There's a common misconception that a drowning person is going to be flailing their arms and shouting for help, because how else would the cast of Baywatch know the cue for running in slow motion? But usually they'll be silent because they've already taken on water. A drowning person is vertical, usually straight up and down. If someone is swimming, they're at least semi-horizontal, unless they're treading water. So if your buddy is just quietly bobbing up and down, he's probably not enjoying a relaxing float.
amstockphoto/iStock/Getty Images"Hey, you OK? If you're drowning, say you're not OK."
Your first instinct will be to swim over and pull them to safety. That's wrong. Drowning people are panicking, and they'll have no qualms about climbing on top of you for buoyancy. We had one dad with two daughters, and the older girl started drowning. The lifeguard was coming to help, but dad reached her first. He still had his younger daughter with him, and she started freaking out. He couldn't support them both, so we now had three people drowning. They were fine, but if you read about someone drowning while trying to save a friend, that's probably what happened. If you lack the proper strength and training, they'll drag you down with them.
Exclusive Visual/iStock/Getty ImagesThey're Rose; you're the door.
What you need to do is pass them something, like a long stick or a flotation device, and pull them out. Ideally you'd be doing this from land, but you can do it in the water as long as you keep your distance. That gives the victim something buoyant to hang onto, which will calm them down. And it doesn't give you a frantically clawing human backpack trying to drag you beneath the water. Really, it's a win-win situation.
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