RHJ 18-21 B


A drowning person is usually within a few feet of people who could help. Although, bystanders can only help if they recognize what drowning really looks like. As summer approaches, many of us will head to the pool or beach. Seven hundred children under the age of 15 drown every year in the US, and about half of them are within 75 feet of an adult. Dr. Francesco Pia, water safety educator, lifeguard and trainer for over 20 years, tells us about his study of what a drowning person really looks like.

While movies often show the drowning person thrashing, waving, or calling for help, Pia says that drowning is actually a quiet event. When someone is drowning, their body functions on instinct, which means all of their energy is focused on taking at least one more breath and trying to push themselves up to the surface.

Mario Vittone, retired Marine Safety Specialist in the US Coast Guard, explains a few common signs of drowning. While the person may look like they’re treading water or trying to climb a ladder, they are actually extending their arms and trying to push their mouth above water. Head tilted back, eyes glassed over, and hair over the eyes are more signs of a quiet, desperate attempt for life.

While it’s important to recognize the signs of drowning, prevention is better. Pia says that drowning can result from a mere five-minute lapse in supervision.  Parents often read a book or look at their phone, thinking they’ll hear their child if something is wrong. But, Pia says, if you don’t hear them, they’re in trouble. Above all, he emphasizes the importance of parents knowing CPR.

To see a video of what a drowning person really looks like or to learn what to do if someone is drowning, visit the links below.


  • Dr. Francesco Pia, water safety educator
  • Mario Vittone, Retired Marine Safety Specialist, US Coast  Guard

Links for more information:

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