What is Drowning?

What is Drowning?



Drowning is what happens when a person struggles to breath because of taking in too much water through the nose or mouth. This makes people panic and choke and sometimes mean they stop breathing. People who drown either survive with no injuries, survive with brain injury or die.

Technical definition

Drowning is the process of experiencing respiratory impairment from submersion/immersion in  liquid. Liquid/air interface is present at the entrance of the victim’s airway, preventing the victim from breathing air. The drowning victim may have 3 possible outcomes – death (mortality), sustained injury (morbidity) or survival with no drowning-related health issues. Whatever the outcome is, he or she has been involved in a drowning incident.

 A new uniform definition for drowning, World Congress on Drowning, Amsterdam.



What does a drowning person look like?

  • People who are drowning often stay in the same position.

  • The mouth of the victim can sink below the surface of the water.

  • Drowning people are generally unable to call out for help as you need to be able to breathe first before you can speak or shout.

  • 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.

  • Children or adults who are drowning cannot always wave for help or  move toward a rescuer or reach out for a piece of rescue equipment.

  • Children can struggle, not able to call for help. ‘The struggle of the drowning person often lasts between 20 to 60 seconds.

  • Young children struggle less than adults. The drowning movements can look like they are doing doggy paddle, when actually they are drowning.