: Drowning people can’t talk, instinct has taken over, and breathing comes first, speech is secondary. Tip: They won’t be calling “Help”!
  2. No Arm Waving: Drowning people can’t wave for help, instinct drives them to put their arms out and ‘push’ the water down to get their head out of the water to breathe. Tip: Look for extended arms ‘pushing’ down on the water.
  3. No Swimming: A drowning person can’t ‘think’ and control their body because instinct is in charge. They can’t wave for help, they can’t swim, it is pure instinct. Tip: They aren’t swimming! Look for them not changing their relative position in the water, meaning they are no closer to shore – they aren’t swimming!
  4. No Kicking: They are ‘Standing’ in the water. Drowning people often only use their arms to ‘push’ the water down. Since they aren’t kicking they are mostly vertical in the water, and it doesn’t look like they are ‘kicking’. Tip: Look for them ‘standing’ vertical in the water and not kicking.
  5. Watch the mouth: A drowning victim tries to get their mouth out of the water. Since they are sinking, they typically ‘bob’ up and down in the water, getting their head up briefly before getting pulled down again, trying to breathe while their head is above the water. Tip: Look for their mouth in and out of the water.

Saving Someone: So now you know what drowning looks like, how fast it is, and how easily it can happen, even right next to a parent. So what do you do if you see it happening? Jump in? -Maybe not, people drown every year trying to save somebody else. Watch these, but the basic premise is, take a tool with you to keep distance between you and the victim. (More about that later).

Use a Tool: Saving someone is risky. Every year people drown trying to save someone else. The basic thing is to take 1 second and think. Is this a very small kid? Are they a young person, or an adult? Because if you can’t touch the bottom where you would be saving them, and you aren’t a lot bigger and stronger than the victim, a drowning person will literally try to climb on top of you to get out of the water. So take that second and find a tool to help you. Try to save them from the edge with a tool. If you have to get into the water take a tool with you to keep distance between you and the victim. Something that floats is best, a foam water weenie is great, but a broom, the picnic cooler, even a towel or your pants, anything that you can use to put some distance between you and the victim and you can use to tow them in. Remember a  drowning person will try to climb out of the water on top of you.

Teaching Swimming: Obviously you should teach your kids to swim, but beware that when you take your kids to a pool to learn to swim, follow up on their qualifications, because some ‘swim schools’ are staffed with people who don’t know what they are doing (tragic ending):

Warning: This video was used in a wrongful death suit where a little boy drowned in the pool at ‘swim camp’, this is security video footage of the pool while the boy drowned and died. It is instructive, but very tragic to watch. My condolences to the family…

Articles & Other Blogs:

There are several articles and blogs about this issue out there. Unfortunately most of this information is spread out all over the net.

I hope this helps keep your family safe. If your kids don’t know how to swim, get them into classes RIGHT NOW, there’s really no excuse. I’d rather not have to work on another wrongful drowning death of someone who didn’t know how to swim ever again…

Be Smart, Stay Safe,



Links to the videos used in this blog: 




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2 thoughts on “Drowning – Preventing drowning in children

  1. Vicki, Thanks for stopping by. Yes, that article by Mario Vittone, {which I also link to and everyone should read}, really started it all in how drowning doesn’t look like what we see in the movies. My criticism of Vittone’s article is that it doesn’t do a good job of ‘teaching’ what drowning looks like. That’s why I think the videos are so important, including the one that was used in the wrongful death case, because those videos, close the loop, and ‘teach’ what you need to know…

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