What drowning really looks like, plus one lifesaving tip to remember in emergencies

  • Several drownings have taken place in South Africa in 2022 alone.
  • Drowning doesn't always happen the way it is portrayed in films - often, it is silent.
  • There is one lifesaving tip to remember that will allow you to keep your head above water.

In South Africa, drowning is one of the top five causes of accidental death. This year alone, News24 reported numerous drownings across the country.

Just last week, 48-year-old Reza Yon sadly lost his life after saving three teenagers from drowning. Earlier this month, a Grade 11 pupil from North West drowned in a hotel’s swimming pool. In August, park rangers found the body of a teenager who drowned during a KwaZulu-Natal school trip - the boy was believed to have been caught in rip currents before disappearing under the surface.

READ MORE | Two people drown during baptism at Masetheko Dam in second incident this month

“Swimming is a life skill, and learning to swim at an early age will reduce drowning incidences, especially among children,” Andrew Ingram, drowning prevention manager at the National Sea Rescue Institute (NSRI) told News24 in September.

According to Healthline, brain damage - and eventually death - will occur if a person is submerged after breathing in water for four to six minutes without resuscitation.

READ MORE | 'A child can drown in as little as 2.5 cms of water': How to stay safe at the beach this summer

Speaking to Euronews, Guy Addington says that drowning doesn’t happen the way it does in films. “Somebody thrashing around and shouting - they could be in serious distress, but they’re not drowning.” Addington, who is regional water safety lead in the southeast with the Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI), added:

Drowning can be unnoticed, silent and not seen until it’s way too late.

Addington describes drowning as water entering the airway. 

He explains: “Once you’ve got water in the airway, you can make no noise. Someone slipping below the surface, unnoticed, can and does happen with alarming frequency.”  

He shares some lifesaving tips on what to do in a serious situation.

Stay vigilant

To avoid disaster, stay vigilant and know your limits, says Addington.

“If you are heading to the coast, then going in a group is a great idea,” he says.

He advises keeping a close eye on children entering the water.

READ MORE | Drowning prevention: a lifelong lesson

What to remember

“If you find yourself in difficulty, particularly in cold water ... fight that instinct to thrash around and swim hard,” advises Addington. Instead, do your best to relax and float on your back, keeping your airway clear of the water. You may need to do gentle paddling with your arms and legs, he adds.

Leaning back like a starfish is also critical to staying afloat and will allow you to control your breathing and then call for help or swim to safety, Steve Instance, from the RNLI Water Safety team, told Netmums

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