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Course Outline

Dr. Frank Pia has developed materials that describe what the instinctive drowning response individual looks like in the water. The following information is used with his permission.

  • When the individual’s 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 as the victim attempts to breathe.
  • They push down on the water’s surface with their arms in an attempt to keep themselves above the surface to breathe. They will vertically bob in one location and not move in any direction.
  • Voluntary movements, such as waving for help, swimming, or reaching for a rescue or support device, are overridden by the body’s natural defensive mechanism to breathe.
  • Note that a distressed swimmer (weak or fatigued) can/may make movement towards a rescue device and is generally able to hold onto the device and be supported and towed back to shore. However, drowning victims are unable to reach safety on their own.
  • The individual may only be at the surface for less than 60 seconds, making it important to recognize the instinctive drowning response.

For more information from Dr. Pia, visit the website.

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