How to spot the signs of drowning

How to spot the signs of drowning

We have all seen movies or tv shows where a water emergency occurs, but the sad reality is that a real drowning does not look the same. Drownings are often silent events because an individual is underwater, unconscious, or frozen with fear. It is important to recognize the signs of an emergency in order to save a life. There are three main parts with water emergencies: Prevention, Recognizing, and Action.

Lifeguarding background

I have been a lifeguard since 2015 and it has been such a valuable skill to have. I have dealt with a variety of incidents ranging from getting stung by a bee to having to call an EMS for a child who went unconscious. Luckily, with training, I have been able to save lives. I hope to pass on some simple, yet valuable knowledge to others to hopefully save more lives.

Drowning Prevention

Prevention is the first step when it comes to saving a life. With prevention, a variety of incidents can be avoided. It is all about creating a safe environment while still allowing people to have fun.

The first step is to actively scan the area and recognize different people and their attitude:

- is there young children clinging to their parents?

- is there a teenager who is fearless and doing flips into a pool?

- are there adults watching their children?

- are there kids clinging to the wall in the deep end?

- is there an adult swimming laps?

All of these events could have different outcomes and it is important to think ahead of time to prepare for different outcomes. Examples:

Based on what you see, assign colors to people based on where you need to focus your attention:

By knowing where to direct your attention, you can prioritize who may need more help than others.


The next step is recognizing an emergency among different ages. The sad reality of drowning is that it does not often involve recognizable signs, it requires closer observation.

Recognizable signs of a drowning person

Key things to watch for:

It can be difficult in deciding whether an individual is actually drowning or not. Kids sometimes play games holding their breath underwater and even some adults may lay down and relax on the water's surface. By being aware of what is going on around you, you may be able to distinguish these events from others.

Regardless, it is better to be safe than sorry.


If you find that an individual is drowning or another emergency is taking place. It is important to keep yourself safe. A drowning victim might pull you under as well.

If a lifeguard is present, alert them immediately! Often they will see an event happen first. They have the training to pull an individual out of the water based on the depth and the type of emergency.

If there is no lifeguard and an individual is actively drowning, try throwing a buoy and pulling them to the edge of the pool.

If an individual is submerged or unconscious, you will have to go in and stay safe in knowing that the individual can still pull you down.

Make sure to call 911 if the individual is unconscious, has a severe loss of blood, drowned, is in cardiac event, or is not breathing.

Dry drowning is also an event that could occur up to 24 hours afterwards. It involves inhaling too much water which causes the vocal cords and airways to spasm. This is why near-drowning individuals should be assessed by medical professionals.


A water emergency can happen anywhere and to anyone. It is important to recognize the events in order to save lives and prevent injury. Water emergencies can happen at a lake, at a community pool party, in your own backyard, or even a bathtub. It is a scary reality, but having the knowledge and preparedness for a water emergency can allow you to act accordingly. Always ensure you learn everything you can about water safety for home pools. Stay safe and have fun!

Hannah Kota’s bio:

Swim Instructor in Fort Lauderdale

Hello! My name is Hannah and I’ve been swimming competitively since 2007. I have also coached since 2014, instructed group/private lessons since 2015, and lifeguarded since 2016. I’ve worked with infants to adults. I am currently a student-athlete for Nova Southeastern University studying Exercise Sports Science for the graduating class of 2022. I love teaching swimming because it allows me to help those who are either inexperienced or not as confident in the water. Swimming can save a life.

Call Us at 1-888-788-2140 to book your Swimming Lessons Today


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