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How to Save Someone From Drowning

Drowning is a scary scenario, both for victims and onlookers. If you encounter an active drowning scenario in the wild, you want to know how to save someone from drowning so you can safely and effectively intervene. Read on to learn the important things to bear in mind and the steps to rescue the victim as safely as possible.

How to Save Someone From Drowning

Things to Consider When Determining How to Save Someone from Drowning

Your Own Swimming Skills

Rescuing a drowning victim is a nuanced necessity. One of the things you must always be mindful of when determining how to save someone from drowning is your own swimming skills.

If you are not a strong swimmer, you may do more harm than good if you attempt to go directly to the victim. Only proficient or trained swimmers or water rescuers should attempt a hands-on water rescue.

Untrained swimmers should rely on emergency assistance and the use of intermediary devices to rescue a drowning victim. Be aware of your own strengths and limitations; this will ensure you are prepared for how to save someone from drowning without endangering yourself as well.

Elements and Climate

One of the most important steps of how to save someone from drowning is to be mindful of the elements and climate and to act accordingly.

For example, the resuscitative steps and aftercare for how to save someone from drowning differ wildly at a campground beach versus a frozen lake. You may also have less time to remove yourself and/or the drowning victim from cold or dangerous waters as opposed to warm and stable ones.

The current climate and elements may also affect how you rescue the victim.

The Nature of the Water

The nature of the water you are rescuing someone from will also be a deciding factor in how to save someone from drowning. Rescuing a drowning victim from a still pond, for example, will present different challenges from removing them from a river.

Rescuing a Drowning Victim

You will need to quickly assess the nature of the water and determine what are the best steps for how to save someone from drowning in that particular situation. This will help ensure you are able to rescue them and do not become a victim yourself.

How to Save Someone From Drowning

How to Recognize When Someone Is Drowning

Knowing the signs of active drowning is the first key for how to save someone from drowning.

An active drowning victim may be vertical in the water, and will likely have their head tilted back so their face has as much access to air as possible. Despite their distress, they will not be able to call for help or signal for assistance. They also will not be able to move toward aid or rescue equipment thrown to them.

An active drowning victim will likely struggle at the surface from 20 seconds to a full minute before submerging. If you notice any of the preliminary signs of active drowning, it’s time to launch into action. Once they are submerged, things become infinitely more dangerous.

Signaling for Help

It is always important to call emergency services as soon as you notice an active drowning. If you are with other people, signal one person to call for medical assistance while others work on saving the victim.

Typically, you will want the stronger swimmers working on how to save someone from drowning while others handle the call for assistance.

How to Rescue the Victim

There are several scenarios for how to save someone from drowning.

If you are in a boat when you come across an active drowning victim, or on a beach or lakefront where life preserves or other flotation devices may be handy, try to get these under or around the victim and then tow them to safety.

How to Save Someone From Drowning With a Floatation Device

Remember that when actively drowning, the victim will likely not be able to reach or apply the device themselves, which will require the rescuer to secure them from a distance.

If you are in the wilderness and have a rope handy when you come across an active drowning, tie the rope around your waist. Then, have the rope either held by others on the waterfront, or, if you are alone, tie the rope off to a nearby sturdy structure such as a tree.

If you have determined the water conditions are safe to enter, and if you are a strong and prepared swimmer, approach the drowning victim. Do not attempt to reach the victim with your arms unless absolutely necessary, as active drowning victims may pose unintentional risk to themselves and others.

Instead, use a rigid item such as a branch, pole, oar, or a small post to drag and tug the victim to safety. An intermediary object like this minimizes risk to both the drowning victim and the rescuer. If neither an object nor a rope is available, a group may attempt to link hands and reach the victim.

If the active drowning victim is unconscious, there is no need for the intermediary; you can grab the victim with your arms and backstroke or sidestroke to shore, keeping their face clear of the water.

How to Check for Breathing and Resuscitate a Drowning Victim

Once you have returned the drowning victim to shore, check their airway, breathing, and circulation. You can do this by placing your ear by the person’s mouth or watch their chest to see if it is rising and falling as they breathe.

If there are no signs of breathing, and if the person does not present a pulse in their neck or wrist, begin CPR. You can brush up on your CPR training on our CPR page. In addition, if the victim fell into cold water, take steps to address the potential for hypothermia.


Stay with the victim, and if necessary, continue to perform CPR until emergency assistance arrives. Remember that, even once the drowning victim is out of the water, and even if they seems to be recovering well, they should still be checked by professionals.

Unfortunately, even a small amount of water taken into the lungs can lead to dry drowning even hours after a victim is rescued. For this reason, seeking professional medical aid is one of the most crucial steps for how to save someone from drowning.

Wrapping up How to Save Someone From Drowning

Learning how to save someone from drowning is just one of the crucial scenarios to prepare for when it comes to wilderness survival. Be sure to check out our Rescue page and brush up on your knowledge for all sorts of rescue preparedness.