The real signs of drowning hand sticking out of water

Boat Insurance & Safety – Drowning Signs

Drowning is often much calmer than you might imagine. The Center of Disease Control and Prevention reports that about ten people in the U.S. drown every day, and 2 of those are children. Keep reading, the information you find here may someday help you to save someone’s life.


In order to clearly understand what drowning looks like first imagine a movie or television show where someone falls into the water or gets into trouble swimming. That terrible moment when the drowning person is splashing, yelling for help, and desperately trying to swim is ingrained in most of our minds.

But that’s not what real drowning looks like. In fact, drowning is often quiet.

Unlike the Hollywood portrayal of drowning, experts say that most times people who drown are quiet and go unnoticed. This is why drowning claims too many child victims every year – even when they are near adults in the water. Statistically, each year around 750 children drown. Approximately half will be just 25 yards from an adult.

Why don’t people recognize drowning?

Dr. Francesco A. Pia, Ph.D., was interviewed in the Coast Guard’s On Scene magazine. He calls what happens when people drown the Instinctive Drowning Response. Remember the noisy drowning in movies and on television? According to Pia, that just doesn’t happen.

When someone starts to drown, the body takes over with the Instinctive Drowning Response. Rather than splashing or waving or screaming, a drowning person will rarely yell for help. The body will breathe rather than speak. If there is difficulty breathing (as happens in drowning) the person will be physiologically unable to yell.

Rather than dramatically lifting out of the water in an attempt at self-rescue, a drowning person will slip quietly below the surface. The drowning person will be sinking, with the mouth only quickly reappearing above the surface of the water. There is barely time to breathe let alone yell.

Forget waving or splashing around dramatically. A drowning person will instinctively extend the arms and try to press down to leverage up enough to breathe. Characteristically a drowning person will be upright in the water only a very brief time before going under. If you have seen someone yelling and thrashing in the water that is aquatic distress – the person is frightened and feeling overwhelmed perhaps – but not actually drowning.

No one is immune to drowning. Confident boaters and swimmers sometimes feel that there is no need for them to abide by boating laws and safe boating practices. This is especially common in teens and young adults they may be tempted to skip a life jacket on their personal watercraft, sit on the edge of a ski boat while under power or drink and drive. Not only could this behavior get you ejected from a boat (possibly unconscious) or cause a collision it could also leave your boat insurance coverage void.

Watch this news story that discusses how to recognize drowning:

Unfortunately protecting people from drowning is not as simple as purchasing the right boat insurance or avoiding specific locations. Drowning can occur in any water offshore or just outside your boat. So remember these important signs to look for. Drowning is quiet, you need to watch for someone whose head is very low in the water and whose mouth is at water level. The person’s head might be tilted and the eyes either closed or unfocused. The person will not be kicking his or her legs and will be vertical in the water, struggling to breathe. If you call to the person and get a clear response, they’re likely okay. But if they can’t speak or don’t speak, get them to safety right away.

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