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Transcript for Instinctive Drowning Response

Narrator: An unsupervised child falls into the pool reaching for a floating toy. As they attempt to get to the surface, they go into what Dr. Frank Pia identifies as the "instinctive drowning response." Recognizing an individual in this response is critical because they may only be at the surface less than 60 seconds.

The mouth is above the surface. They inhale and exhale quickly. Yelling or calling for help will be rare since the instinctive drowning response of the body is to breathe. The head will be tilted back, and the mouth will be open. They push down on the water surface with their arms, attempting to keep themselves above the surface. They will vertically bob in one location and not move in any direction. Voluntary movements, such as waving for help, swimming, or reaching a rescue support device, is overridden by the body's natural defense mechanism to breathe.

Remember, recognition of the instinctive drowning response is critical because the individual may only be at the surface for less than 60 seconds, approximately the length of time of this clip.

On screen: For more information contact:
Boating and Watercraft Safety Manager
PA Fish and Boat Commission
1601 Elmerton Ave. - PO Box 67000
Harrisburg, PA 17106-7000
ph: (717) 705-7841
Visit us on the web at:

Copyright: PA Fish and Boat Commission
Video by: Chris A. Calhoun

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