Drowning is a terrifying experience often misunderstood and misrepresented in popular culture. It’s not the flailing arms and desperate cries for help that movies and TV shows portray. It’s a silent, lonely struggle where the victim often goes unnoticed until it’s too late.
Unintentional drowning is also one of the leading causes of accidental death worldwide. Anyone can drown. However, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), drowning is the second leading cause of unintentional injury death after motor vehicle crashes for children 1 to 14. Toddlers and teen boys have been identified as the most susceptible.
Continue reading to learn about the most common misconceptions about drowning.
Misconception 1: Drawing People Are Noisy and Splash A Lot
Reality: One of the most common misconceptions about drowning is that it’s a loud and chaotic event, with victims splashing around, waving for help, and shouting. However, drowning is often silent and unnoticeable.
According to the Mayo Clinic, a drowning person usually cannot call for help as their mouth sinks below and reappears above the surface of the water, making it difficult to breathe, let alone shout. Additionally, their arms might not be free to wave or splash as they instinctively press down on the water’s surface to lift themselves for air. It’s always crucial to watch people in the water, particularly children, even if they seem fine.
Misconception 2: Drowning Takes a Long Time
Reality: Drowning can occur quickly and often goes unnoticed by those nearby. It can take as little as 20 to 60 seconds for a child to drown and slightly longer for adults. To put it in perspective, a child could drown in the time it takes to look at your cell phone or send a text message. That’s why it’s essential to supervise children closely when in or around water and for adults to be aware of their limitations and take appropriate precautions.
Misconception 3: Only Poor Swimmers Drown
Reality: Although knowing how to swim can help, even strong swimmers can drown, particularly in open water where conditions can change rapidly. Currents, waves, and cold water can all lead to exhaustion or hypothermia, making it difficult or impossible to swim to safety. Drowning can result from any situation leading to difficulty breathing while in the water, including getting entangled in underwater objects, being caught in a rip current, or even suffering a medical emergency while swimming.
Although knowing how to swim doesn’t necessarily prevent drowning and is not a substitute for adult supervision when children are in or around water, everyone should learn how to swim. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, most children four and older can learn to swim. Children ages one to four might be able to learn depending on their physical and emotional development.
Several organizations, such as the American Red Cross, Boys & Girls Clubs, YMCAs, and municipal and neighborhood pools, provide low-cost and even free swimming lessons.
Misconception 4: Flotation Devices Are 100% Safe
Reality: While flotation devices like life jackets can provide an added layer of safety, they are not foolproof. For example, the wrong-size life jacket or one not fastened correctly can slip off, and inflatable toys can easily puncture or flip over. Always ensure your devices comply with the US Coast Guard recommendations.
Misconception 5: Drowning Only Happens in Deep Water
Reality: Drowning can occur in any body of water, regardless of depth. People, especially children, can drown in swimming pools, bathtubs, buckets, rivers, lakes, and oceans. Shallow water can be a drowning hazard, and many drowning incidents occur in shallow water, often defined as water less than five feet deep. Strong currents, uneven surfaces, or tripping can lead to drowning, even in shallow depths.
Misconception 6: Alcohol Doesn’t Impact Swimming Abilities
Reality: Alcohol significantly impairs judgment, coordination, and reaction times. Swimming under the influence increases the risk of drowning. According to the CDC, alcohol is involved in up to 70% of water recreation deaths among adolescents and adults.
The Truth: Everyone Can Help Prevent Drowning
Enjoying a day at the beach, by the pool, boating, or playing water sports can be fun and relaxing, but only if everyone’s safe. Make sure you know the realities about drowning. Together, we can end the heartache of losing a loved one due to drowning. Take our Water Safety Challenge to measure your family’s water safety competence, and help us provide water safety outreach to schools and community groups to keep everyone safe.