Rescuing a drowning victim and providing prompt care is critical to improve their chances of survival and recovery. Here are the basic steps you should follow to help a drowning person, if you find yourself in such a situation. Always make sure to assess the situation first for your own safety before attempting a rescue.

Resuscitate a Drowning Victim Tips

resuscitate a drowning victim

Ensure Safety

  • Check the surroundings. Ensure the area is safe for you to perform the rescue. Never put yourself in danger.
  • Use a flotation device. If available, use a life preserver, rope, or another flotation device to reach the victim.

Rescue the Victim

  • Approach cautiously. If you must enter the water, approach the victim from behind to avoid being grabbed and pulled under.
  • Secure the victim. If the victim is unconscious, secure a firm grip under their arms, around their chest, or by their life jacket if they are wearing one.

Remove from Water

  • Carefully remove the victim from the water. Support the head and neck to prevent further injury, especially if spinal injury is suspected.
  • Lay the victim on their back on a firm, flat surface.

Assess the Victim

  • Check for responsiveness. Gently tap and shout to see if the victim responds.
  • Look, listen, and feel for breathing. Check for no more than 10 seconds.

Call for Emergency Help

  • Dial emergency services immediately (e.g., 911 in the US) if not already done. Provide them with precise information about your location and the condition of the victim.

Begin Rescue Breathing and CPR if Necessary

If the victim is not breathing, begin rescue breathing.

Tilt the head back to open the airway. Lift the chin to open the airway further.

Give 5 rescue breaths. Pinch the nose shut, cover their mouth with yours to make a seal, and blow into the mouth for one second to make the chest rise. Deliver two initial breaths.

Check for a pulse for no more than 10 seconds. If there is no pulse, start CPR.

Perform chest compressions. Place the heel of one hand on the center of the chest and the other hand on top, interlocking your fingers. Compress the chest at least 2 inches deep at a rate of 100 to 120 compressions per minute.

Continue rescue breathing. Alternate 30 compressions with 2 breaths.

resuscitate a drowning victim

Continue Care

  • Keep the victim as warm and comfortable as possible.
  • Continue CPR until emergency services arrive or the victim shows signs of life.

Special Notes

  • Do not attempt a rescue beyond your capability or without proper training.
  • If in doubt, always wait for professional help while trying to provide support from a safe distance.
resuscitate a drowning victim


Learning CPR and basic water rescue techniques through certified training can significantly improve the chances of saving a drowning person’s life. Consider taking a course if you frequently engage in water-related activities.


What should I do if I'm not trained in CPR when I encounter a drowning victim?

If you are not trained in CPR, the best action is to call emergency services immediately. You can still help by getting the victim to a safe place and attempting to keep them warm. If you are in a public area, shout for help and ask if anyone is trained in CPR. Emergency dispatchers can also guide you through the process over the phone.

How do I determine whether a drowning victim needs CPR?

After rescuing the victim from the water and ensuring they are on a stable, flat surface, check if they are breathing and if they have a pulse. Look for chest movement, listen for breathing sounds, and feel for air with your cheek near their mouth and nose. If the victim is not breathing normally, start CPR immediately, beginning with rescue breaths followed by chest compressions.

Is it safe to move a drowning victim?

You should move a drowning victim if they are still in the water to prevent further drowning risk. Once on land, limit movement, especially if you suspect a spinal injury, unless it’s necessary to provide CPR or due to an unsafe environment. Always support the head and neck when moving them to help prevent potential spinal injuries.

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