The silent killer: How to prevent and spot a drowning

Posted at 10:59 PM, Aug 11, 2019
and last updated 2019-08-11 22:59:18-04

NORFOLK, Va. - As much fun as the water is, it can be equally as dangerous.

Drowning is a leading cause of unintentional deaths in the United States, but the good news is that it’s preventable.

Dan Jones is the head of Norfolk Aquatics and Beaches. He says a big issue is that people don’t take the right precautions because they believe they’re good swimmers.

“No matter who you are, swim with a partner, swim with a buddy. Don’t overestimate your swimming ability. Swim near a lifeguard, never swim at night,” says Jones.

He says it’s up to parents to make sure they are keeping a watchful eye on children at all times and not distracted with cellphones or drinking.

The parent will say ‘yeah my child swims every day,’ ‘well can your child swim in water over their head?’ and they say ‘no, they can’t swim in water over their head’ and we say, ‘well your child can’t swim, your child is wading in the water.’”

Many people think someone who is struggling in the water will call out for help or flail their arms in the air, but Jones says that rarely happens.

“They may struggle, their arms might be thrashing, typically their body is vertical in an active drowning situation and their head is up. They’re not able to scream for help because they’re trying to breathe.”

If you see someone struggling one way you can safely help them is by using a long pole or pool noodle.

“You want to get low, extend… and help them all the way to the wall. It’s an effective way of helping someone without putting yourself at risk.”

Another way you can help someone struggling in the water is through a wading assist with a life jacket. Push the jacket out to the victim, tell them to grab on and then pull them back to safety.

A life jacket is a life saver. If you’re out on a boat or kayak, Jones says you should be wearing one at all times and if anything happens to your vessel, don’t abandon it.

"Stay with your boat. You shouldn’t attempt to swim in. Kayakers: if you’re capsized, stay with that boat, with your life jacket— rescuers are going to be able to see you a lot faster."

Jones says water safety is ultimately about being vigilant, so it never gets to the point where a rescue needs to be made.

Adults should always be someone watching children when they are in the water even if there is a lifeguard on duty, and if you’re not a strong swimmer yourself, it’s best to stay far away from deep water.