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Emergency Preparation By Using Drowning CPR with Rescue Breaths

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When an emergency occurs, we’re often left scrambling and grasping at solutions with very little time for preparation or action. But, in the case of water safety, learning drowning CPR can mean the difference between life and death. 

CPR with rescue breaths, is an important skill to learn because drowning is considered a hypoxic event – meaning the lack of oxygen affects all of the organs in the body.  

Knowing emergency procedures, like drowning CPR, is critical because they can triple the chances of survival after cardiac arrest.

drowning cpr practicing

What is Drowning CPR?

Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation (CPR) is the act of repeated chest compressions of the chest in an attempt to restore or maintain blood circulation in the body of someone who has gone into cardiac arrest. 

Rescue breathing is the process of blowing air into someone’s mouth who has stopped breathing to ensure that they stay oxygenated to further prevent the damage of cardiac arrest.

These two practices used together are known as drowning CPR. When used immediately, these practices have proven to be effective in reducing the likelihood of death by drowning or asphyxiation (loss of oxygen flow to the body).

Why Do We Use Drowning CPR?

Performing CPR with rescue breaths on a drowning victim is essential to maintaining blood flow and oxygenation to the brain.

In a hypoxic event, like drowning, the flow of oxygen supplied to the brain is slowed or stopped, resulting in eventual respiratory and cardiac arrest. 

According to the Health & Safety Institute, room air has an oxygen level of about 21%. Exhaled air has an oxygen level of about 16-17%, which is enough to support life in a critical emergency.

When you combine rescue breaths with chest compressions, you increase the oxygen level in the victim’s blood and are able to simulate respiration with a life-sustaining amount of breathed oxygen, thus saving their organs.


Drowning CPR is an integral part of Emergency Preparation as a layer of protection and, when used properly, can be a life-saving action.

drowning cpr class

How and When To Perform Drowning CPR:

First and foremost, if you ever encounter a victim who is not breathing, ALWAYS call 911 or have someone at the scene do so before trying to perform drowning CPR.

The underlying principles of CPR remain the same. Still, the amount of force and hand use varies depending on the victim’s age. 

The following steps are as advised by the American Red Cross. If you are ever in a position where you must perform drowning CPR, always remember that proper training and certification for CPR must be refreshed every 1-2 years, especially if there are recent changes in recommendations from the American Heart Association or the American Red Cross. 

For Adults

  1. Immediately call 911
  2. Check for responsiveness using the Shout-Tap-Shout.
    1. Shout to get a response, tap on the shoulder (or bottom of the foot for babies),  shout again.
  3. Place the victim on their back on a firm and flat surface.
  4. Place two hands centered on the chest, your shoulders directly over your hands, and give 30 chest compressions at a depth of 2 inches. Allow their chest to return to normal after each compression.
  5. Open the victim’s airway using the head-tilt technique. Pinch the nose shut, take a normal breath, and make a complete seal over the person’s mouth with your mouth or a rescue mask (if available).
  6. Ensure each breath lasts about 1 second and you see the victim’s chest rise. Allow air to exit before administering the next breath.
  7. Do not stop until help arrives or until you notice an obvious sign of life.

When a trained professional arrives, clear a pathway and find a first responder to relay any known information about the drowning event to them.  

For Children and Infants :

  • If performing drowning CPR on an infant, use two thumbs side by side at the center of the baby’s chest. Alternatively, you can use two fingers placed parallel to the chest in the center of the chest, performing compressions to a depth of 1 1/2 inches.
  • Drowning CPR is vital to the survival of infants and children as their oxygen levels immediately decrease in cardiac arrest due to the lack of oxygen flow. 

According to the Health & Safety Institute, infants and children are more likely to suffer from asphyxiation due to a constriction in the airway, making rescue breaths even more essential. 

If you are reluctant or unable to perform rescue breaths, hands-only CPR is better than no CPR.

Drowning CPR Can Save Lives

CPR training is essential for medical professionals, first responders, and anyone who wants to be prepared to respond to an emergency like a drowning incident. Anyone living in a home with a pool or frequently around water should become CPR certified, focusing on CPR with rescue breaths.

Many organizations require all babysitters, teachers, and caregivers to have current CPR training and certification. In groups, it is recommended that at least one person should know CPR or have undergone CPR training.  

Proper training and certification should be refreshed every 1-2 years or more frequently if there have been recent changes in recommendations.

drowning cpr swimming class

To find a CPR and First Aid class near you, check with your local hospital, fire department, or use the American Heart Association or American Red Cross Websites. 

Drowning CPR is a life-saving technique that, when done properly, can significantly increase the rate of survival for a drowning victim or someone suffering from asphyxiation. 

It is an important part of emergency preparation as a layer of protection Though the technique varies across age ranges, the underlying fundamentals of the practice remain the same. 

Timing is of the utmost importance. If you are not trained in CPR with rescue breaths, consider taking a class to learn these life-saving skills.

To learn more about emergency preparation techniques for drowning prevention, visit ndpa.org.