Drowning and Drownproofing Swimming Technique

About how to perform the drownproofing swimming technique.


Drowning is suffocation by water. What determines whether an object floats or sinks is whether the weight of that object is heavier or lighter than an equivalent volume of water. The term specific gravity is used to denote the ratio of the weight of a substance to that of an equal volume of pure cold water. Hence, we can float only if our specific gravity is less than that of water.

The drownproofing technique was devised by Fred Lanoue during W.W. II, and is based on the fact that the body's natural floating position is vertical, not horizontal. Bone and muscle have greater specific gravity than the fatty and air-containing body tissues. And since the legs consist mostly of bone and muscle, while the chest and abdominal cavity are mostly fat and air, the body will float more readily if these lighter tissues are positioned above the legs, lending support--in the vertical position.

Drownproofing is a self-survival skill. It is not a magical formula which will save life irrespective of water conditions. But it does offer people a good chance of survival provided they are not in arctic waters, severely injured, or being held under water.

The drownproofing technique consists of two parts: the breathing cycle and the travel stroke. Travel rate is about 1 mph. A trained drown-proofer can travel for long periods in moderately warm water.

The Breathing Cycle

Stage 1: Vertical Rest

(a) Take a deep breath; sink vertically.

(b) Relax the entire body; let the chin drop to the chest, arms hang.

(c) If water enters the mouth, cough it out underwater.

Stage 2: Ready Position

(a) Leisurely cross arms in front of forehead, angling palms outward, forearms together.

(b) Raise one knee to chest; raise and extend the other foot behind in stride position.

(c) Keep the head horizontal with the back of the head out of the water.

Stage 3: Exhale

(a) Gently raise the head, breathing out all the time. Stop while the chin is still in the water.

(b) Fully open eyes out of water. The rest of the body is still in the ready position.

Stage 4: Inhale

Gently sweep arms out and down while stepping down on the water with both feet. Breathe in normally.

Stage 5: Fall Back Under Water

Stage 6: Resume Vertical Rest Position

(a) Legs are together after inhaling; let the arms drop to the hanging position as you sink in the water.

(b) As the head sinks below the surface, relax the neck and let the chin drop. Start to repeat the cycle.

The Travel Stroke

Stage 1: Begin at Stage 5 of Breathing Cycle

Stage 2: Recovery

(a) As head submerges, tip it forward and open legs to the ready position.

(b) Extend arms, hands together, in front of head.

Stages 3 and 4: Kick and Pull

(a) Kick the legs together and glide.

(b) At the end of this glide, sweep arms backwards and glide again.

(c) Keep hands by thighs and relax, head down in the water,

(d) As body glides, gently exhale through the nose.

Stage 5: Vertical Rest

Return to the vertical position by bowing back and lifting knees toward chest.

Stages 6, 7, and 8: Resume Breathing Cycle When vertical, use drownproof method for breathing. Alternate one drownproofing breathing cycle with one travel stroke cycle.

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