Know What Drowning Looks Like

Drowning is quiet. If you imagine you’d notice someone splashing and calling for help, you’d be mistaken. Learn about instinctive drowning response.

Learn About “Instinctive Drowning Response”

You might think you’d recognize when someone is drowning. But you may have a different notion of what a person drowning would look like. With summer beach season here, it’s a good time to review the “real” signs of drowning and what to watch for.

No Yelling, No Waving

Drowning is quiet. If you imagine you’d notice someone splashing and calling for help, you’d be mistaken. Sadly, those drowning, adults and kids alike, are rarely able to yell for help or wave their arms, and usually drown silently. And the process is quick. Submersion only takes “20 to 60 seconds” (see more below).

Ocean Danger, Beware Rip Currents

Rip Currents Are Major Cause of Drownings

According to collected data, “Rip currents account for more than 80 percent of rescues performed by beach lifeguards.” Realize that even in shallow water — less than waist deep — waves can knock people over and a rip current can take grip. (See related article “Rip Currents Take Lives In Northeast Florida”).

Drowning Prevention

Those in the water should always have someone on land nearby watching closely. Below is a description of what to look for,  published by Coast Guard magazine’s, On Scene:  Characteristics of the “Instinctive Drowning Response:”

1. Except in rare circumstances, drowning people are physiologically unable to call out for help. The respiratory system was designed for breathing. Speech is the secondary, or overlaid, function. Breathing must be fulfilled, before speech occurs.
2. Drowning people’s mouths alternately sink below and reappear above the surface of the water. The mouths of drowning people are not above the surface of the water long enough for them to exhale, inhale, and call out for help. When the drowning people’s mouths are above the surface, they exhale and inhale quickly as their mouths start to sink below the surface of the water.
. Drowning people cannot wave for help. Nature instinctively forces them to extend their arms laterally and press down on the water’s surface. Pressing down on the surface of the water,

permits drowning people to leverage their bodies so they can lift their mouths out of the water to breathe.
4. Throughout the “Instinctive Drowning Response,” drowning people cannot voluntarily control their arm movements. Physiologically, they cannot perform voluntary movements such as waving for help, moving toward a rescuer, or reaching out for a piece of rescue equipment.
5. From beginning to end of the “Instinctive Drowning Response” people’s bodies remain upright in the water, with no evidence of a supporting kick. Unless rescued by a trained lifeguard, these drowning people can only struggle on the surface of the water from 20 to 60 seconds before submersion occurs.”

While it goes without saying to be alert near the water, it’s easy to be distracted. Even simply chatting with friends sitting beside you at the beach or pool is a distraction that can result in tragedy. When with others, take turns being the designated “watcher.” It’s sobering to think a relaxing dream day at the beach or pool can turn into a nightmare in 60 seconds or less.

Amelia Island Lifeguards On Duty

A top water safety rule is to always swim near a lifeguard.  According to the U.S. Lifesaving Association, “the chance that a person will drown while attending a beach protected by USLA affiliated lifeguards is 1 in 18 million.”

Here on Amelia Island, there are six main beach parks where lifeguards chairs and ocean rescue are stationed daily from Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day weekend.

Ocean Rescue Lifeguard Stations

The two largest Amelia Island beach parks (all free access), with the most lifeguards and the biggest parking lots are:

#1. Main Beach Park – 4 guard stands (located two miles across the island via Atlantic Ave. from downtown Fernandina). The only beach park with a large boardwalk, playground, mini-golf.

#2. Peter’s Point Park — 4 guard stations (located off South Fletcher Ave., near Carlton Dunes & Ritz-Carlton).

Four additional beach parks with lifeguards and parking lots:

— Seaside Park — 2 guard stands (near Slider’s at Sadler Rd. roundabout).

— North Beach Park — 1 guard stand (off North Fletcher Ave.).

Toward the island’s southend:

— Scott Road — 1 guard stand (off Amelia Island Parkway) .

— Burney Park — 1 guard stand (off First Coast Highway). Located at historic American Beach (in between Summer Beach Resort to the north and Omni Amelia Island Plantation to the south).

NOTE: There are no lifeguards stationed within Amelia Island State Park or Fort Clinch State Park.