National Drowning Prevention Alliance
     “Lifesaver of the Year” Award 2012 & 2020
        “Community Lifesaver” Award 2016 & 2018

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Signs of Drowning

Great Lakes Surf Rescue Project
Dave Benjamin, Executive Director of Public Relations, 708-903-0166
Bob Pratt, Executive Director of Education, 517-643-2553


Because time is of the essence

 GREAT LAKES, USA – The Great Lakes Surf Rescue Project (GLSRP) wants everyone to know the Signs of Drowning because time is of the essence:

  • Less than 1 minute – if a person is actively drowning; i.e. doing the signs of drowning, they will likely submerge in less than 60 seconds.

  • Two Minutes – Around two minutes of submersion, a drowning victim has a 94% survival rate if recovered and CPR and artificial respiration is performed properly.

  • Three Minutes – Around three minutes of submersion, the heart may stop

  • Four Minutes – Around four minutes of submersion, irreversible brain damage begins.

  • Ten Minutes – Around  ten minutes of submersion, a drowning victim has a 14% survival rate if recovered and CPR and artificial respiration is performed properly.  (These survivors will usually have moderate to severe brain injury.)

  • Consider if you are in the water at the beach and witness a drowning submersion – how long would it take you to get out of the water, get to a phone, call 911, identify your location, 911 dispatch first responders to your location, and recover the victim? Would it already be past the ten minute mark?  Would it already be a recovery mission?
  • Note: survival rates may vary due to age, health, water  temperature, and other varying factors.

The Hollywood Version: The waving, splashing, and yelling – that dramatic conditioning television prepares us to look for – is rarely seen in real life.

The Actual Version: Drowning is almost always a deceptively quiet event. It is swift, silent, and permanent.  Train yourself to recognize what drowning looks like in case you need to spot it or find yourself doing the signs of drowning.  It is not the violent, splashing, waving, yelling for help that most people expect.

The Signs of Drowning ,also know as the Instinctive Drowning Response by Francesco A. Pia, Ph.D., is what people do to avoid actual or perceived suffocation in the water. And it does not look like most people expect. There is very little splashing, no waving, and no yelling or calls for help of any kind.

The Signs of Drowning:

  1. Facing shore
  2. Mouth at water level
  3. Head tilted back, look of panic or eyes glassy or closed, and hyperventilating or gasping
  4. Vertical in water. Not using legs for forward swimming movement.
  5. Ladder climbing motion, hands rarely out of the water or may be lightly breaking the surface – Hair over forehead or eyes

He or she may be trying to swim in a particular direction but not making headway

Know the Signs of Drowning for two reasons:

  1. To identify someone who is drowning
  2. In case you find yourself drowning/doing the signs of drowning, STOP IT and FLOAT.

Sometimes the most common indication that someone is drowning is that they don’t look like they’re drowning. They may just look like they are treading water and looking up at the deck. One way to be sure – Ask them, “Are you alright?” If they can answer at all – they probably are. If they return a blank stare – you may have less than 30 seconds to get to them.  Source: Drowning Doesn’t Look Like Drowning, by Mario Vittone on May 3, 2010 in Boating Safety, Water Safety


The Great Lakes Surf Rescue Project, Inc. (GLSRP) is about saving lives.  It is a nonprofit corporation that is a Chapter of the National Drowning Prevention Alliance (NDPA) that tracks drowning statistics and teaches “Water Safety Surf Rescue” classes, and leads the “Third Coast Ocean Force” rip current awareness campaign on the Great Lakes.  Become a member of the Great Lakes Surf Rescue Project.

The GLSRP presented at the NDPA’s 12th Annual Symposium, March 14, 2013, in Ft. Lauderdale, FL.  It presented at the 2nd International Rip Current Symposium Nov. 1st, 2012 in Sydney, Australia; the 2012 winner of the “Outstanding Service to the Great Lakes Community” award presented by the Dairyland Surf Classic; the 2011 “Lifesaver of the Year” award winner; and presented at the NDPA’s 11th Annual Symposium in San Diego, March 9, 2012.