Drowning doesn't look like drowning

Discussion in 'Southern California Inshore & Islands Fish Reports' started by mik911, May 31, 2011.

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  1. mik911

    Great article.


    The new captain jumped from the deck, fully dressed, and sprinted through the water. A former lifeguard, he kept his eyes on his victim as he headed straight for the couple swimming between their anchored sportfisher and the beach. “I think he thinks you’re drowning,” the husband said to his wife. They had been splashing each other and she had screamed but now they were just standing, neck-deep on the sand bar. “We’re fine, what is he doing?” she asked, a little annoyed. “We’re fine!” the husband yelled, waving him off, but his captain kept swimming hard. ”Move!” he barked as he sprinted between the stunned owners. Directly behind them, not ten feet away, their nine-year-old daughter was drowning. Safely above the surface in the arms of the captain, she burst into tears, “Daddy!”

    How did this captain know – from fifty feet away – what the father couldn’t recognize from just ten? Drowning is not the violent, splashing, call for help that most people expect. The captain was trained to recognize drowning by experts and years of experience. The father, on the other hand, had learned what drowning looks like by watching television. If you spend time on or near the water (hint: that’s all of us) then you should make sure that you and your crew knows what to look for whenever people enter the water. Until she cried a tearful, “Daddy,” she hadn’t made a sound. As a former Coast Guard rescue swimmer, I wasn’t surprised at all by this story. Drowning is almost always a deceptively quiet event. The waving, splashing, and yelling that dramatic conditioning (television) prepares us to look for, is rarely seen in real life.

    The Instinctive Drowning Response – so named by Francesco A. Pia, Ph.D., is what people do to avoid actual or perceived suffocation in the water. And it does not look like most people expect. There is very little splashing, no waving, and no yelling or calls for help of any kind. To get an idea of just how quiet and undramatic from the surface drowning can be, consider this: It is the number two cause of accidental death in children, age 15 and under (just behind vehicle accidents) – of the approximately 750 children who will drown next year, about 375 of them will do so within 25 yards of a parent or other adult. In ten percent of those drownings, the adult will actually watch them do it, having no idea it is happening (source: CDC). Drowning does not look like drowning – Dr. Pia, in an article in the Coast Guard’s On Scene Magazine, described the instinctive drowning response like this:

    Except in rare circumstances, drowning people are physiologically unable to call out for help. The respiratory system was designed for breathing. Speech is the secondary or overlaid function. Breathing must be fulfilled, before speech occurs.
    Drowning people’s mouths alternately sink below and reappear above the surface of the water. The mouths of drowning people are not above the surface of the water long enough for them to exhale, inhale, and call out for help. When the drowning people’s mouths are above the surface, they exhale and inhale quickly as their mouths start to sink below the surface of the water.
    Drowning people cannot wave for help. Nature instinctively forces them to extend their arms laterally and press down on the water’s surface. Pressing down on the surface of the water, permits drowning people to leverage their bodies so they can lift their mouths out of the water to breathe.
    Throughout the Instinctive Drowning Response, drowning people cannot voluntarily control their arm movements. Physiologically, drowning people who are struggling on the surface of the water cannot stop drowning and perform voluntary movements such as waving for help, moving toward a rescuer, or reaching out for a piece of rescue equipment.
    From beginning to end of the Instinctive Drowning Response people’s bodies remain upright in the water, with no evidence of a supporting kick. Unless rescued by a trained lifeguard, these drowning people can only struggle on the surface of the water from 20 to 60 seconds before submersion occurs.

    (Source: On Scene Magazine: Fall 2006 (page 14))

    This doesn’t mean that a person that is yelling for help and thrashing isn’t in real trouble – they are experiencing aquatic distress. Not always present before the instinctive drowning response, aquatic distress doesn’t last long – but unlike true drowning, these victims can still assist in their own rescue. They can grab lifelines, throw rings, etc.

    Look for these other signs of drowning when persons 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.

    So if a crew member falls overboard and everything looks OK – don’t be too sure. Sometimes the most common indication that someone is drowning is that they don’t look like they’re drowning. They may just look like they are treading water and looking up at the deck. One way to be sure? Ask them, “Are you alright?” If they can answer at all – they probably are. If they return a blank stare, you may have less than 30 seconds to get to them. And parents – children playing in the water make noise. When they get quiet, you get to them and find out why.
    Rimack, polishsurfer and 13Bulldozer like this.
  2. miguelitro

    great post!
    thank you
  3. PacificPredator

    Great info. I wasn't aware.
    Thanks for posting.
  4. CaptnJD

    Very useful stuff thanks. JD
  5. dkd711

    Damn, scary! Thanks for sharing.

    I've been witness to one death by drowning. A friend of a friend joined us for a fun weekend at Lake Havasu and was too drunk to remember he couldn't swim and I guess he went out too deep and only a few ppl knew he didn't know how to swim the rest of us didn't. As we we pulling out of the cove on a jetski we saw him floating ten ft down. We revived him with CPR but he died on the way to the main shore. I am still freaked just thinking about it.
  6. Iron Slayer

    Most informative! Thank you!!
  7. TheFerret

    Great post!! Every time I go to the beach, I am amazed at the ignorance of people swimming in the surf. You can see when a sand bar collapses and yet everyone is pissed the lifeguard is calling them in.
  8. DaHunterBoot

    Good read, thanks for posting.
  9. fisherman from

    excellent read,now i know what to look for...And parents &#8211; children playing in the water make noise. When they get quiet, you get to them and find out why.<!-- google_ad_section_end --> ....yes sur..
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  10. 100%

    Thank you ;)
  11. MikeyLikesIt

    wow. Great post! :appl:

    this should be mandatory reading for anyone operating a boat, or participating in ANY water related sport.

    I am going to "stick" this thread for a few weeks until the fishing reports get busy.....the more people that read it the better.
    805chaser likes this.
  12. Captain Curt

    I 2nd that. :appl::appl::appl:
    The more information and awareness the better. Good move Mikey.


    The boat Hanna..........
    Last edited: Jun 1, 2011
  13. el capo


    I actually know what this drowning sensation feels like, it is peaceful.
    geeperz likes this.
  14. GRUNT0369

    Great post
  15. Kerbking

    Good post, bad memories! About 8 years ago on my first trip to BOLA I found myself experiencing "Instinctive Drowning Response". It was one of those days that the water was so high the only ramp visible was the public ramp. I was coming in from another epic day with the girlfriend and my 3 kids and jumped from the boat when we were in about 5' of water, or so I thought... Being fried completely through from the sun all day (no, not drunk, I never drink on my boat unless I'm tied up or anchored for the night) I didn't account for the additional 2 feet or so of draft. Even so, I was in fairly good shape, so when I jumped off and couldn't reach bottom I wasn't that concerned, I just started swimming for shore. My second mistake was that I didn't think of the fact that the tide was going out FAST. As soon as I started swimming I could feel my sandals pulling away from my feet - the ramp here acts like a break in the sand bar and has a mean rip tide. So long story not getting too much longer when I realized that I was in trouble I tried to ask a guy 15 feet away in a skiff for help and i couldn't make a sound, nor could I wave or do anything but dog paddle. All I could picture was my girlfriend and 3 kids trying to get home from BOLA towing a 25' diesel boat with my body in back. I know that's not how it would have happened and there were a lot of folks there that would have helped them, but that's what flashed through my mind. In a last act of desperation I tried to extend my feet as far as I could and was able to reach bottom. The tide was dragging my feet through the sand but I was able to make some slow headway up the ramp and finally collapsed on the beach after what seemed like hours. The family had motored around waiting for me to go get the trailer, and had no idea I was in trouble until I laid down in the sand.
    geeperz likes this.
  16. Pinone

    Great read......Parents, keep an eye on our kids. Thank god mine are allways loud in the water :Beat_Them
  17. Saluki

    15 yrs ago (before we had kids) Zilla & I went to Hawaii on vacation.
    We were going to go snorkling outside of Black Rock along Kanapali on Maui.
    The sets were coming in at 6-8 ft about every couple minutes, in between was 2-3 ft.
    I told Zilla to swim out past the surf break with me inbetween the sets and not linger along black rock because she could get hammered.
    Well................. Zilla is the worlds smartest and most experienced person who had ever been snorkling for the 2nd time in their life that has ever walked this planet.
    On our way out she started dilly dallying around where the surf break was about to come crashing down upon her.
    I pulled her by the arm and told her to keep moving.
    I kept moving, and go out past the surf break.
    When I looked back she was nowhere to be seen.
    I hauled ass into the foaming white water created by the 6-8ft breakers.
    After about a frenzied search both below and above surface I located here about 3ft below the surface of the water.
    I swam over, grabbed her and drug her drowning ass up onto the beach.
    A few chest compressions later she was puking up sea water, crying and thanking me for saving her life.
    Had I not looked back when I did for her know it all ass I would have been single, without kids, and had almost $1,000,000 in life insurance $$$$.
    I remind her of that that brief moment in our lives on a regular basis. :D
    Tunaboy1020 likes this.
  18. Reel1

    I think I just held my breath the whole time I read this thread.

    Thanks for posting.
  19. divegod1

    probably one of the best posts ever, gonna bookmark this one
  20. mafrancis66

    Thanks for sharing! More informative than any fishing report I have ever gotten off of this site.