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Silent Signs of Drowning

Drowning doesn’t look like what it does on TV or in the movies. 

“The reason why we call them silent drownings is how they look during the process,” explains Tampa Metropolitan Area YMCA Aquatics Executive Amanda Walker. “What you typically see in movies is the waving of the hands, the screaming and yelling for help, but in reality, that’s not the picture at all. Drownings tend to be very, very quiet, especially when they involve young children.  

Walker says to look for a panicked look on a swimmer’s face, often referred to as glassy or wide eyes, typically when they’re at the water’s surface or just below. “It’s often how parents or adults miss the situation occurring because there is no waving of the hands, there is no yelling and screaming. (The child) takes a breath and they silently go under the water’s surface,” Walker describes. 

Formal swim lessons have been shown to reduce the risk of drowning by 88 percent. Katryna Morrall, aquatics director for Bob Gilbert-son Central City Family YMCA, teaches her infant son swim safety tips.


Walker gives these tips to keep in mind when you’re out at a backyard pool or a public body of water such as a beach, lake or neighborhood pool.

  • Formal Swim Lessons have been shown to reduce the risk of drowning by 88 percent. “The great thing about formal swim lessons and living in beautiful Florida is that they go on all year long,” Walker says.  
  • Designate a water watcher who should be an adult 18 years or older to directly supervise the children. “The water watcher should not be distracted from direct supervision,” Walker says. “So, that’s a time we ask adults to put their cell phones away and have direct eye contact on the body of water looking for the key signs that a swimmer might be in trouble.” 
  • Door alarms can alert someone should a child exit the home.  
  • Pool fence should be a minimum of 4 feet in height to prevent access to a body of water. 
  • Personal Floatation Device (U.S. Coast Guard approved), a life vest or puddle jumper, are a must for non-swimmers or children not comfortable around the water. “When using a Personal Floatation Device, adult supervision is still key, preferably within arm’s distance of the swimmer at all times,” says Walker. 

At the Y, anyone from ages 6 months to adult can learn to swim so they can stay safe around water and learn the skills they need to make swimming a lifelong pursuit for staying healthy. 

Safety Around Water 

Thanks to a generous grant from the Florida Blue Foundation, the YMCAs of the Tampa Bay are providing free Safety Around Water lessons this fall. These classes are open to all beginners and non-swimmers ages 3-12 in the Tampa Bay community. 

During the 4-day course, certified instructors teach kids a sequenced set of skills that will reduce the risk of drowning and give them confidence in and around water. Participants must be present on the first day of class and bring their own swimsuit and towel. A YMCA membership is not required; however, due to limited space, pre-registration is required. 

In 2019, the collaborative effort taught nearly 8,000 kids water safety and swim lessons. This year’s grant expands the Y’s Safety Around Water program to more than 20 Y locations in the Tampa Bay area. 

The Tampa YMCA is hosting its Safety Around Water Week Aug. 3-6. Other participating Y associations include the YMCA of the Suncoast, YMCA of Greater St. PetersburgManatee Family YMCA and SKY Family YMCA. Contact your local Y for exact dates.

Sign up for YMCA swim lessons 

Tampa Y (Hillsborough & East Pasco counties)

YMCA of the Suncoast (Pinellas, West Pasco, Hernando & Citrus counties)

Kelli Biandudi
Kelli Biandudi

Kelli Biandudi is the Communications Manager for the Tampa Metropolitan Area YMCA. She lives with her family in downtown Tampa. When she’s not promoting the good work of the YMCAs of Tampa Bay, she’s busy working out at them and trying to keep up with her 5-year-old son, Koa.

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