Posted by: Brad Nixon | May 23, 2014

It’s Summer. Someone May Be Drowning. Save Them.

When I was a kid, my parents made certain I knew how to swim. My swimming instructor was Bill W. Bill was a hard-nosed athlete who had been a standout on the Cincinnati Bearcats football team in his day. Bill was one tough dude. As a 10 year-old, I got the impression that Bill would prefer that I was swimming though shark-infested water covered with burning crude oil from a wrecked tanker instead of the placid pool of The Pines Swim Club in Mason, Ohio. He did his best to incite a sense of urgent necessity to my swimming lessons despite the lack of impending disaster.

Bill was also the greatest grower of back yard tomatoes in history and, despite his enduring legacy as one of the toughest dudes to ever emerge from the hard-core tradition of tough-guy football from Ironton, Ohio, it’s probably the tomatoes for which most people remember him today. In any case, he taught me to swim, and I value the gift he gave me.

The primary message of today’s post is simple: Teach your kids to swim. The secondary message is also simple: Watch the water, and know what to look for.

This year, according to statistical history, more than 700 kids in America will drown in pools and near beaches, half of them within sight of adults who are “watching” them.

Why? Because we don’t recognize the signals that a person is drowning.

If someone is drowning, they don’t call for help or wave their arms; they’re too busy trying to survive. They are subject to the “Instinctive Drowning Response.”

Ignore the supposed behavior of drowning people you’ve seen in movies and on TV. That information is not correct. Here are some indicators, courtesy of Dr. Franceso Pia, who describes 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.
  3. 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, drowning people who are struggling on the surface of the water cannot stop drowning and 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.

Take a clue from all the world’s top lifeguards who monitor pools and beaches: Watch the water! If your kids are in the water, don’t take your eyes off them. Instruct them that they’re never to swim unless there’s someone present to watch them.

Teach your children to swim.

You can read more about the Instinctive Drowning Response here.

It’s swimming season. Let’s have some fun. But watch the water!

Thank you, Bill W. I love the water, even without the sharks and burning crude oil. And thanks for the tomatoes.

© Brad Nixon 2014, 2017


  1. Great piece Brad, timely. Waiting for “game changer” to start reporting the Hound’s game- the Greyhound Invitational, 8 teams

    A correction- Portsmouth not Ironton for Bill, birthplace and pro team, unless you have other info.



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