Summer Time/Swimming Time: What Drowning Really Looks Like

Summer is synonymous with water–oceans, pools, sprinklers–whatever it takes to keep cool. And Boulder Families are heading to the water in an effort to cool off from these ridiculously high temps. My kids and I just got back from Mexico where I was shocked by the near drowning that happened to the 3 year old child of my friend’s family friends at their rented beach house. All 3 couples had just arrived at the house. They were talking and letting the kids play together. After a bit they realized one of the 3 year olds was missing. They found him floating in the pool a distinct shade of blue. One of them was an E.R. nurse. She did CPR. He is okay. Miracle. They reported that none of the 6 adults heard anything. What really struck me was how quietly a child can drown. How is that possible? 

What Does growing look like? 

*Drowning doesn’t look like the dramatic splashing, gulping for air scene Hollywood has painted. Rather, the Instinctive Drowning Response, named by Francesco Pia, Ph.D., is a relatively quiet sequence of events that humans do in order to avoid actual or perceived suffocation in the water. You may not know:

  • drowning people are physiologically unable to call for help
  • drowning people’s mouths are not above the surface long enough to call for help
  • drowning people cannot wave for help
  • drowning people cannot voluntarily control their arm movements
  • from beginning to end of the Instinctive Drowning Response, the body remains vertical in the water

If you see these signs, you have a matter of seconds to provide assistance. Additional overt signs of drowning include:

  • head low in the water, mouth at water level
  • head titled back with mouth open
  • eyes glassy and empty, unable to focus
  • eyes closed
  • hair over forehead or eyes
  • not using legs, or vertical in the water
  • hyperventilating or gasping for air
  • trying to swim in a particular direction but not making any progress
  • trying to roll over on the back
  • appear to be climbing an invisible ladder

And just like any other time, kids make noise when they play. If they are quiet in the water, you need to investigate!

*Special thanks to for their post on Safe Swimming. I got a lot of the content for this post from her original post linked above.

2 thoughts on “Summer Time/Swimming Time: What Drowning Really Looks Like

  1. Thanks for these valuable tips Amanda. While life guarding as a teenager, I had a little boy call out ever so quietly to me “help”. He was an arms reach from the ladder. I remember looking down and asking him in a shocked voice, “you need help?!” Yes, he said. Kick I told him. I can’t. So, I reached down and had him take my hand. That incident scared me so much that I never take my eyes of kids in water regardless of whether there is a life guard on duty or not.

    • Yeah, it’s scary how quickly it can happen! I have been WAY too lax for WAY too long on this one and even though my kids can swim I keep a better eye on them these days…

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