How to Survive a Near-Drowning

February 21, 2014 by | 3 Comments

Short of being burned alive, I can’t imagine a more terrifying way to die than drowning.

It is often a shockingly slow process that gives you plenty of time to realize exactly what’s happening—something I’ve experienced several times.

All of my near-death experiences with drowning were the result of exhaustion; once when I bit off more than I could chew and tried to swim across a rock quarry, and a few other times, ocean currents pulled me out to sea and I had to swim harder and longer than I had planned.

As my energy dwindled and muscles cramped, my head slowly crept closer to the surface of the water. All it would have taken was one unexpected wave, a bad cramp, or panic to end it all. Fortunately, I can usually keep my shit together so I managed to think my way through the problem. You can do the same.

The first step is realizing the signs before it’s too late. Most people think a drowning victim flails their arms, yells for help, and then gets rescued by a sexy lifeguard running in slow motion to catchy theme music—that only happens in the movies. In real life people usually drown with little or no commotion because they either don’t realize or aren’t willing to admit they are near-drowning.

Starting off strong, some swimmers venture further than they should, only to realize they don’t have the energy to make it back. Those perfect Olympian strokes quickly become weak and erratic, eventually degrading into a pathetic doggie-stroke your toddler would be embarrassed to perform in swim class at the local YMCA. Before long, they become winded and lack the energy to stay afloat, which begins a nasty downward spiral: weakness leads to slower, shorter strokes, which leads to difficulty breathing, which leads to lactic acid build up, which leads to more weakness, which leads to even slower  shorter strokes…you get the idea. By this point, they are usually out of breath and unable to call out for help.

I’ve been there more than once. It sucks. But there is a solution, and it’s simple.

Roll over and float on your back. In this position, your nose and mouth will be high in the water, enabling you to get plenty of oxygen, and your muscles will have a chance to rest. If necessary, you can backstroke from this position. Since you’ll be using different muscles, you will seem to have a new burst of energy—just don’t over-do it. You don’t want to find yourself in the same situation again.

Melanie Swick (a.k.a. Survival Chick) grew up wanting to be a rocket scientist, but when she realized she that required way too much math, she took to her second dream—spending time in the wilderness. Today, when she's not hiking, camping, or hunting, she's blogging about it. You can connect with Melanie on Facebook.

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  • Gen says:

    That’s really good advice. Our muscles stop listening to us when they get overworked, so floating on our backs makes perfect sense.

  • Mackenzie says:

    I can float on my back for unlimited amounts of time taking very deep, slow and steady breaths. I don’t even have to tread. This is one of those situations where being overweight can save you. Fat floats.

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