How to spot and help someone in trouble when swimming

From watching TV and films, it is easy to expect a drowning person to violently thrash around in the water while calling for help, however that is often not the case. The first aid charity St John Ambulance explains how to recognise the signs and what to do

How to spot a swimmer in trouble

Often training in open water can mean swimming where there are no lifeguards present. Here is some advice from the first aid charity St John Ambulance, on what to do if you see someone in trouble. 


Know how to spot the signs of drowning

From watching TV and films, it is easy to expect a drowning person to violently thrash around in the water while calling for help. However, when someone is actually drowning, their nose and mouth will be clogged with water, meaning that they may be unable to make any noise at all, although they may be able to splash loudly. Because of this, it is easy for a drowning swimmer to go unnoticed. Be sure to keep an eye on your training partner at all times, especially if they seem to have gone quiet.

What to do if someone has been rescued from drowning

If you, or someone else, have rescued someone from drowning, the first thing that you should do is to assess if they are breathing or not. If they aren’t breathing, then you’ll need to give CPR straight away.

Drowning first aid

A casualty rescued from a drowning incident must be assessed to establish whether or not CPR is required. The technique for drowning is different to adult CPR as you must begin with five rescue breaths before you start chest compressions.

• As soon as the casualty has been rescued from the water, check if they’re breathing.

• Ask someone to call 999 or 112 for medical or make the call yourself if you can

• If the person is unresponsive and not breathing, give them five initial rescue breaths before starting CPR.

• Once you’ve done this, start CPR: 30 chest compressions, then two rescue breaths. Keep giving CPR until help arrives, the casualty regains responsiveness, or you’re too exhausted to keep going.

• If they start breathing again at any time, treat them for hypothermia by covering them with warm clothes and blankets. If they recover completely, replace their wet clothes with dry ones.

• Keep checking breathing, pulse and level of response until help arrives Even if the casualty does come round, it is vital that they are still sent to hospital. Do not cancel the ambulance if one has been called.

For more information on drowning first aid click here


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St John Ambulance

Each year, 400,000 people learn how to save a life by completing a St John Ambulance training programme. First aid is such a simple skill, but has an incredible impact and can be the difference between a life lost and a life saved. Visit more first aid advice or to arrange a training course.