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Labor Day Safety: Could You Tell if Someone Was Drowning?
Saturday, September 4th, 2010

Many people spend the Labor Day weekend enjoying a final opportunity to engage in summer activities like swimming. Which raises the issue of pool and lake safety. If someone was drowning near you, would you recognize the signs? Contrary to the image manufactured by Hollywood of drowning victims thrashing about and screaming for help, people drowning are generally quiet and unnoticeable, and sink silently. Indeed, tragically, many parents have watched their child drown without realizing what was happening.

Drowning victims exhibit what is called the Instinctive Drowning Response: they don't splash much, they don't wave, and they don't yell or call out. Why is that?

In the vast majority of cases, drowning people are physiologically incapable of calling out for help because their bodies are giving priority to their primary respiratory function, breathing, and not to speech, which is a secondary function. 

Drowning people's mouths are generally not above the water long enough to enable them to exhale, draw breath and call out.

When someone is drowning, the natural instinct is to press our arms outwards and downwards onto the surface of the water so we can leverage our bodies upwards to catch our breath.
Waving arms about to draw attention is a voluntary movement: we have to stop drowning first before we can physically perform voluntary movements like waving for help. Drowning victims generally struggle on the surface of the water up to 60 seconds before they go under silently.

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