|How to Save Someone Who's Drowning: "Reach, Throw, Row, Go"|
by Erik McLaughlin, M.D., M.P.H.
Some watery places have a lifeguard. But not all do. Bystanders often play an important role in water emergencies.
A simple way to remember what to do when attempting a rescue is, “Reach, throw, row, go”—in that order of preference. But first, remember to call for help.
Start getting other people’s attention. Someone should call 911 early. An adult can typically struggle in water for one minute and children maybe 20 seconds or less.
This method works well if the victim is near a dock or edge of a pool. But as simple as it sounds, reaching in can be risky.
Most swimming areas have safety rings attached to a rope. They float and can often be thrown far out of reach of the shore.
If the victim is too far out for method one or two, the next option is to get a boat.
Swimming out to rescue a water-immersion victim is risky and should be the last resort. This requires training and competent swimming skills. Drowning victims are often thrashing wildly and pose hazards to their rescuers. They may attempt to climb the rescuer, trying to get themselves as high out of the water as possible. This simply pushes the rescuer under the water and puts him or her at risk for drowning!
When swimming out to rescue someone, bring a towel or shirt with you. Instruct the victim to grab the object, and tow him or her to shore. This allows you to remain a safe distance from the victim.
Once you’ve rescued the person, first aid should be provided. First aid for people with water-immersion injuries is unique and requires special training. The basics center around assuming an underlying cause for the near drowning. Did this person have a seizure while swimming? Did she have a heart attack? Is he intoxicated? Did she fall out of a boat? Most importantly, did he injure his neck before being in the water?
Immediately begin assessing the person’s ABCs: airway, breathing and circulation.
If any of these checks shows a problem, immediately fix that problem before going on to the next check. (No airway means you must fix the airway before checking breathing.) CPR may be required.
Last updated and/or approved: June 2010. Original article appeared in July/August 2009 former print magazine. Bio current as of July/August 2009. This article is not meant as individual advice. Please see our disclaimer.