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Drowning: what the movies don’t show you

Written By

by Corina Oaches

Published on

August 22, 2017

Cue loud, ominous music.

An iceberg ripped into the Titanic, tearing through the metal frame. Alarms sound and hundreds of panicked voices begin to scream. The ship turns up on its nose, its remaining passengers are released into the frigid water, it dips into the ocean.

Unlike the cinematic twist of the Titanic’s story, real life moments don’t have storyboards to follow. There are no blueprints, a final plan, a formula. Neither does drowning. Drowning isn’t extravagant, it can be very simple—as simple as a toddler in a bathtub with just a few centimetres of water in it.

Prevention, for everyone.

A chart depicting the five factors that help prevent drowning
from the Canadian Red Cross

This is why drowning prevention and water safety knowledge is key to keep every individual, but especially family members and loved ones, safe.

The fatality trends across Canada are staggering, and being educated on how to prevent these tragic occurrences can save lives.

The Lifesaving Society’s iconic, “If you’re not within arm’s reach, you’ve gone too far,” slogan is aimed at parents with small children and stresses boating safety for high-risk, middle-aged men— but anyone can be at risk for drowning.

The Canadian Red Cross outlines the five essential layers to help protect and prevent drowning during aquatic activities:

  • Constant, undistracted supervision of children – in and around any water.
  • Fence backyard pools – create adequate barriers so small children don’t go unnoticed.
  • Learn to swim—the basic lifesaving strokes and water safety skills, or more advanced courses like Bronze Medallion.
  • Wear a lifejacket — in boats and deep water, always.
  • Swim in lifeguard areas.

What does drowning actually look like?

“When people are drowning, all of their energy is going into trying to breathe and staying above water,” says Shelley Dalke, the manager of the national swimming and water safety programs for the Canadian Red Cross. “So, there’s absolutely no way they could scream for help and wave their hands around like you see in the movies.”

With drowning as the second leading cause of unintentional death in children under five and hundreds of Canadians being affected, it’s serious.

The signs

The preventative measures are necessary, but so is the ability to recognize some not-so-well-known, but common signs of drowning. They are:

by Christine Vezarov
  • Struggling to keep their face above water in an effort to breathe—head is low in the water, can be tilted back, and mouth is at water level
  • Arms extended to the side pressing down for support
  • Vertical (or almost vertical) body position with no supportive kick
  • Might continue to struggle underwater; might be facing nearest point of safety
  • Inability to answer to: “Are you okay?”
  • Silence.

While these are common signs of drowning, there is no ABSOLUTE profile of what a drowning person looks like.

Truth be told I’ve watched far more videos of drownings (and near drownings) caught on camera then I’ve cared to, for the simple purpose of training my mind to recognize what a drowning could look like. I’ve seen a teen silently drown, where he simply never managed a breath and slipped below the surface, a young boy who looked like he was playing in the water, doing flips, bobbing at the surface who simply could not get enough air and eventually fell unconscious… It tears at my heart, but I make myself watch. Because recognition is key.

Is she drowning? A three step approach.

You may not be a trained lifeguard. You may not want to watch hours of footage of people drowning. So how can you recognize (and then get help for) someone is drowning? Here’s our three step approach:

  1. Stay alert in and around the water. Watch and get to know the potential dangers of the body of water you are visiting. Is there a current? Large waves? Is the water cold? Are there rocks, weeds, clams…?
  2. Know the common signs of drowning
  3. Scan individuals in the water. Are they getting a breath? Watch for 10 seconds. Have they taken a proper breath? If not or if they look like they are struggling, ask them, Are you okay? If there is no answer or they say yes, get help!

For every death, the Red Cross predicts an estimated four to five additional near-drowning incidents will occur. Every individual counts. Prevent accidents, stay alert around the water and learn to recognize those in need of help.

Please stay safe out there!

Article written by Christine Vezarov and Stephanie Rainey

If you have any questions, suggestions, or are trying to find the way to taking your first dip into the wide world of water, then reach out to,and jump in with us at The Aqua Life Swim Academy!

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