When it comes to drowning prevention, our first instinct may be to jump in, swim to the victim, and try to carry them to safety. But unless you are a trained rescuer, this is not the best course of action.
Most of the time people who are drowning are panicking and their initial response is to grab onto anything (or anyone) they see for support. Their survival mode strength could push you under or they could hold on to you for dear life and you could easily become a second victim.
It is important to know how to help a person without putting yourself at risk. The best and safest method for helping a person in distress is Reach and Throw, Don’t Go.
Reach: Reaching for the victim from the edge of the water is the safest method of rescue. Reach while lying on your stomach to avoid being pulled into the water. If you are unable to reach the victim with your hand, try using an elongated item such as a Shepherd’s Hook, oar, or even a sturdy branch. When reaching with a rigid item, don’t extend it straight out to the victim. In their panicked state, their depth perception may be compromised and they may lunge toward the item, causing injury. Rather, sweep the pole toward them from the right or left and tell them to grab it. As with reaching with your arm, lay prone or squat with your weight firmly on your back foot to avoid getting pulled in.
Throw: Often, in lakes and rivers, the victim is too far away to reach with your arm or object. If reaching is not possible, your next step is to throw something that floats to him. If there is a ring buoy or bag rope, toss that to the victim. If those are not available, toss anything that floats.
It is important to toss the ring buoy or bag rope in a way that you will not strike the victim. Hitting them in the head could turn an active drowning victim (conscious but struggling to keep head above the water ) into a passive drowning victim (unconscious and floating on or beneath the surface). When throwing the rescue device, aim for 15 feet behind the victim and have them grab the rope. You can then pull the floatation devise to them. Again, as with reaching, make sure you have a low center of gravity prior to pulling them to safety. You cannot assist if you are pulled into the water as well.
Don’t Go: … Instead, call 911, if they have not been called already. Unless you are trained as a water rescuer, don’t attempt to rescue a person by jumping into the water. Remember, even the strongest swimmers can drown trying to help others. Keeping “Reach and Throw, Don’t Go” in mind for every outing to the waterfront or pool will keep you prepared to safely help should the need ever arise.
Learn more about the Kenosha YMCA’s swim programs or water safety initiatives.
The Kenosha Safety Around Water Coalition meets monthly and works together to raise awareness around issues of water safety. Our mission is to create a culture of healthy respect and safe enjoyment of water in the Kenosha area through education and advocacy. Our current focus is Lake Michigan Safety. Our goal is to change the culture by educating students, parents and the general community that jumping from the pier and swimming in Pike River and Pike Creek is dangerous and life threatening. The Kenosha YMCA has hosted a monthly Safety Around Water Coalition meeting, made up of community members from all sectors, to keep the focus on raising water safety awareness year-round. Members of the coalition include representatives from the Kenosha YMCA, City of Kenosha Fire Department, City of Kenosha Police Department, City of Kenosha Aldermen, Village of Somers, Great Lakes Surf Rescue Project, Kenosha County, Carthage College and concerned citizens.