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Teenage and Adult Drowning

Link to Spanish version.

  • Every year, more than 60 Oklahomans aged 15 and older drown.
  • More than three-fourths of drownings occur outdoors in natural bodies of water, including lakes, rivers, creeks, and ponds.
  • Nine out of ten people who drown are not wearing a life jacket.
  • Nearly half of all teenage and adult drownings involve alcohol use.


  • Keep a phone nearby in case of emergency.
  • Learn to swim well. Do not overestimate your swimming ability or strength.
  • Learn CPR. Early intervention can improve outcomes.
  • No matter how old you are, always swim with a buddy.
  • Do not drink alcohol or take mind-altering drugs before or while swimming, boating, skiing, getting in a hot tub, or bathing.

Open Water and Boating

  • Swimming in open water is not the same as in a pool. Always enter the water feet first.
  • Be aware of uneven surfaces, currents, undertow, and weather.
  • Everyone should wear a U.S. Coast Guard approved life jacket – no matter how old or how well they swim. Swimming noodles, water wings, or inner tubes are not safety devices. They should not be used in place of a life jacket.
  • Take a boating safety course.

Canals, Drains, and Ditches

  • Teach older children not to play, bike, or swim near canals or ditches.
  • Do not drive or walk through moving flood waters, no matter how large your vehicle.
  • It takes only six inches of moving water to knock over an adult, and only two feet to carry away most vehicles (including SUVs and pickups).

What does drowning look like?

  • People who are drowning often can’t call for help. Their mouths are only above water long enough to breathe in and out.
  • They can’t wave their arms for help. The natural motion of the arms while drowning is out and down to propel the body above the water to breathe.
  • Glassy eyes and unfocused gaze.
  • Tilted head with the mouth open or head in water and mouth at water level.
  • Closed eyes or hair over eyes.
  • Not using the legs to kick.
  • Gasping for air or hyperventilating.
  • If you are not sure – ask them if they are alright. If they don’t answer, you may have only a few seconds to get to them.

Internet Resources

Injury Prevention Service, OSDH, 1000 NE 10th Street, Oklahoma City, OK 73117
Revised July 2012

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