Share on Google+

Do YOU Know What A Drowning Person Looks Like?

It's not at all what you think

We all think we know what a drowning person looks like, right?  Waving arms, screams for help?

Well, think again.

And it’s not only the strong undertows that we need to worry about.  My two children had a terrifying experience in Sachacha Pond years ago.  They were maybe 5 and 6 ½ at the time, and like children of that age they were playing by copying a 9- or 10-year old, who was jumping up and down in the shallow water with them.  They were about 8’ from the shore, where I was sitting literally at the water line, when I noticed suddenly that the older girl had decided to wander off by herself into deeper water.  My children both naturally followed her and, just as naturally, stepped off a tiny little shelf (think 6”) and were suddenly under water.  An arm thrashed and suddenly I didn’t see either of them!  The water was murky as I ran towards where they had been. Another attentive parent sitting right near me saw me and raced in at the same time.  Luckily we were able to locate Julia and Peter underwater (!!), pull him off her (he’s the younger) and bring them to shore.  Peter was throwing up water and Julia was complaining (a good sign) that he had been hanging onto her and she was sinking…..

How terrifying is that?  I remembered all those times we’re told to get right back on the horse after we’ve been thrown, so I gave them both hugs and dried them off and was very calm about that scary thing that had happened to them—and after a little while we went back into the water, together, holding hands and staying near the shore.  I didn’t want them to forever have a fear of the water, because I loved Nantucket!

So be nearby and aware all the time when your small children are in even placid, shallow water—a 6” step to them could mean the difference between having their heads above water and drowning.  And they won’t look like the stereotypical drowner!

And as we enter the swimming season, remembering the strong ocean currents on the south shore of the island it pays to know how to identify someone who is actually drowning, and it will surprise you how different that is from our preconceptions.  Here’s an article that will startle you for sure:

One final reminder—the word about trying to outswim a strong undertow is:  Don’t.  Don’t ever attempt to fight an undertow—ride out with it, remembering that it’s shallow and runs sideways along the shore.  If you ride out with it, however counterintuitive and frightening that may seem, eventually you will reach an area where the undertow is lessened or gone.  Then you can start to swim—sideways and parallel to the shore—until you can safely try to get back on the beach without a fight.  An undertow can weaken even the strongest swimmer, so remember not to fight it!



Rachel Dowling's picture

Thanks for the great words of wisdom regarding water safety with little people, Georgia. The experience you describe when your kids were small is probably very commons, so thank you for sharing it.

The scene you describe of the little people imitating the big people reminds me of a time, pre-child, when I was at Cisco Beach.  The only other people around were a couple with a small child.  Couple sitting on beach, several feet from the water's edge, with toddler standing right near where the surf was crashing into the beach.  I had just arrived and headed right into the waves for a swim.

No sooner had I gone into the water than I realized that the tot had followed me. Two or three, she was, and I watched as a wave came and swept her off her feet.  I grabbed her and plucked her out of the water before she could get pulled underneath the waves.


words of caution that we should all adhere to. We should never underestimate the power of water, waves, undertow. good article.