Active & Passive Rescues
How to Rescue an Active Drowning Victim
A day at the pool or beach can be a very relaxing activity. However, if you see someone drowning, that can transform your day into a scary experience. If you are going to be near water, it is a good idea to think about what you would do if you see an active drowning victim. Learn basic life support, such as by getting training by your local Red Cross or YMCA. There are several ways that you can safely help the person in trouble.
Identifying an Active Drowning Victim
Practice scanning and observing.When you are near water, it is smart to get in the habit of surveying your surroundings. The first step in helping a drowning victim is being able to spot someone in trouble. Lifeguards call surveillance of the area "scanning and observing".
- To scan and observe, you should spend a few seconds every couple of minutes looking around your area. Look at the water, and also look at the pool deck or beach. Keep your eyes out for people in distress, or in potentially risky situations. For example, if there is someone swimming far from shore in choppy waters, you'll want to keep a close watch on them. Keep your eye out for the elderly and young swimmers.
- Get in the habit of scanning and observing your area whenever you are near water. This is especially important if there are children with you, or others who are not strong swimmers.
Learn the physical signs of drowning.Active drowning means that the person is in the process of drowning. They will be impaired due to inhalation of water. There are several things to look for to determine whether someone is actively drowning.
- Active drowning can begin within 20 seconds of the person being in distress. An active drowning victim will not be able to call for help.
- While an active drowning victim might still be vertical in the water, they will be unable to move towards help or safety.
- Active drowning victims will not be able to wave for assistance or reach for equipment. Once drowning has begun, the victim cannot voluntarily control his arm movements.
- Active drowning victims typically struggle on the surface for 20-60 seconds before being submerged.
- Active drowning victims will have their heads tilted back so their mouth and nose is above water, this is an instinct.
Recognize other issues.There are many other types of problems that can occur in swimmers. Make sure you are aware of different signs so that you can accurately assess the situation. For example, a distressed swimmer is a person who may have become tired or suffered a cramp. They may call out for help and may appear to be flailing.
- A passive drowning victim is someone who is unconscious in the water. Assume the person needs medical attention and call for help.
- A tired swimmer might be using short, weak strokes and appear to be looking for something to cling to. They might call for assistance.
Prepare to reach the victim.Once you have determined that you are looking at an active drowning victim, get ready to reach the person. Based on your scanning and observing, you should be able to tell whether you need to go in the water or whether you can offer assistance from land. Take any tools you need, such as a flotation device, life vest, or pole.
- Alert someone else on the shore if you are swimming out to rescue the victim. You want someone else to be aware of the situation. Have them call for help.
- Do not attempt a rescue unless you are a strong swimmer and know what you are doing. If you are a weak swimmer, you can put both yourself and the drowning victim in danger. The assistance of a flotation device even if you are a strong swimmer is important. Most professional lifeguards carry some sort of flotation device.
Performing a Rescue
Reduce your risk.Before you attempt a rescue, you need to make sure that you are not putting yourself in danger. It is a good idea to remember a phrase used by lifeguards: "Reach, Throw, Row, Go with Support". This means that you should always utilize safety tools to aid in the rescue.
- Make sure to always take a flotation device with you. You will need it in case you encounter problems, or you become tired. You may also need it to support the victim.
- If possible, use a rescue tube. These devices are the easiest to utilize while performing a rescue.
Strengthen your skills.It is important to remember that only extremely competent swimmers should attempt rescues. If you do not know what you are doing, it is possible you could make the situation worse, despite your best intentions. If you are going to be near water, or plan to be, it's a great idea to take an advanced swimming course. Check with sources such as your local YMCA for options.
- Before you find yourself in this situation, make sure that you are aware of your own swimming skills. Don't attempt a rescue if you cannot easily swim 50 yards doing a breaststroke or front crawl. You must be a strong swimmer and confident in your swimming skills.
- Make sure that you are capable of treading water for at least 2 minutes without struggling. Some protocols state that you should be able to treat 2 minutes in the water with a 10 lb weight. If you cannot do this, it is unlikely you are a strong enough swimmer to conduct a successful rescue.
Use your tools.If the drowning victim is nearby, you may be able to use equipment to reach them. For example, almost all swimming pools have a tool called a shepherd's crook hanging on a wall or fence. The shepherd's crook is a long, thin pole that has a loop at one end.
- If you have experience using this tool, it is possible that you can extend the pole and aim the loop so it surrounds the victim. You can then pull the victim to shore.
- Do not attempt to loop the victim if you are unfamiliar with this process. You might inadvertently cause more panic.
- A flotation device is the most important tool in rescues. If you are going to swim out to the victim, make sure to take one with you.
Perform a rear approach rescue.If possible, you should always approach an active drowning victim from behind. You may need to swim underwater and come up behind the victim to make this happen. Research shows that drowning victims almost always somehow drown while facing the shore. As you perform the rescue, you want the victim to keep the shore in sight. For this reason, it's better to approach from the rear and propel them with you towards the shore.
- Victims often begin to panic even more if they are turned away from the shore.
- Remember that the victim cannot control his arm movements. Therefore, do not waste time saying things such as "grab on".
Support the victim.You need to use your flotation device to help you stabilize the victim. This will make it easier for you to safely swim to shore. Place the victim on the rescue tube or other flotation device. Ask the victim to help you kick if you need it.
- To do this, approach the victim from behind and put your arms under their armpits, grab their shoulders and flip them on to you keeping your head to the side and out of harm’s way. Your rescue tube should be under your arms and between you and the victim. Try to calm them by telling them who you are, and that you are here to help. It is simple but effective.
- Before you find yourself in an emergency situation, it is a good idea to practice this movement. In the safety of a pool, ask a friend or family member to volunteer to be your practice buddy.
- Practice swimming from behind and firmly lifting the "victim" onto the tube.
Tow the victim to shore.Once the victim is on the device, you need to get them back to land. Wrap your arm around his waist and begin to swim to shore. You will find a sidestroke most effective for this type of rescue.
- As you tow your victim, make sure you keep an eye on them. You want to make sure they remain safely on the flotation device. If necessary, pause to re-position them so they are stable.
- If the flotation device is easy to grasp, you can pull the victim to shore by holding onto the device and towing that while you swim.
Care for the victim.Once you have reached shore, you need to continue to help the victim. If you have not already, call for medical help. It is very likely that the victim will still be having difficulty breathing, due to the water inhalation. Be sure to use ABC to check the person's airway, breathing, and circulation. First, check their airway by looking into their mouth and throat to see if you see anything lodged in it. Then, check to see if they are breathing. Then, check for a pulse.
- Place your ear next to his mouth to listen for breathing. You can also look at his chest to see if it is rising and falling due to breathing.
- If you cannot see or hear breathing, check his pulse. Place your two first fingers on the wrist or neck to find a pulse. Hold there for 10 seconds.
- If you cannot detect a pulse, begin CPR. Place the heel of your hand in the center of his chest, in line with the nipples. Make sure not to press on the ribs.
- Begin chest compression by pressing down at the rate of at least 100 pulses per minute. Complete 30 compressions, make sure the chest is going all the way down and coming back up. There is a high chance of breaking their ribs so be prepared for that.
- Check for breathing. If they are not breathing, start CPR again. It is very important to take CPR classes through your local Red Cross so that you can practice this technique. If you perform it incorrectly you will not do any good for the victim.
Knowing General Water Safety
Practice caution.Accidents happen, and it is certainly not possible to ensure that drowning incidents don't occur. However, there are many steps you can take to reduce the likelihood. By practicing caution and observing general safety rules, you can help keep those around you safe. For example, make sure that when you are near water that you have a flotation device with you.
- If possible, take a cell phone with you to the pool or beach so that you can call for help if necessary. Immediately after assessment point to someone and tell them to call EMS immediately.
- Make sure that people who aren't strong swimmers have a life vest to wear.
- Be aware of your surroundings. Even if you do not plan to swim, know that accidents can happen even when you are on the shoreline or by the side of a pool. Watch for people falling in the water accidentally.
Swim in designated areas.It is always best to swim with a lifeguard on duty. This is important for everyone, even strong swimmers. If you are going to be swimming in a pool, look for one with a regular lifeguard. You can also find beaches that employ lifeguards.
- Do not go in natural bodies of water if the conditions are unfavorable. For example, do not go in a lake if it is especially windy and the waves are strong.
- You should avoid going in the ocean when the tides are aggressive. Many beaches post signs or flags advising you of conditions. Do not swim if a warning is posted.
Teach children the rules.While anyone can drown, children are especially susceptible. If you have kids, make sure that you teach them to act responsibly around water. Have a set of rules for family swim excursions, and make sure that your children understand them.
- For example, you should implement the buddy system. Make sure that your child knows that they are never allowed to swim alone or without supervision.
- If you are going out on a boat, take life vests that are child-sized.
- Children can learn to swim as early as 1 year old. It's an excellent idea to begin swim lessons early.
QuestionWhat if the person is far away?
Family Medicine PhysicianFamily Medicine PhysicianExpert AnswerIf there is an active drowning victim out of reach of those trying to help, throw a flotation device to the individual so they can grab onto something.Thanks!
QuestionWhat If I can't reach them or if they can't reach me?
Family Medicine PhysicianFamily Medicine PhysicianExpert AnswerIf there is an active drowning victim who is out of reach, throw a flotation device to them.Thanks!
QuestionWhat swimmer do I rescue first if there is more than one victim?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerRescue the one that is in more danger if you can't do both together or have help. That's a huge judgment call.Thanks!
QuestionWhat if I don't have a flotation device?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerDo the best you can without putting yourself or others in danger. Remember that there may be something around that does float, such as a piece of wood or something like that.Thanks!
QuestionWhat do I say on a 999 call if someone is found unconscious?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerTell them everything you know about it, say that the person is unconscious tell them if they are breathing or not and anything else you might know such as any medical conditions. The person on the other end will ask you specific questions, so be a good listener in order to be able to give quick, concise and relevant answers.Thanks!
QuestionWhat if the person is fighting me?Halee StoryCommunity AnswerIf the person is panicking and reaching for you, take a step back and re-evaluate your situation. When a person is drowning, they can't control what they do because they are in flight or die mode. If the person grabs onto you ,take them under the water and they should let go immediately, but if they don't, turn your head to the side and grab each of their elbows and push yourself out of their lock. Then re-evaluate. The best thing to do is come behind them and grab them, then tell them who you are and that your here to help. Keep them calm, and keep yourself calm.Thanks!
QuestionWhat is passive drowning?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerPassive drowning is when water enters your lungs and accumulates at the bottom, reducing breathing function. It can result in serious injury or death, and can occur hours after getting out of the water.Thanks!
QuestionI'm a kid and not a great swimmer. Should I go and rescue someone if I see them drowning or, let others take care of the problem?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerLet someone else take care of it. If you are not great at swimming, you will likely be unable to help someone else who is having trouble. A better swimmer should take care of the issue so that someone doesn't end up having to rescue both of you.Thanks!
QuestionWhat happens if I can't swim and may not have anyone with me?Community AnswerDo not swim alone.Thanks!
QuestionWhat should I do if the drowning person is violent?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerOdds are they will not be intentionally violent. More than likely, any violence will just be them frantically kicking or flailing in order to keep their head up; they may not even realize you're there. Swim around them outside of their reach and come up behind them. Then, quickly grip them as demonstrated above. Once they realize you are helping them stay up and they can breath, the panic should fade enough for them to become rational again. Just don't let them push you under. If you can, talk to them.Thanks!
- Do not try to rescue a victim if you cannot swim yourself. It would not be helpful to the victim or safe for you if you try to rescue a victim without knowing how to swim.
- Get help or throw a flotation device to the victim.
Video: Lifeguard Rescue Skills by American Lifeguard Association®
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