Drowning Myths and Realities

Drowning Myths and Realities

Myths & Realities

Drowning remains one of the leading causes of accidental death in Australia in children aged 5 yrs and under. However in 2012/13 it was the 55+ years age group that had the most deaths from accidental drowning.*

Following are 6 myths and realities everyone should know about drowning.


“Now that my child has had swimming lessons, I don’t need to supervise him in the pool anymore.”


In 2012/13,   31 children aged 0-4 yrs drowned; a 48% increase on the previous year.*



Swimming lessons are very important and helpful but may not prepare your child for a drowning situation. Often they will not have the ability to figure out what to do, especially if they go in unexpectedly, like being pushed, tripping and falling in, or striking their head either prior to immersion or upon diving in head first.

There are many reports of children tripping, falling or being pushed into water and just ‘sinking like a stone’, despite having been taught how to swim. Read here for one example.



“Spotting a drowning person would be easy- they wave their hands and call out for help…don’t they?”


This is a myth that TV shows and movies have perpetuated. (Like many other first aid myths, which will be addressed in future blog posts).

Former U.S. Coastguard Mario Vittone wrote a brilliant piece in 2010 entitled “Drowning Doesn’t Look Like Drowning” which went viral, with nearly half a million people liking it on Facebook. You can read the article here.

Some revealing points in that article include:

  • Many children drown within close proximity to an adult WITHOUT THE ADULT BEING AWARE THE DROWNING IS TAKING PLACE.
  • Drowning people are unable to call out for help.  All efforts are focused on breathing, with speech being of secondary concern. Their mouths are alternately above and below the water which does not give them time to both inhale and call out for help.
  • Drowning people cannot wave for help. They may initially do this when the realise they are in trouble in the water, but this ceases when true drowning starts. All efforts are focused on keeping their heads above water. This involves pushing with their arms below the surface of the water in order to leverage their bodies up so that the mouth can remain above the surface of the water. Voluntary movements like waving are overriden by the instinctive response of the underwater movements. The above phenomena are known as the “Instinctive Drowning Response.”


silhouette of young woman underwater



“I only have a couple of inches of water in the bathtub- my baby will be fine in there while I go answer the phone.”


Babies can drown in water that is deep enough to only just cover their nose and mouth. If you must leave the room, take the baby with you.


“I don’t have a pool and we don’t holiday near the water, so I don’t have to worry.”


It’s not only backyard pools and waterways that pose a drowning risk. Garden ponds, rainwater tanks, dams, containers left out overnight during the rain, toilets, buckets, pets’ water bowls and eskies with melted ice all pose a risk to a baby or toddler.


“Supervision is enough to help prevent a drowning.”


A non- climbable fence, high latches, locks, alarms and pool covers, as well as supervision, constitute a multi-layered approach that can help prevent drowning.

Many children drown or  have near-drownings as a result of pool owners thinking that their pool fences and gates are well maintained when they were not. Please check your fences and gates regularly. See here for pool safety standards in Australia.


“I’m a strong swimmer. I don’t need to wear a life jacket when boating/waterskiing/rock fishing/insert other water sport activity here.”


Drowning deaths happen in adults largely because of this false belief (alcohol mixed with water activities is also a culprit.) Trauma from hitting the head in an accident on or near the water can result in unconsciousness, and no matter how strong you are at swimming, you cannot save yourself if you are submerged and unconscious. Life jackets will help keep you afloat as well as visible to rescuers.

Finally, here is an article by Kidspot where I was quoted regarding another phenomenon, secondary drowning.



Know the myths from the realities. Learn first aid and CPR. You could save a life.

A future blog post will address dry drowning and secondary drowning.


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