Drowning: How to Respond

It's critical to get the person breathing again as soon as possible.

Drowning: How to Respond

Drowning can happen quickly. Three children die every day from drowning, and most fatal incidents happen from lack of appropriate supervision. Every minute that passes is critical in saving them or preventing serious injury. Here's what to do if you see someone drowning and you need to help rescue them.

Call 911

You should alert emergency responders as soon as possible. If there are other people around, instruct someone to make the call. If you are alone, help the drowning person until you can give CPR for one minute and then call 911 yourself (then continue life-saving measures).


Make Sure You Are Safe

You don't want to become a victim too — you can only help the drowning person successfully if you are safe. So make sure you are comfortable swimming and have the skills to do so. If you are in open water, make sure there are no risks to your own safety, like high waves or a rip current.

Pull Them Out of the Water

If the person is still conscious, toss them a safety object or flotation device (like a rope or life ring) and pull them out of the water. If the person is unconscious, only go into the water to get them if you are confident you can do so or have the skills to pull them out successfully. It is good to bring a flotation device or hold onto a rope so you have assistance in the water.

Lay Them on a Flat Surface

Lay the person on their back on a flat surface. Try to wake them by shaking them and calling their name. If they remain unconscious, tilt their chin up and head back. Check for breathing by putting your cheek close to their nose and mouth, watching for rises and falls in their chest and listening for breathing sounds. If they are not breathing, begin resuscitation immediately.

Start Rescue Breaths & CPR

With their head back, give the person five rescue breaths. Pinch their nose, make a seal over their mouth with yours, and exhale a strong breath of air into their mouth for 1 second. Do this five times. It is critical to get oxygen back into the drowned person. Then, perform CPR for one minute. Here is a simple guide for doing hands-only CPR.

Steps for performing hands-only CPR.

If you are alone, it is at this point you should pause and call 911. Then resume with two rescue breaths, 30 chest compressions, and repeat. Continue until they begin breathing on their own or help arrives.

While it is most important to get the person oxygen, you can also use an AED if there is no pulse. Here is an easy step-by-step guide to using one.

If They Start Breathing Before Help Arrives...

Put the person in the recovery position: roll them onto their side, using their top leg and arm to prop them up, with their head tilted back to keep their airway open. Keep them warm with any extra clothing, and assure them help is on the way. Make sure the person gets to the hospital and receives medical attention no matter what.

How to Help Prevent Drowning

  • Make sure everyone in the family has taken swim lessons and is comfortable in the water. The Red Cross can help you find swimming lessons, water safety courses and more classes near you. Click here.
  • Closely supervise and watch children under your care who are swimming.
  • Fence off or block off pools, spas, hot tubs and other bodies of water when not in use or there is no supervisor.
  • Children, inexperienced swimmers and boaters should wear flotation devices or U.S. Coast Guard-approved life jackets.
  • Swim with a lifeguard present.

Emergency Resources: How to Help in a Health Crisis

Learn what kind of emergencies people have and how you can respond to them and prevent them. www.doctoroz.com

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