swimmers in open water

From toddlers to grandparents, lots of us love to jump in the water for a spot of swimming. And at some point in our lives, we may have learnt something about how to help someone who’s drowning. But do you remember it?

While there are lots of beautiful, open water swimming locations where you can go for a dip safely, drowning still accounts for more accidental deaths in the UK than road cycling accidents.

So what’s going on? Here are five things you should know about drowning.

1. Despite being an island nation, two out of three drownings occur inland.

Places include quarries, canals, lakes and reservoirs, where there is not usually a lifeguard or people around to help. Even if it’s a hot day and you want to cool off, don’t enter the water unless it is a designated swimming area.

2. Almost half of the people who drown never meant to enter the water.

Many of these people were taking part in everyday activities, such as walking. They may have fallen into water or attempted to rescue someone else in need of help.

3. Men are four times more likely to drown than women. Younger men are especially at risk.

Men account for eight in ten drowning deaths and there is a distinct peak in the number of men drowning in the 20-29 age group.

4. Alcohol plays a role in a high percentage of drownings.

Alcohol was a factor in about one in three drownings. It can trigger unsafe behaviour – like going swimming when it’s not safe to do so.

5. Drowning doesn’t look like it does in the movies.

Despite the splashing arms and screaming we’ve become accustomed to seeing on the big screen, that’s not what drowning looks like. Drowning is quiet and quick. You need to be very vigilant to spot someone who is drowning.

A drowning person will alternately dip below the water and briefly back up again. They will be struggling so hard just to exhale and inhale again.

*Stats and facts from the UK Drowning Prevention Strategy

We can all contribute to drowning prevention by knowing what to do should we ever pull someone from the water. It may never happen – but it doesn’t hurt to be prepared.

First aid for drowning

If you pull someone from the water and they are unresponsive follow these steps:

  1. Check for breathing. Tilt their head back and look, listen and feel for breaths. If they are not breathing, move on to the following steps.
  1. Tell someone to call 999 for emergency help.
  1. Give five rescue breaths: tilt their head back, sealing your mouth over their mouth. Pinch their nose and blow into their mouth. Repeat this five times.
  1. Give 30 chest compressions. Push firmly in the middle of their chest and then release. Repeat this 30 times.
  1. Give two rescue breaths then continue with cycles of 30 chest compressions and two rescue breaths until help arrives.

Learn more first aid