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The Worst Way to Save a Drowning Person

I have always been a strong swimmer, and in high school I was on the swim team, so when I graduated high school, I was excited to have the opportunity to become a swim teacher and lifeguard. During my first day of lifeguard training, I learned something very interesting about saving someone who is drowning- jumping in the pool is always the last resort and the worst option.

What? Then why do we have to be in such good shape? Why all the endurance tests? When you see someone drowning on a television show, the first thing the TV lifeguard does is jump in the pool… right? That day, I was shown the best way to save a drowning person, and it made a lot of sense. It became the first safety tip I taught all of my swim lesson kids- even the four-year-olds. Okay, so maybe the kindergarteners didn’t quite grasp the importance of this rescue revelation, but someday it might come in handy.

Now, I would like to teach you the basic information you need to know to save a drowning person. Now to be precise, let’s get a bit more specific. When I refer to a “drowning person” for the purpose of this lesson, I am referring to someone who is actively drowning. Essentially, this is a person who is conscious. This means the little girl who just realized that she accidentally doggie paddled into the deep end and has now panicked. This is the kid who got pushed in the pool by his friends, only to expose the fact that he can’t swim. This is the little boy who went down the waterslide in the deep end, even though he has reached the pool and now obviously can’t swim. This is the grown man who is having a heart attack and can’t seem to keep swimming. This is the swim team member who is not feeling well and is having an asthma attack in the pool. Basically, this is anyone who is in the pool struggling, still basically at the surface of the pool.

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By now, you are probably asking, “Why can’t I jump in and save the person?” There are several reasons for this.

Reason#1- A conscious drowning victim is most likely panicking. It is amazing the strength a panicked person will have.

In their swinging and struggling, you are likely to get knocked out.

Reason #2- The victim’s fight for survival may make you a victim.

For some strange reason, when a person is drowning, he often does not recognize that you are trying to help him. The victim will use any and all means to propel his body to the surface, which may mean pushing you down to push themselves up. When I was lifeguarding at a ranch in Malibu, I saw a little girl swimming near her mother in the deep end of the pool. Suddenly, she realized she was in the deep end and panicked. Her mother swam over and tried to grab her, only to be repeatedly pushed under the water by her very small daughter. At that point, I had to intervene to save them both.

Now that we have identified the situation, let’s go back to how to save this person.

Drowning Rescue Step One- Decide if the person is within an arms distance of you.

If the person is within arms distance of you, then this will be quite easy. Go to the closest edge of the pool and lie down. Yes, lie down. If you reach your arm out to the person from a standing or kneeling position, you are likely to get pulled in with them. So, lie down and scoot as close to the edge of the pool as possible, while still maintaining leverage. Reach out to the person while yelling, “Grab my hand!” It may take a few seconds, so don’t panic if they don’t hear you or see your hand right away. If they are within reach, they will most likely see it eventually.

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If you find that the person is out of reach from the edge of the pool, which is more often the case, then move on to step two.

Drowning Rescue Step Two- Find something long that the person can grab on to.

At a public pool, they will often have a lifeguard foam or a pole with a rounded hook at the end that is meant specifically for this purpose. However, at most public pools, a lifeguard would be doing the rescuing, so let’s assume you are at a home pool.

Several things can suffice. You can use a pool net or broom (the ones used for cleaning the pool), a noodle (those colorful Styrofoam things), or just any long toy or pole lying around. Repeat step one (lay down and reach), but this time, hold tight onto the pole. Once the person grabs on, quickly pull them into the edge.
Drowning Rescue Step Three- Now that you have him/her at the edge, place both of the victim’s hands on the firmly on the edge of the pool.

Once you have placed both of the victim’s hands on the edge of the pool, wait a moment to assess if the person will be able to make it out of the pool independently at this point. If addition assistance is needed, proceed to step four.

Drowning Rescue Step Four- Using both of your hands, take each hand in yours.

Do not starting pulling the person out of the pool until you have a two-hand grip. Slowly stand up, then back up, pulling the person up onto the deck. Remember, the person does not need to be pulled to standing; just pull as far as necessary to prevent the victim from slipping back into the pool.

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Now that you know how to save a drowning person, consider teaching these easy steps to your children. Even some of the smallest children understand this concept and can benefit from this information.