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How to Spot a Drowning Swimmer


Drowning should be easy to spot, right? The victims thrash around, screaming for help as they struggle to stay above water.

Actually, no. That may be what drowning looks like on Baywatch, but real-life drowning is quieter and much harder to spot. In fact, it is often so undramatic that half of kids who drown do so within 25 yards of a parent, and 10% of those drownings happen while a parent is watching.

To help the public learn what drowning really looks like, a group called Lifeguard Rescue has a series of videos called "Spot the Drowning." These are real pool rescues—while viewing the footage, see if you can find the swimmer in trouble before the lifeguard jumps in. Sometimes, it's pretty easy. Other times, it's terrifyingly not.

What to look for: As drowning protection expert John R. Fletemeyer explains in Aquatics International, the struggle often involves "arms moving rapidly up and down and legs back and forth." Lifeguards sometimes call this behavior "climbing the ladder." The victim then begins to hyperventilate as their head sinks lower and lower. Here's an infographic showing other quieter signs of drowning. 

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