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What drowning really looks like
July 6, 2010 9:00 PM   Subscribe

Marine Safety Specialist Mario Vittone knows what it looks like when someone is drowning, and you probably don't. It's deceptively quiet, undramatic, and happens so fast that bystanders may not even know it's happening. A drowning person's brain kicks into an instinctive mode that prevents yelling for help.
posted by ivey (68 comments total) 78 users marked this as a favorite

 
Wow, good to know. I feel like this belongs here.
posted by phunniemee at 9:12 PM on July 6, 2010 [4 favorites]


I'm getting this message from the linked webserver:

Internal Server Error
The server encountered an internal error or misconfiguration and was unable to complete your request.
Please contact the server administrator, webmaster@mariovittone.com and inform them of the time the error occurred, and anything you might have done that may have caused the error.
More information about this error may be available in the server error log.
Additionally, a 500 Internal Server Error error was encountered while trying to use an ErrorDocument to handle the request.
Apache mod_fcgid/2.3.5 mod_auth_passthrough/2.1 mod_bwlimited/1.4 FrontPage/5.0.2.2635 Server at mariovittone.com Port 80
.. maybe he ran over his quota. Anyone have a mirror?
posted by 3mendo at 9:36 PM on July 6, 2010


Yep, here's the original link.

I have been the person drowning (aged 7) and it is exactly as he describes. My parents were within five feet of me and had no idea. When I told them later (I managed not to drown) they didn't believe me.
posted by unSane at 9:39 PM on July 6, 2010 [3 favorites]


Yeah, this sounds pretty much like what happened to me when I got boxed in and then pushed under by inner tubes at a water park as a kid. It was like once I got locked into the cycle of going under, I couldn't do a damn thing to extricate myself. Thank god for lifeguards!
posted by Blue Jello Elf at 9:48 PM on July 6, 2010


Specialist Mario

Am I the only one who read that as Super Mario at first?
posted by delmoi at 10:01 PM on July 6, 2010


I'm a lifeguard with many years of experience and I don't doubt that what this specialist has to say, but I have seen and heard of drowning people asking for help. It is always as undramatic as he says though, usually a "I need help, I can't swim." Just like that. When people are close to drowning, they're typically so focused on trying to swim that they don't focus on panicking.

Skip this story if you're not in the mood for a sad one: Recently, our pool staff watched a video from a security camera of a pool somewhere in the US. A boy slipped off a foam mat at a birthday party in plain sight of the lifeguard on deck. This lifeguard did not notice as there were other kids playing around under water. Nor did either of the two other guards on duty who were not as close. The other kids didn't notice either. Nor did the parents on deck or in the water. Each minute that passes in this video, your heart sinks lower and lower because you can see the kid underwater! Two minutes after submersion the guard stands up and walks to the edge of the pool. This might be it! But he is telling some boys near the drowning victim to behave, then sits back down. Six minutes in, a dad in the hot tub who has peeked over at this boy a few times before jumps over the side of the tub and rushes to the boy. Paramedics were already on site based on the 30 second reaction time, but even with that, it was too late for the boy.

Please, next time you're at a pool and see something, don't be afraid to talk to the lifeguard. When it gets busy, we can use all the help we can get. Also, having that momentary human contact can help to bring our occasionally waning attention back to the task at hand.
posted by battlebison at 10:04 PM on July 6, 2010 [15 favorites]


I've nearly drowned on three separate occasions (There's a reason why I don't swim anymore) and this is right on. I wasn't able to call for help, it was all I could manage to push myself up to the surface to take a breath before getting pulled back under. An unpleasant experience all around, and the people around me all thought I was just "playing around."
posted by signalnine at 10:04 PM on July 6, 2010


Man, I grew up at the beach and this was news to me.

I never saw anyone drown, though I did see a neighbor get rescued by the lifeguards, but I was on the shore and only saw him carried out of the water (we were like 11 or so). But I do remember being surprised when I saw the lifeguard launch off his chair and head into the surf.

I wonder if I was expecting something more dramatic, some splashing about. I don't remember a heavy, pounding surf that day, but I've been caught in more than one current that didn't seem to be down with me making it back to shore on what seemed like otherwise average days.

Fragile creatures, we are. And water's kung-fu is pretty badass.
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 10:07 PM on July 6, 2010


Great to know. Thanks!
posted by 6:1 at 10:08 PM on July 6, 2010


Thanks for posting this.
posted by LarryC at 10:08 PM on July 6, 2010


Yeah, I almost drowned once. Reading this description was actually a hell of a lot scarier and anxiety-inducing than the actual event. Mostly because I, too, have been indoctrinated by TV and film to the point that afterwards I didn't feel like it could have been THAT close to drowning 'cause, hey, I wasn't making a lot of noise or waving or anything. I was just sort of trying to lean back and keep my mouth above water. If there hadn't been a bit of coral immediately under me where I could barely reach with my tip toes and keep my mouth above water I probably would have drowned without making a single peep.

Yeah, yeah, you shouldn't stand on the coral because it kills it. Sorry, coral, it was you or me.

But reading the article just made me break out in a cold sweat, my pulse start racing, and so on.
posted by Justinian at 10:09 PM on July 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


Thanks unsane!
gCaptain, such a great blog.
posted by 3mendo at 10:10 PM on July 6, 2010


Good article. I'm wearing my lifejacket from now on while boating. Thanks.
posted by kevinsp8 at 10:16 PM on July 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


I'm a lifeguard with many years of experience and I don't doubt that what this specialist has to say, but I have seen and heard of drowning people asking for help. It is always as undramatic as he says though, usually a "I need help, I can't swim."

As mentioned in the article, what you're referring to is known as "aquatic distress." Aquatic distress often precedes drowning, but not always.
posted by incessant at 10:16 PM on July 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


Man, I grew up at the beach and this was news to me.

Ditto. As a kid in Hawaii, I practically lived in the water. I never almost-drowned, and in spite of years of swimming classes and weekends at the beach, I was never taught what a drowning person looks like. Living as I do in San Francisco, land of freezing water, I don't swim any more.

Thanks for the post.
posted by rtha at 10:20 PM on July 6, 2010


I had no problem yelling and waving when I was drowning, but I knew the situation: alone in the ocean, few people on the beach, 100+ yards from shore, weak swimmer. Undertows suck. I didn't make it. You see dead people.
posted by stbalbach at 10:21 PM on July 6, 2010 [3 favorites]


Great link. I grew up around water, and I think people have a dangerous tendency to underestimate how fast things can get out of control when you're in the water.
posted by V4V at 10:40 PM on July 6, 2010 [2 favorites]


I'm glad to have read that.
posted by bonobothegreat at 10:41 PM on July 6, 2010


Thank you for posting this.
posted by davejay at 10:45 PM on July 6, 2010


> I had no problem yelling and waving when I was drowning, but I knew the situation: alone in the ocean, few people on the beach, 100+ yards from shore, weak swimmer. Undertows suck. I didn't make it. You see dead people.

Wait, are you saying you had some kind of NDE when you drowned but were saved and resuscitated? And, I don't think that you were technically drowning when you were able to yell. At that point your lungs hadn't filled with water. But, please elaborate.
posted by Burhanistan at 10:59 PM on July 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


Yeah, when I was a kid, I pulled my little sister out of the water, and it looked exactly like this -- she was gulping for air, her hands were below the surface, and it was very, very quiet. I'm kind of freaking out now thinking about it; at the time I'm sure I didn't realize how close she was to drowning.

Thanks for posting -- very good information to have and remember.
posted by OolooKitty at 11:00 PM on July 6, 2010


As a whitewater boater, the risk of drowning is something you live with all the time. Any swim out of your boat is treated seriously.

We use a signal: your buddies will look at you in the water and pat themselves on the head. As a swimmer, if you're okay you pat yourself on the head in response. If the swimmer fails to respond, then you assume there's trouble. It's a good failsafe signal. Especially because rapids are often noisy, easily overpowering any voices.
posted by Mercaptan at 11:34 PM on July 6, 2010 [30 favorites]


Undertows suck.

(I am a not-currently-certified lifeguard.) In case someone reading this doesn't know: undertows are formed when a sandbar develops a break -- so the water coming into shore flows parallel to the shore and then out through the break into the sea in a narrow but powerful channel.

If you ever find yourself caught in an undertow, do not try to swim against it (back to the shore). You will likely accomplish nothing except tiring yourself out. Rather, swim parallel to the shore until you are out of the undertow. When you've reached calm water, then return to land.
posted by tivalasvegas at 11:43 PM on July 6, 2010 [12 favorites]


Technology is available now to help with this problem, in pools at least, but it's danged expensive.
posted by SLC Mom at 11:44 PM on July 6, 2010


When I was a lifeguard the kids would play at seeing who could stay underwater the longest floating on their stomachs. Logically someone is going to be best at this, but at one point this one kid was just so awesome OH SHIT OH SHIT OH SHIT I jumped in and pulled him to the side of the pool, blowing the whistle alarm, and another lifeguard took over there and somehow brought him back by emptying his lungs and doing mouth to mouth. I was never so happy to see a kid cough and throw up.
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 11:51 PM on July 6, 2010 [5 favorites]


This is a great article, thanks for posting it.

My family has a letter written around the turn of the century by my great-great-grandfather, to his son. In the letter he describes watching his father drown. His father (my great-great-great-grandfather) was an engineer who worked on canals in the northern US and Ontario in the middle 1800s. He traveled around working at different canal sites, but couldn't swim.
posted by LobsterMitten at 12:25 AM on July 7, 2010


I just did my first triathlon about 10 days ago. Unfortunately, what should have been a nice milestone in my life became bittersweet. A man about 5 years my senior went into the swim and didn't come out.

The rescue "angels" were never further than 20 yards from any swimmer no matter how strong or weak they may have been. I've been hoping for a news report that says he had a heart attack, but the truth is probably something like he had a lung full of water and that was it.

From what I've heard, he was training much harder than I did. Anyone can drown.
posted by cmfletcher at 12:29 AM on July 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


From the comments, here's a video demonstration, which I think might be a clip from this lifeguard training video. (Warning: footage of a kid nearly drowning, then being saved by a lifeguard; not an actor staging a simulation.)
posted by hades at 12:31 AM on July 7, 2010 [7 favorites]


I have qualified as a lifesaver (UK Bronze Medallion). I was taught to recognise the signs of what the article describes as aquatic distress, but not this. Worrying.
posted by Hogshead at 2:41 AM on July 7, 2010


wow. that is an amazing article. Truly frightening.
posted by marienbad at 3:20 AM on July 7, 2010


I had exactly the experiences described in the article. As a couple of people remarked it was distressing to read. In my case I was out of my depth, in a swimming pool within arms reach of a middle aged couple who were standing up and chatting. As I was fighting it the man looked at me, frowned, and turned his back, I assume he thought I was playing. About ten seconds later I was hauled into the shallow end by the lifeguard. His name was Marwan Atalla. Marwan, if you're out there reading this I owe ya.
posted by fingerbang at 3:57 AM on July 7, 2010 [9 favorites]


I've only seen someone come close to drowning once, and it was just like this - a preschooler at our neighbor's pool when I was a kid. I was about nine. He was bobbing around in the water in a kiddie-sized inner tube, and some of us were in and some out of the water, and the grownups had all fallen to chatting; and somehow the boy had slipped down through the ring so it was around his neck rather than his waist. But no one noticed a thing until all of a sudden we heard the neighbor's daughter, my friend Lisa, suddenly scream, "JACOB'S DROWNING IN THE POOL, MOM!!!" And by then, only his face was at the surface of the water, turned up, bobbing in the middle of that tube.

Fortunately it was soon enough. Two of the grownups instantly dove in and got him out onto shore, and after only a few seconds of tending, he was fine (if terrified). But I definitely remember how still and silent Jacob was. But back then, I think I chalked that up to "oh, he's too little to know he's supposed to splash and call for help."
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 3:58 AM on July 7, 2010


So the thing that scared me the most so far was reading that kevinsp8 isn't in the habit of wearing a lifejacket while boating.

Wow, folks, please put on those things. They are exactly like seat belts. When you really need it, it is way too late to put it on. Modern life vests are not bulky, come in many colours, and quite comfortable. And even though the boat I had was filled with foam and essentially unsinkable, there is still the chance of being thrown or knocked overboard.

The most important difference between a car and a boat is that when a car breaks down, you can get out and walk home.
posted by seanmpuckett at 4:16 AM on July 7, 2010 [7 favorites]


And parents: children playing in the water make noise. When they get quiet, you get to them and find out why.

Oh, hells yes, this.

And to echo Battlebison's advice, always have someone keep an eye on the kids, and don't assume someone is going to because someone is around, make sure you hand off the watch to another adult before you go and get a beer. Keep a count on the swimmers, individually, and pay attention to what they're doing, whether in a pool, at the lakeside or at the beach.

Also, if the person drowning is an adult, be very fricking careful. While they might look passive and unfocused, they will clamp onto you like, well, a drowning man. Which is like a hell-octopus on steroids - panic makes them both unbelievably strong and unbelievably stupid. They'll get you in a bear-hug or headlock, and not even realize they're killing you both. Always bring something to put between you and them to tow them to shore, preferably something that will float them like a lifejacket or boogie-board, but a beach towel they can grab onto will work in a pinch.

If you're going to be on the water a lot, take a lifesaving course.
posted by Slap*Happy at 4:50 AM on July 7, 2010 [6 favorites]


cmfletcher: "I've been hoping for a news report that says he had a heart attack, but the truth is probably something like he had a lung full of water and that was it."

You may never find out, but you'd be surprised how often there's more going on (i.e. heart attack, seizure) than a simple inability to swim anymore. Any time people drown, there are so many venues for lawsuits that the investigation is some straight up CSI stuff. I too hope that it was beyond the control of the guards on duty.

Slap*Happy: "Also, if the person drowning is an adult, be very fricking careful. While they might look passive and unfocused, they will clamp onto you like, well, a drowning man. Which is like a hell-octopus on steroids "

Slap*Happy has some good advice. If you recognize someone is drowning, call a lifeguard if it seems reasonable to do so (indoor pool, near to beach/seadoo, etc.) Failing that, remember that you are not a lifeguard. Don't give then a chance to grab on. If they do, it's your life or theirs, so unfortunately, you're going to have to do everything in your power to literally fight them off. Try to keep some distance between you and them by giving them something to hold on to.

If you absolutely must try to give the lifeguards two bodies to try to pull out instead of one and you think you can rescue carry the victim to safety, approach them from the back. To do this, swim towards the victim, always keeping your head up and eyes on them. When you are close but not close enough for them to grab onto you, as fast as you can, dive head first under the water and pull a kind of C-shaped manoeuvre. You will be under and behind them. Again, please don't do this unless you are a lifeguard. We train for a reason. If the person is uncarriable, doing this can at least give you a chance to give lift them for some air before you come up for some yourself.
posted by battlebison at 5:30 AM on July 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


Thanks for posting this ivey, and to the rest of you for all the good advice in this thread.

And yeah - for crap's sake, wear a life vest when you're in a boat, whether it's a canoe or a speedboat.
posted by usonian at 5:44 AM on July 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


Great post! As a parent the post and some of the comments definitely gave me the willies, but if that makes me more careful around water that is fine. The gCaptain blog is a good find, worth poking around in. Part one of the drowning article is interesting, too.
posted by TedW at 5:49 AM on July 7, 2010


My brother and I had an incident when we were kids...I was 7 or 8, my brother a couple years younger. We were both good swimmers and we'd been at the beach all day, but we got caught in a bit of an undertow during our last swim of the day. I grabbed my brother's hand, and I don't remember yelling or waving my hands or anything like that, but someone (it was a crowded beach) must have figured out we were in trouble because all of a sudden this guy we didn't know (not a lifeguard) ran into the water (the spot where we were wasn't even deep, maybe neck-high for an adult) and hauled us out. I didn't really understand at the time how close we were to really being in trouble, and I remember being confused about why my mom was so upset as we drove home.
posted by The Card Cheat at 6:13 AM on July 7, 2010


Just yesterday when I picked up my 7-year-old son from camp, he hopped off the bus and announced that he'd saved someone's life. Evidently, a younger kid had been struggling in the pool, right next to where my son was swimming underwater. As he flailed, he grabbed onto my son, and my son (who is only newly a confident swimmer himself) managed to drag both himself and the little kid over to the edge of the pool -- at which point the lifeguard jumped in, got the kid, and told my son that he'd just saved the little boy's life.

I don't think he truly realized what was happening while it was happening -- from his perspective, he was swimming underwater, minding his own business, and then this three-year-old tried to use him as a flotation device. But what's scary is that it doesn't seem anyone else realized what was happening while it was happening either. Luckily the lifeguard and counselors were close by -- but it was also lucky my son was able to get to the side of the pool with a frantic, drowning toddler clinging onto him. Very scary.

(The real high point of the whole thing for my son, though, was that his act of bravery scored him some "gold tokens" that campers get for being awesome and that can be traded in for prizes at the end of the week. But, as he put it on the walk home, "Only two gold tokens for saving someone's life? That's kind of a rip-off.")
posted by mothershock at 7:00 AM on July 7, 2010 [18 favorites]


I learned to guard w/ my BSA Lifeguard, which was, and is, about 10x harder to get than a Red Cross Certification, for a myriad of reasons. My first summer as a BSA lifeguard I was 16, tasked with guarding a murky-water lake, clarity rarely exceeded about 4-6 feet. The swimmers section was as deep as 16 feet.

My first day on the job I had about 5 rescues, by the end of the summer it approached 50. Of course, we used primarily thrown ring buoys (kick ass system, really. We could get a ring buoy to a distressed swimmer in under 5 seconds, compared to a stupid torpedo-go that might take a lot longer.), but we had the occasional deep-water boat rescue as well.

I guarded for about 7 years, and I never want to do it again---but only because it's harder than most people think, and not just cuz you sit in the sun ALL DAY LONG and the sun really takes it out of you. You've really got to pay attention.

Guarding murky-water was a great first guarding experience for me, because lots of lazy pool guards just check their corners for shadows and look for people out of place. For us, if the distressed swimmer actually went under water, it was too late. That meant being fairly aware of how many people were in an area, what they were doing, etc. Of course we had the buddy system to rely on as well, but we're talking 12-17 year olds here, we still had lost bathers often enough when someone would forget to move their tag.

I will never forget lost bather drills. Ever. A clorox bottle full of sand would be chucked into the swimmers area, about 65 feet wide by about 40 feet long, up to 15 feet deep, never shallower than 3. All guards (about 5 of us) would turn our backs to the water, the head guard would chuck in the clorox bottle, which of course would sink and halfway bury itself in the mud. We would enter the water, arms locked, walking with our feet in a Monkees-style walk feeling the bottom until we were at the shortest guard's nipples, take 2 steps back, dive---1, 2, 3 strokes on the bottom, surface. Line up at the person who made it the least far. Breath. Dive, 1, 2, 3, repeat until the area is cleared or the bottle is recovered. If we didn't find the bottle in 5 minutes, we had to do it again. Flipping brutal. Awesome, amazing...brutal.

And yea, I did go-saves in public pools and lakes after that, and saves that summer where nobody realized what was happening until they saw us enter the water or pull someone out. It's those 7 years that make me hate arm floaties and any parent who willingly takes a non-swimmer over his/her head, regardless of how much flotation is strapped to them. (I once rescued about a 6 year old whose parents, against my orders, had allowed him to go down the water slide because he had one of those stupid integrated pfd bathing suits. Big fat surprise that it inflated his confidence and after they took it off to eat lunch, he decided he could go down the slide w/o it like a big boy.) They didn't even notice until I was pulling him out of the water.

Rambling now, shutting up.
posted by TomMelee at 7:18 AM on July 7, 2010 [15 favorites]


Yeah, this sounds pretty much like what happened to me when I got boxed in and then pushed under by inner tubes at a water park as a kid.

Same exact thing happened to me. Shudder.
posted by emjaybee at 7:31 AM on July 7, 2010


undertows are formed when a sandbar develops a break -- so the water coming into shore flows parallel to the shore and then out through the break into the sea in a narrow but powerful channel.

Former lifeguard and summer-camp swim instructor here. This is good advice, but it's important to be clear about the terms - this effect is a "rip current" or "riptide," instead of an "undertow." The idea of "undertow" often confuses people about the dynamics of water. What undertow usually means is the pulling effect of a wave washing back into the ocean. It's often strong enough to pull people off their feet, especially kids, and especially in storm-activated surf. But it won't carry you out from shore - it's more likely to trap you in a washing-machine effect of tumbling over and over if the surf is really rough. In most cases, even though it is a strong pull initially, once you are in the water the force is spent and you can make your way back on the next wave. But it's an imprecise term at best and so it confuses people; feeling the "undertow" pull of the water against your legs is not the same as a riptide, and the terms should be kept separate when teaching about it. Riptides can often be recognized very easily when you know what to look for - an area of water that's flatter, or a different color, than the surrounding surf.

NOAA says:
Undertow: There is spirited discussion and disagreement among coastal scientists on the existence of a nearshore process called "undertow," and hence there is not an agreed on definition for this word. Undertow is a term often and incorrectly used for rip currents. The best explanation for what many people attribute to "undertow" is as follows: After a wave breaks and runs up the beach, most of the water flows seaward; this "backwash" of water can trip waders, move them seaward, and make them susceptible to immersion from the next incoming wave; however, there is no surf zone force that pulls people under the water.
I wish it were mandatory for everyone who goes to the beach to learn about rip currents before going into the water. I grew up along the Jersey Shore, and it was clear that rip currents are probably the most frequent contributor to drowning incidents, and that knowledge about rip current action could prevent most of those drownings. And yet it's not something widely understood. I have made it a personal mission to explain this and draw diagrams in the sand for people when I know they're not that familiar with ocean swimming. About ten years ago I was at a beach house with some friends, all of whom were also lifeguards and swim teachers at the same summer camp, and who taught about riptides. Despite their "head knowledge" about what a riptide was, and their comfort in the water, they didn't have all that much experience on the ocean beach, and two of them were caught in a really powerful rip current. It exhausted them both as they tried to swim against the current, got more and more panicked, and felt their arms and legs tiring out. It was pretty dangerous for a while. They both made it back to shore, but both were very seriously scared by the experience, enough that one guy was not interested in going back into the water all week. Even though they understood what a riptide was, it took a long time for them to realize they were caught in one and to react by swimming at an angle out of the current.
posted by Miko at 7:37 AM on July 7, 2010 [2 favorites]


I will never forget lost bather drills. Ever.

We did those too. I agree - one of the most serious, difficult experiences I've ever endured. We guarded in a murky, deep creek with a current - part of what made LBDs so hard was your realization of the futility of the practice. By the time you're needing to do that, it's pretty late in the game, and it seemed like even this excruciating search would not be productive.
posted by Miko at 7:39 AM on July 7, 2010


When my sister/friend posted this to her Facebook page, I read it and was immediately scared shitless to the point of la-la-la holding my hands over my ears. (I tend toward paranoia in all things; my friends all call me Safety Officer.) But this discussion, and that video hades posted, are making me feel a little better informed and clear-headed about the whole thing. Thanks as usual, MeFi. :]
posted by fiercecupcake at 7:59 AM on July 7, 2010


Fine, I'm never swimming again, HAPPY NOW?!
posted by new brand day at 8:04 AM on July 7, 2010


Thanks so much for posting this link. I grew up in Florida and water safety was a huge issue because most activities bring you in close proximity to some body of water. I can't remember a time before I could swim, but the dead man's float, blowing up your jeans to make a flotation device and being able to tread water for 30 minutes were all part of my water education. It's weird to now live in the northeast where pools are only open for a few months of the year and it's so much harder for kids to learn how to swim because they don't have the constant access. We're doing lessons with our kids but it's certainly not the same.

Also, I've been resistant to getting a baby pool for the backyard because I was worried we'd step away (to flip a burger, answer a phone or do whatever for 2 minutes) and something tragic would happen. When the temp hit 101 degrees this week, I decided to compromise by putting the pool in our unfenced front yard which is on a very busy street. Since I would never leave them unattended out there and they could care less where the pool is, it's a win/win. Peace of mind for me & cool, cool water for them.
posted by victoriab at 8:23 AM on July 7, 2010


Thanks for posting this link.

Please wear your life preservers while in a boat. It's not because you can't swim the 30 feet to shore, it's because you might be unconscious when you hit the water.
posted by Freen at 8:56 AM on July 7, 2010 [3 favorites]


And parents: children playing in the water make noise. When they get quiet, you get to them and find out why.

This is true of children in all situations. In my job as a nanny, I most often know that something is horribly wrong when it's silent. Dead silence followed by a scream or screaming followed by dead silence is truly a sign that all hell just broke loose.

Great article. I've trained as an EMT and I hadn't been aware of this until a friend of mine posted it on FaceBook.
posted by grapefruitmoon at 9:11 AM on July 7, 2010


I decided to compromise by putting the pool in our unfenced front yard which is on a very busy street. Since I would never leave them unattended out there and they could care less where the pool is, it's a win/win. Peace of mind for me & cool, cool water for them.

I believe this is what is called an "attractive nuisance." I can see why this works out for your kids, but you're now probably liable for anyone else's kid who decides to check out the pool.

Honestly, I don't know how deep it has to be to be fenced legally in your jurisdiction, but I would think that if it's too deep to allow your kids in unattended, it's probably too deep to let someone else's kids unattended, too.
posted by RikiTikiTavi at 9:34 AM on July 7, 2010


Please wear your life preservers while in a boat. It's not because you can't swim the 30 feet to shore, it's because you might be unconscious when you hit the water.

On a related note, please wear your helmet when you boat or raft on whitewater. The only thing more exciting than being dragged over rocks, upside down, and underwater is being dragged over rocks, upside down, and underwater while unconscious.

I like label the gouges on my helmet with things like "vision", "solid food", and "walking". Just to remind me what the brain bucket has let me keep.
posted by Mercaptan at 9:40 AM on July 7, 2010 [8 favorites]


I worked as a lifeguard in my late teens. In my lifeguarding courses, they told us that, having past the top course, we can be aware of and protect 15 people at a time. They also told us that when a non-swimmer starts to drown they make motions as if they are climbing a ladder - arms in front and splashing. After my penultimate course, I lifeguarded at an outdoor beach in what was once a gravel pit (think steep sides). There were usually 2 of us on at a time (one when the other guy went for lunch) for 200+ people. I got really good at scanning the heads and picking out the potential problems. That summer, I pulled 10 kids out. Once, I spotted a kid at the far end of the beach (I was alone at the time) and knew something was going to happen. I got down from the stand and started walking along the beach towards him. By the time I got 1/3 of the way there, he was starting to drown and I was running. Yes, I got him. No-one drowned that year but the year after I left, I heard someone was killed there.

And what they told us in the lifeguarding course about a non-swimmer was wrong - they put their arms up and out to their sides on the water's surface and barely move them. The best indicator is their huge eyes. When I came to take the last lifeguarding class, the description of non-swimmers was changed so that it was correct.
posted by dithered at 9:41 AM on July 7, 2010


RikiTikiTavi: "I believe this is what is called an "attractive nuisance." I can see why this works out for your kids, but you're now probably liable for anyone else's kid who decides to check out the pool.

Honestly, I don't know how deep it has to be to be fenced legally in your jurisdiction, but I would think that if it's too deep to allow your kids in unattended, it's probably too deep to let someone else's kids unattended, too.
"

Ahh...an excellent point. I should have added that the pool is emptied and put away between uses. Basically, even though the pool is only 2 feet deep, kids can certainly drown in it so the rule is that there is no unattended water around my house.

The drowning scene in the Ray Charles movie so freaked me out that I won't even allow a galvanized wash tub in the backyard. I'm sure it's overkill but I can't get that scene out of my brain. I had to leave the theater and sob in the bathroom for a few minutes until I could pull myself together. Anyway, I didn't watch the link in one of the comments above because I don't want an actual drowning burned into my brain for all eternity...my imagination is bad enough.
posted by victoriab at 10:38 AM on July 7, 2010


Words to live by:

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.

Thanks for posting this.
posted by math at 11:10 AM on July 7, 2010


Thank you for posting this! I have a lot of family who spend time on and in the water at lakes and on the shore, and I have never, ever heard any of this information. I'm rather freaked out about my ignorance.

The only time I came close to drowning was the time I discovered that snorkeling makes me claustrophobic--I had a panic attack in 20-ft-deep water, and no one around me was paying attention. They were all enjoying the underwater sights, and I was hyperventilating and unable to call for help or to tread water with flippers on my feet. Fortunately I had the presence of mind to remove all of my snorkeling gear and flip on to my back, where I floated until someone surface and helped me back to the boat. Good times.

We use a signal: your buddies will look at you in the water and pat themselves on the head. As a swimmer, if you're okay you pat yourself on the head in response. If the swimmer fails to respond, then you assume there's trouble. It's a good failsafe signal. Especially because rapids are often noisy, easily overpowering any voices.

This is a TERRIFIC idea; it would be a great universal symbol for swimmers.
posted by Fui Non Sum at 3:33 PM on July 7, 2010


Wow, thanks for this post.
posted by snap, crackle and pop at 5:31 AM on July 8, 2010


I grew up around a pool and had a couple of close calls as a small child that I don't remember. (Falling in the pool and my mom immediately diving in and getting me, etc.) But I grew up swimming from a very young age and took classes at the Y that including how to get yourself out of a pool if you have too and how to rescue yourself. I've always been a really strong swimmer and I've always had a hard time imagining how people actually drown. This helps a lot in understanding how it happens. I've been caught in some strong currents and undertows, and I can recognize some of my own reactions as these instinctive behaviors. I've also seen my husband do similar things in the ocean in strong current. He's not a very strong swimmer and I've had to pull him to shore. Scary stuff to think about. Be careful, folks.
posted by threeturtles at 7:25 AM on July 8, 2010


Fui Non Sum, the pat on top of the head IS a universal symbol for being ok in the water (at least according to my PADI diving certification classes). Incidentally, a mask or goggles on the forehead is a sign of distress. If you're wearing a mask and want to remove it, you're suppose to pull it down to your neck or take it off completely. Most people just push it up to their foreheads, but for those trying to determine if they're in trouble, this can be confusing.
posted by Crash at 11:01 AM on July 8, 2010 [1 favorite]


Most people just push it up to their foreheads, but for those trying to determine if they're in trouble, this can be confusing.

That sounds like a signal that really doesn't work for that exact reason. We all have a simple behavior analogue in pushing sunglasses to the top of the head - a good signal would have to be something you wouldn't do unthinkingly. Also, having stuff danging around your neck when you're in the water doesn't feel right. I find it really interesting that this would have been suggested as a signal...it's definitely not intuitive.
posted by Miko at 11:07 AM on July 8, 2010 [1 favorite]


I learned the hand on head thing in PADI as well. The instructor said making the circle with your arm was analogous to the OK circle made with thumband forefinger. I never heard about the mask on head being a sign of distress but was told I shouldn't do it because it would distort the mask seal.
posted by TedW at 11:14 AM on July 8, 2010


It's been a while, It may be that a divers mask should be on his eyes, anything else can be considered a distress signal, but I think it was the forehead only.
Here's a link that says the same thing:
Linky

since not too many people know of this, and since a lot more probably push their mask up when not in distress, it's not the best indicator. Just something to watch out for when looking for potential trouble and something to be aware others look for.
posted by Crash at 11:31 AM on July 8, 2010


Having done a bit more research, it seems the goggles on the forehead is a touchy subject in the scuba diving forums. Many are aware of it, but just as many think it's BS and ignore it.
posted by Crash at 11:37 AM on July 8, 2010


Yeah, a good distress signal really needs to be unambiguous.
posted by Miko at 1:59 PM on July 8, 2010


Just a quick update.

Author Mario Vittone ‎reports on Facebook: 19,000 facebook shares and 100,000 page views....today alone. Thank you all so much for getting the word out. Have a safer summer.

Good job, Ivey and other Mefites. Finding this article here shows me, once again, why this site is so fantastic.
posted by etaoin at 5:28 PM on July 8, 2010


This might be a good time to bring up drownproofing.
The technique was developed by Fred Lanoue at Georgia Tech in 1940. It's easy to learn and allows you to do some frickin' James Bond style survival.
posted by storybored at 7:27 PM on July 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


"Drownproofing" - huh, that looks like basically a new name for "dead man's float." IT works, but only if you haven't already crossed the threshold into panicking. It's really the panic response that leads to aquatic distress.
posted by Miko at 6:25 AM on July 24, 2010


Yeah, Miko, I think it is pretty close to the dead man's float. Not panicking is the challenge as you say. I actually went into the pool to try drownproofing yesterday. I don't know how to swim and the immediate difficulty I had was not to freak out when during the breathing phase I got some water in my mouth. In real life conditions (with waves coming in for example) you would need to have a fair amount of confidence to keep at it.
posted by storybored at 1:07 PM on July 25, 2010


Smart to try it out. Here's another dead-man's-float how-to. I must admit that though I taught the other name for years, I like "drownproofing" - it's a little more optimistic.
posted by Miko at 8:07 PM on July 25, 2010


True! I've not heard of the term 'dead man's float' and first thought it was a black humor thing :). My problem in trying to learn it was that there's not a lot of time to breathe out and gulp some air before my head was back under water again. I suppose I could push harder with my arms but that would defeat the purpose of spending less energy.

Dang it. Gills are what i need!
posted by storybored at 7:35 PM on July 26, 2010


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