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Young male swimmer drowning with head at the waterline gasping for air

When you imagine a drowning incident, you might envision someone splashing and screaming at the pool, signaling the lifeguard to jump in and save them. While this is how it often appears in movies and television, it rarely matches reality. It’s important then that every swimmer know how to tell if someone is drowning.

Recognize the Signs

More often than not, a drowning swimmer cannot yell for help because they are focused solely on survival and keeping their head above the water. They get just enough air in their lungs to continue paddling in place.

When a swimmer becomes stuck or too exhausted to move, they often panic and enter an instinctual fight-or-flight mode that can cloud their judgment. With that in mind, here are the signs of drowning you should look for while supervising swimmers.

A drowning swimmer may:

  • Bob their head at the waterline, struggling to stay afloat

  • Have their mouth pointed to the sky, trying to get air

  • Have either closed or panicked and unfocused eyes

  • Struggle to move onto their back, attempting to float on their back

  • Not engage their legs to stay afloat

  • Struggle to move from their space, no matter how hard they try

  • Flap their arms like wings, using momentum to stay above the water

signs of drowning infographic

When someone begins drowning, they typically have 30-60 seconds before they are too tired to stay afloat or no longer have enough oxygen to move their body. When they are no longer able to move, they may silently fall beneath the waterline.

How to Handle a Potential Drowning

If you recognize these signs, you should alert others to the danger as quickly as possible. If there is a trained lifeguard on duty, alert them immediately, keeping your eyes on the victim’s location as much as possible.

If there is not a lifeguard on duty and you are not trained, going into the water to save someone could put both of you in danger of drowning. If possible, find a buoyant device on a rope and use the “reach, throw, don’t go method” to get them to safety. If the victim goes under in a deep body of water and you don’t have the training to rescue them, call 911 and get emergency services to the scene as quickly as possible.

Sometimes, quick intervention can resuscitate a drowning victim, even if they’ve been underwater for an extended amount of time. When the stakes are life and death, you need to stay calm and ready to help the victim however you can.

If you or someone you love suffered serious injuries while swimming, we are here for you. If you’d like to schedule a free case consultation with an experienced Atlanta personal injury attorney from Goldstein Hayes & Lina, LLC, please don’t hesitate to call (888) 425-6070 or send us an email.