Editor's Note: Patch originally published this article June 4 of 2011. We decided these tips are worth repeating in the last days of May, which is beach safety month in the city.
San Clemente Marine Safety Officer Nick Giugni spends his days scanning the coast for swimmers in trouble, but he can’t do it alone.
That’s why, at the first-ever , he shared the 20 signs of drowning or distress in hopes that any beachgoer could save a life this year.
But Giugni and his colleagues warned that it’s never a good idea to go after a swimmer in distress yourself; always get a lifeguard.
However, if it’s a case where seconds count, don’t go in without a flotation device and never get within arm's reach of the victim; he or she will pull you down out of reflex.
Some signs are obvious, but others are subtle enough for the average person to miss. If you see any of the following signs, the swimmer might be in distress or in danger of drowning:
- Making no progress or moving out to sea while swimming in; this means the swimmer is caught in a rip current.
- Waving for help
- Hair in the face; this means the swimmer is focusing more on getting a breath than seeing.
- Double-arm backstroke; this indicates the swimmer may be desperately flailing to shore
- Broken leash or lost surf or body board
- Swimmer is facing shore
- Taking waves to the back of the head
- Panicked look on swimmer’s face
- Small children; if you see a small child deep in the water, rush for a lifeguard—the kid can disappear in an instant.
- Weak swim stroke
- Bailing from body/surfboard
- Going “over the falls,” i.e., swimming in the impact zone where the waves crash
- Fully or partially dressed in non-swim attire
- Paddling farther and farther out; afraid to come in
- Caught in a lateral current moving toward rocks or jetties; this is very dangerous because usually the swimmer won’t realize he or she is in danger. The upside is just shouting to them can often get them to realize and swim in—no harm done.
- No swim fins in large surf
- Multiple people on a single surfboard or other flotation device
- Head is low in the water
- “Climbing the ladder,” meaning the swimmer is flailing his arms and legs while vertical, rather than swimming horizontally; this indicates the victim is desperately trying to stay above water.
- Floating face-down