How to React to a Drowning Incident

Editor's Note: Whether you're visiting a warmer clime during spring break or at your local pool during the summer, it's important to be aware of the signs of a potential drowning and know how to react. 

Drowning is one of the leading causes of death in the United States. On average, 3,533 people die as a result of drowning each year, and most of those deaths are children under the age of 4 who drown in backyard swimming pools. The tragedy of these statistics is nearly all drowning deaths are preventable. However, if a drowning incident does occur, it is vital that parents and children know how to react. A proper response could save a life. The United States Swim School Association (USSSA), the preeminent swim school organization in the country, has created guidelines to follow during a drowning incident.

Additionally, USSSA recommends several standard water-safety precautions to parents to help avoid drowning incidents by being proactive and creating a safe swim environment that include keeping children under constant supervision, enrolling children in swimming lessons, knowing CPR and having pool fences and barriers installed.

How to react if you think someone's drowning

Throw, Don’t Go: A young child struggling in the water can easily cause an adult who attempts a rescue to drown as well. Panic can cause a child to obstruct an adult from being able to swim or stay above the water. It is safer to throw a lifesaving device, towel, rope or even a pool noodle to the person in the water, wait until he or she grabs hold and then tow the person safety.  

Call for Help: Alert others around you that a drowning is occurring before you take action to try to save the victim. In case something goes wrong, it is vitally important that other people know you may need assistance with the rescue.

Approach from Behind: If you need to enter the water to save someone from drowning, it is best to approach the person from behind to lessen the likelihood the person will grab on to you and pull you under the water as well.

Wear a Life Jacket: If you are attempting to rescue a drowning victim in an open body of water like a river or lake, put on a U.S. Coast Guard approved life jacket before you enter the water and, if possible, secure yourself to your boat or shore with a rope. Conditions in the water will be unknown, and you will not know if you will be fighting currents or an underwater log. The life jacket could save your life and the victim's.

Watch for Signs of Secondary Drowning: People who experience a drowning incident can still have water in their lungs hours later and need to be watched closely for signs of trouble breathing that could indicate a secondary drowning emergency. If you notice someone has difficult breathing after a near drowning, immediately seek medical help and call 911.

To find a USSSA affiliated swim school near you, or for details on becoming a member of the nation’s leading swim school organization visit:


About US Swim School Association

US Swim School Association (USSSA) began in 1988 to fill a gap in the swim school industry. USSSA has become the largest and preeminent swim school association in the country with over 400 members providing swim and water safety instruction to over 500,000 students each year. Swim schools receive invaluable benefits as USSSA members, receiving the latest training in water safety, swim instruction methods and tools, invitations to annual conferences, and many other benefits that help establish and build each individual business. USSSA has partnered with Safer 3 Water Safety Foundation for its official water safety program. Through USSSA, parents and students are provided with a reliable and trustworthy resource when searching for a swim school and can rest assured they have chosen a top school when they choose a USSSA affiliated location. For more information, visit

Categories: MK Memo