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Vacations and Water

by Terry Sovil

June 15, 2019

Water Safety & Prevention

Life Ring in the air photoFall is coming! That means a return to your beloved Manzanillo. Many of you will head to the beach, spend time at the condo pool or your own private pool. I wanted to talk to you a little about drowning, safety and offer some tips to help keep you, your family and friends safe.

Water Competency

The ARC (American Red Cross) has developed a Water Competency list. This is a list of water skills that are considered critical for a swimmer to be safer. You should assure that swimmers visiting your pool, or swimming in the ocean, are capable of performing these skills with proficiency. Anyone not able to do these requires closer supervision.

  • Step, or jump, into water over their head
  • Return to the surface and float or tread water for 1 minute
  • Turn around in a full circle and spot an exit
  • Swim at least 25 yards / meters to the exit (swim a few laps to get 25 yards in a smaller pool)
  • Exit from the water - in a pool exit the water without using the ladder


Drowning is the act of dying by submersion and inhalation of water or another liquid. It is essentially death by suffocation. We often think of drowning in terms of distress, panic, screaming and waving arms. If these occur at all, they occur before drowning. Drowning itself is very quick and often silent.

A person that is at, or close to drowning, is unable to keep their head elevated and above the water so they are not able to breathe properly. Because they cannot breathe they are unable to shout or cry out. When you lack air, your body cannot perform the physical actions involved in waving or trying to attract attention.

Dry Drowning & Secondary Drowning

Anyone that has had a near drowning experience should be seen by a doctor. Dry and secondary drowning occur due to the inhalation of water that may cause problems later, not right away.

Symptoms from dry drowning generally occur right after the incident. Secondary drowning usually does not display symptoms until 1-24 hours after the incident. Both of these are very rare but they do make up 1-2% of all drowning incidents.

Symptoms of Dry Drowning & Secondary Drowning

Dry drowning and secondary drowning have the same symptoms. They include:

  • Coughing
  • Chest Pain
  • Trouble Breathing
  • Feeling Extreme Tired
A child may also exhibit changes in behavior such as becoming irritable or a noticeable drop in energy levels which can all mean that the brain is not getting the oxygen it needs.

What to Do

If there is a water incident and a child shows any of the symptoms, get medical help. In most cases the symptoms will go away on their own but it is important to get them checked. Any problems that do develop are usually treatable. The sooner you seek help, the better. Your job is to monitor the child for the next 24 hours after the incident. If symptoms don't go away, or get worse, transport them to an urgent care facility. They may need a chest x-ray, and IV and possibly kept under observation. That can't be done in a traditional doctor's office.

There are no drugs for dry or secondary drowning so the child will get supportive care. Monitoring them to assure that airways are clear and monitoring their oxygen level. If they have breathing problems they may be put on a breathing tube and possibly breathe pure oxygen.


When I used to teach many of the ARC courses we had to memorize a definition for panic: "Panic is a sudden, overwhelming sense of dread that inhibits a person's ability for self-help."

Panic is SUDDEN. It may happen quickly, even with something that is routine but goes slightly wrong. When it occurs, you can't think about anything! You can no longer help yourself.

Panic is OVERWHELMING and affects every portion of your body. Muscles will tighten, adrenaline is released and skin may flush.

A panicked person has lost the ability to REASON. They will not hear or comprehend instructions such as "grab the rope". If they are able to try to do something, it is usually the worst choice they could make.

Becoming PANICKED. A simple example: a new but competent swimmer thinks "I'm swimming!" But it is their first time in the ocean, they imagine "Wait! I've never been in this kind of water. I can't swim here!" A sudden lack of confidence, a shadow in the water, someone splashing water could push them over the edge and into PANIC.

Response / Rescue

The American Red Cross taught the concepts of Reach, Throw, Row, Go. You need to do something but it is usually NOT jumping in the water to save someone. That should be a last resort and based on your abilities!

Shepherds Crook Rescue
First REACH for them. This isn't just extending an arm. A REACH includes throwing a line, extending a pole, or throwing a life ring etc. I'll talk about this in more detail.

Lifeguard swim float If you have nothing available to reach with, THROW something to them. A life ring. Even an almost full jug of water will float. If you can get it to them and they can grab it, they can hang on and float. A thermos. A cooler. All of these will float.

If it is in the ocean, ROW to them if you can. A boat, a kayak, a kickboard or paddleboard or even a floating air mattress.

GO. If you have nothing else available don your fins if you have them. Push a float if you are able (a cooler, or floating mattress etc.). This gives you something to extend to them when you reach them. A drowning or panicked person will grab onto you and try to climb up on you so they can get up out of the water. They will generally face safety which is where you are coming from. This is why GO is last. You need confidence and experience to engage a panicked person in the water! Look closely at where the victim is and run along the beach or the pool to shorten the distance.

Milk Bottle Float-Throw ToolEvaluate the pool you use for length and width and safety equipment they have. If there isn't much, get a mid-size plastic milk bottle and pick up a package of 50' line at Home Depot. If you are a beach person, get 75-100' of line. Keep the milk container about 1/3 full of water. It will throw much easier with a little weight in it! Tie a knot (remember how to do that?) through the handle and you have something that you can reach with! Before you throw make sure you have one foot on the bitter end of the line! Do not throw directly at the person. Throw it over and past them. They should be able to grab the line. You can pull them to you. If you miss and need to throw again, simply pull all the line back in and let it drop at your feet. DO NOT pick it up. DO NOT try to coil it as you go. Now, when you get the jug back, throw again. The line will not tangle unless you've touched it. Practice this! Very simple, inexpensive tool to have within reach. A life ring will work the same way. There are also other tools such as a 'shepherds crook' for pools.

Safety Tips for Prevention of Water Accidents

Like most emergencies, we want to try to focus more on the prevention aspects but you must be ready to respond if something should happen. Here is a big list of basic tips. Feel free to print them, put them on your refrigerator door and review them from time to time like a checklist:

  • Be attentive, close supervision, no distractions like reading, talking or cocktails
  • Keep your pool area free of visible toys that may attract children
  • In Manzanillo the lifeguard means YOU
  • Never let people swim alone
  • Enroll in water safety classes
  • Learn CPR and basic first aid
  • Use Coast Guard, or similar, approved life jackets
  • Inflatable or foam pool toys are NOT substitutes for life jackets
  • Location:
    • Most children ages 1-4 drown in home swimming pools
    • In natural water settings, including oceans, drownings occurred among those 15 years and older 57% of the time
  • Avoid Alcohol around water, it is involved in up to 70% of deaths associated with water
  • Seizure Disorders, if this includes you or family members, know how to deal with them
  • Know the meaning of colored beach flags, In Manzanillo:
    • RED indicates a rip tide or other hazard
    • YELLOW means conditions are rough
    • GREEN All clear (Have never seen a green flag, no flag means "OK"
  • Watch for rip tides, if you are caught in a rip current, swim parallel to shore

Rip Current Escape Photo

Who is most at risk?

  • Males: Nearly 80% of people who die from drowning are male
  • Children: Children ages 1 to 4 have the highest drowning rates


Drowning is the act of dying by submersion and inhalation of water or another liquid. It is essentially death by suffocation. A person that is at, or close to drowning, is unable to keep their head elevated and above the water so they are not able to breathe properly. Because they cannot breathe they are unable to shout or cry out. When you lack air, your body cannot perform the physical actions involved in waving or trying to attract attention.

Panic PhotoMany think this is what drowning looks like. Splashing and thrashing is a sign of distress but a person like this can still take part in their own rescue. They can, and will, grab onto something. But if assistance doesn't come Instinctive Drowning Response will start automatically as they tire and breathing becomes harder.

Instinctive Drowning Response involves flapping or paddling with the arms attempting to raise the mouth to breathe by tilting the head back. This is an instinctive reaction, it is NOT consciously thought about or under control. When a person is not getting the air they need, they become oxygen deprived. Without a good breath they are not able to talk or call out. This takes place for about 20-60 seconds during drowning and sinking underwater. Compare this to a person who can still shout and keep their mouth above water. They are in distress but not an immediate danger or drowning. They still need help however, so get them assistance. Reach. Throw. Row. Go.

This is what you need to look for in a drowning where Instinctive Drowning Response has begun:

  • Head low in the water, mouth at water level
  • Head tilted back with mouth open
  • Eyes glassy and empty, unable to focus
  • Eyes closed
  • Hair over forehead or eyes
  • Not using legs - Vertical
  • They make no progress in the water
  • Hyperventilating or gasping
  • Trying to swim in a particular direction but not making headway
  • Trying to roll over on the back
  • Appear to be climbing an invisible ladder or put their arms straight out at their sides and push down on the water

Sometimes the most common indication that someone is drowning is that they don't look like they're drowning. They may just look like they are treading water and looking up. One way to be sure? Ask them, "Are you alright?" If they can answer at all - they probably are. If they return a blank stare, you may have less than 30 seconds to get to them. And parents - children playing in the water make noise. When they get quiet, you get to them and find out why. You great caution with the various "float toys" that are available. They may be worse than nothing! Watch the video below.

4-Year-Old Boy Dies of 'Dry Drowning'

Boy's swimming ring flips!

The following links will take you to two short video clip on drowning. Short because this process only takes 20-60 seconds! After watching this first clip on YouTube there is a second one that is not an actual video but a simulation that shows in detail how this process works.

Click here for Recognize the signs of drowning, 43 seconds.

Click here for What Does Drowning Look like, It is 1 one minute 21 seconds.

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