How To Save Your Child From Drowning

Throw a life preserverAfter learning I work in water safety, a man told me about how he saved a man from drowning in Hawaii. Several families were exploring tide pools on the lava rocks and a wave swept one man into the water, about 4 feet below the rocks. The waves were wild, pounding the victim against the sharp lava as he was tossed in the churning water. Anyone who had jumped in to help him would have ended up in the same helpless position, so there would have been more than one victim and probably multiple deaths. Everyone was forced to watch the victim drown, including his wife and two young daughters. Fortunately, the man telling me the story had been a Boy Scout and had learned how to rescue someone safely. He tied beach towels together, lay on his stomach and put the makeshift rope over the side. By this time the victim was losing strength and was bleeding badly from multiple cuts. He couldn’t grab the rope. The rescuer finally starting yelling at him (in strong and rather pointed language) that he absolutely could not let his daughters watch him die. A couple of lucky waves pushed the victim against the rope and he grabbed one knot. Another lucky wave swept him up to the next knot, and slowly they got the victim onto the rocks to safely.

This is not an isolated incident. I see too many stories like this, where the would-be rescuer also dies, or a parent goes in to save a child and either both die, or just as often, the parent dies and the child is rescued by someone else. It doesn’t have to be like this.

Take the time to learn how to rescue someone safely, and teach your children.

The rule is REACH. THROW. GO.

  • REACH for the person using a pole, knotted towels, an oar, anything that the drowning person can grab hold of so you can pull them to safety.
  • THROW something that floats to the drowning person. A life ring. An empty gallon jug. A thermos chest. A flotation cushion. A tree log. Don’t throw it at them, just near them, you don’t want to knock them unconscious. Throw anything that floats so they can conserve their strength and try to kick back to safety. Look around, there is a growing movement to have life rings or flotation tubes near open water. Kauai and on the River Thames in the UK are leaders in this area, and yes, they have saved many lives.
  • GO! Run for help! If you are anywhere near a lifeguard, there is only a 1 in 18 million chance the person will die from drowning because lifeguards are the best insurance going. If you aren’t near a lifeguard, run for more help or for something to reach or throw. Call 911. And when you are teaching your child these things, remind them ALWAYS call for an adult.

For my money, the Boy Scouts of America have the best in basic ‘how to rescue someone’ materials. Although I come from, and have, a Scouting family, you don’t have to join, you can find out what the basic requirements are for swimming and lifesaving by looking at their merit badge requirements online. Click here for swimming merit badge requirements. Click here for lifesaving merit badge requirements. The rule in my family is you have to be able to pass every requirement before the swimming lessons stop. It’s not for the badge (though my son earned his), it’s because these badges summarize one of the most basic life skills you can have. The Boy Scouts do water safety extremely well.

A final word about the Hawaii drowning scare. There were signs cautioning of the danger of being swept overboard. I realize the U.S. is so lawsuit crazy that we have signs for everything, meaning we all ignore most of them, but let me be clear, water safety is grossly underfunded. If there is a sign warning of danger in an area where there is open water, I guarantee the danger already happened. There is too much water and too little money to just be planting signs around. If there is a sign, there is a reason.

About the Author

Global water safety for children is my passion and I can't wait to get up every day to work at it! I blog about water safety regularly at, or you can follow me on Twitter at RebeccaSaveKids. Rebecca is a former member of the PedSafe Expert team


One Response to “How To Save Your Child From Drowning”

  1. Mark Moody says:

    This post tells it how it is or should I say ‘can happen’ and beyond training in many ways as whilst it required a priority of self preservation it also required application of basic life saving knowledge skills at the spur of the moment….a happy ending? Yes; but as stated very often the case is that the potential rescuer also dies or the person originally in distress is rescued with the rescuer lost! I have noted (from here in LinkedIn) the “Chain of Survival – Drowning” and already incorporated this into any program: 1. Prevent Drowning – to which should be attached ‘Observe All Safety Signage!’
    2. Recognize Distress 3. Provide Floatation 4. Removal from Water
    5. Provide After Care…….whilst most importantly preserving your own life in the actions that you perform!

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