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7 Silent Signs of Someone Drowning

Boy in the pool with goggles on his head

Do you know what drowning looks like? There is no splashing, screaming or raised arm. It’s quick and silent.

Drowning doesn’t mean flailing arms and calling for help. Those watching swimmers often don’t know what to look for – because drowning doesn’t look like drowning. Knowing these silent signs can mean the difference between life and death.

  1. A drowning person can’t call for help. A drowning person has to be able to breathe before being able to speak. When someone is drowning, the mouth sinks below and reappears above the surface of the water. There isn’t time to exhale, inhale and call out.
  2. A drowning person can’t wave for help either. A drowning person instinctively extends their arms to the sides and presses down to lift their mouth out of the water; a child may extend their arms forward. They also can’t use their arms to move toward a rescuer or reach for rescue equipment.
  3. They remain upright in the water, with no evidence of kicking. A drowning person can struggle for only 20 to 60 seconds before going under.
  4. Their head may be hard to see. It may be may be low in the water with mouth at water level, or tilted back with mouth open. A child’s head may fall forward. Their hair may be over forehead or eyes.
  5. A drowning person may look like they are treading water with their arms in an attempt to lift their mouths out of the water. Their head will barely be above water or bobbing up and down.
  6. They are quiet. Children playing in the water make noise. When they get quiet, you need to get to them and find out why.
  7. A drowning person doesn’t seem in distress. Sometimes the most important indicator that someone is drowning is that they don’t look like they’re drowning. They may just seem to be looking up at the sky, shore, pool deck, or dock. If you see these signs, ask “Are you all right?” If they return a blank stare, you have less than 30 seconds to get to them.



 Drowning is 100% preventable.
Get the facts today.


Cover page for drowning prevention guide

The key to drowning prevention is to know the facts about drowning—they aren’t always what you think. In this important guide from the experts at CHOC Children’s, you’ll find:

  • 9 surprising facts about drowning
  • Crucial water safety tips to prevent your child from drowning
  • What you need to know about oxygen deprivation
  • Information about a little-known phenomenon called secondary drowning


Get My Guide to Drowning Prevention

Join our mailing list and you’ll be able to instantly download this important guide on how to keep your kids safe in and around the water.


The Water Safety Program at CHOC Children’s is proudly sponsored by Kohl’s Cares.

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