Float First - Swim Later
At the end of any drowning incident there are 4 possible physical outcomes; survive an incident with no injury, survive an incident with some temporary injury, survive with some permanent physical injury which reduces the quality of life and lifespan, and death. The FLOAT FIRST POSTER aims to lengthen a drowning casualty’s survival time on top of the water and depress any inclination to panic. Panic results in a total loss of ability to self-help. In drowning situations swimmers ask themselves ‘What Do I Do Now?’ The poster aims to give most drowning casualties a successful survival strategy with a good outcome.
The poster is in two parts. The top part aims to deliver an indirect subliminal message. If displayed in dressing rooms, swimmers eyes will rest on the poster and see DROWNING - FLOAT FIRST - SWIM LATER. Over time a strong subconscious connection will be made between drowning and floating. When a swimmer asks themselves ‘What do I do now?’ their subconscious mind will immediately answer FLOAT FIRST.
Drowning and rescue reports point to swimmers answering the ‘What do I do now?’ question with ‘I must swim as fast as I can to safety’. Drowning is having difficulty breathing in water. If the distance to safety is very short swimming often works. If the distance is not short swimming immediately may lead to Sudden Total Swim Failure. Recognizing that swimmers will have a strong impulse to swim as fast as they can to safety the poster tells them to delay and SWIM LATER – when they can breathe steadily.
The bottom part of the poster is intended to be read deliberately. It explains when to swim and how you do it. Most drowning swimmers, falling into water, will be dressed in street clothing. Their immediate need is to prevent the inhalation of water due to the Gasp Reflex while underwater. This is achieved by placing a hand over the mouth and coughing on surfacing. They need to establish positive buoyancy and stay on top of the water. Sculling and kicking the legs slowly will maintain positive buoyancy with little oxygen depletion. Floating keeps a casualty on top of the water.
Swimmers are advised to try to slow down their breathing and to stop breathing for a few seconds between breaths. Cold water immersion and a sense of danger both produce hyperventilation – fast shallow breathing – which is of no use in maintaining positive buoyancy and in replacing used oxygen. It is stressed that any cold discomfort will pass quickly – in minutes. This is when the drowning casualty is most likely to panic or to start swimming. They are told to wave one arm to attract attention. Once they are breathing easily they can think about swimming to safety. They will need to swim slowly, without removing clothing, keeping their hands in the water and their head out of the water.
Citation: Connolly, J. (2017). Float First - Swim Later. In: Avramidis, S. (Ed.). Conference on Near-Death Experiences while Drowning (p. 21). Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, USA: International Swimming Hall of Fame.