How to Perform CPR on a Drowning Victim

How to preform CPR on a drowning victim

Cardiopulmonary resuscitation, or CPR, is performed during a medical emergency when a person’s breathing or heart stops. Once the heart stops pumping blood to the brain and lungs, the person experiences cardiac arrest. By performing CPR, we mimic the pumping of the heart with the help of chest compressions.

When a person’s heart stops working, you only have a few minutes to act, especially if you are dealing with a drowning victim. According to an article by the National Heart, Lungs, and Blood Institute, 9 out of 10 cardiac arrest cases end with death, especially when this medical emergency happens outside of a hospital. Properly executed chest compressions keep the victims alive until their transport to the hospital.

Cardiac arrest can happen to anyone, and knowing the basics of CPR can help you save a life. In this article, we’ll go over how to perform CPR on a drowning victim, the proper steps that you must take if someone is near-drowning and in urgent need of resuscitation.

What is CPR And Why is it Necessary?

Cardiopulmonary resuscitation, otherwise known as CPR, is a medical intervention that must be performed when a person goes into cardiac arrest. By doing chest compressions, we mimic the pumping of the heart, which keeps the blood flow active until medical help arrives. CPR can be used in many situations, including car accidents, electrocution, sudden collapses, and near-drowning situations.

Accidents can happen anywhere, and knowing how to react in that situation is crucial. While we tend to panic in these situations, it’s very important to stay calm and act fast after the accident has happened. If the person is in an unconscious state, call 9-1-1 right away. Only then can youstart performing this basic medical intervention.

The airway, breathing, and circulation, more commonly referred to as ABC, are a top priority when dealing with an injured person.


To open the person’s airway, first, you must lay them on their back. Then, use one hand to pull their head back, and lift the tip of their chin with your other hand. Remember not to press the floor of the mouth, as this will result in the tongue blocking the airway.


Checking if the person is still breathing is crucial for beginning the CPR procedure. Here are some signs that the injured person is not breathing:


      • There is no visible rising and falling of the chest.

      • You cannot feel their breath on your cheek.

      • There are no breathing sounds coming from their mouth and nose.

    After confirming that the person is not breathing, performing CPR is the key to their survival until medical help arrives.


    If you can’t feel a pulse, it means that the heart has stopped working and the person has experienced cardiac arrest. When this happens, blood does not flow to the brain or the other organs. To restore blood circulation, start doing chest compressions.

    How Does CPR Work?

    Many people believe that CPR is a complicated procedure limited only to medical professionals. This is true but not in all cases. When an accident happens, you don’t need to have formal training to save someone’s life. In urgent cases like near-drowning, the most important thing is being prepared, remaining calm, and knowing what to do until the medical professionals arrive.

    If a person cannot breathe because of extended submersion in water, rescue is in your hands. In these situations, every second counts. You must remember to stay calm and follow these steps.

    Use a Defibrillator if Available

    An automated external defibrillator, or AED, can help you restore the normal heart rhythm and revive the victim by delivering an electrical shock to the heart. If you have access to an AED, you must:


        • Turn it on and read or listen to the instructions carefully. They will explain everything, including where to place the electrode pads.


          • After the pads have been placed, the AED will measure the heart rhythm automatically.


            • If the AED identifies a need for a shock, you must take a step back and manually press the button and the shock will be delivered.

          However, if there is no defibrillator in the area, you must not leave the victim alone to look for one. If someone is nearby, ask them to look for an AED while you start doing CPR.

          Perform Rescue Breathing

          Once you have checked that the person’s airway is open, rescue breathing is the next step. Seal your mouth over the victim’s and blow for 1 second. You should notice their chest rising. If not, pull their head back and try again. Furthermore, CPR includes both rescue breathing and chest compressions, so you should combine them as such:


              • Give the victim two rescue breaths lasting 1 second each. However, remember to take a regular deep breath between the two rescue breaths.


                • Next, perform 30 chest compressions (explained below).


                  • Do not break the cycle unless the person starts breathing independently, or the arrival of medical professionals.

                Chest Compressions

                Chest compressions help the blood circulation to all vital organs, including the brain. To successfully do chest compressions, you must:


                    • Place the hand’s heel in the center of the victim’s chest without touching their ribs.


                      • Cover it with your other hand, interlocking the fingers in the process.


                        • Using your body weight, press down hard with your arms straight (at least 2 inches deep, but no more than 2.4 inches).


                          • Let the chest return back up before repeating.

                        Maintain the rate of 100-120 per minute when doing chest compressions. A useful trick to help you stay at the right rate and double the victim’s chances of survival is humming the beat of the song ‘Staying Alive’. Another thing worth mentioning is that near-drowning victims can vomit their stomach contents, so be prepared to turn them on their side.

                        Recovery Position

                        After successfully performing CPR and the person starts breathing again, it’s safe to put them in the recovery position even if they are still unconscious. This helps their airway stay open, while also preventing the possibility of choking on their vomit. Here are the steps to safely change somebody into the recovery position:


                            • Kneel next to the person that is still lying on their back.


                              • Take the closest arm and extend it at a right angle to the person’s body.


                                • When extending their arm, make sure their palm is facing upward.


                                  • Fold their other arm to rest on the cheek that is closer to you.


                                    • Since the person is probably still unconscious, you will have to hold their hand in place.


                                      • Bend the knee of their furthest leg into a right angle.


                                        • Roll them on their side by pulling on the bent knee.

                                      The Physiological Mechanisms of CPR

                                      During the past two decades, there have been studies showing great advances when it comes to understanding the physiological mechanisms of CPR. There are two mechanisms of blood flow: the cardiac and the thoracic pump.

                                      The cardiac pump theory, similar to open chest CPR, suggests that the heart being squeezed between the sternum and spine is what causes the blood flow. Closed chest CPR, or the thoracic pump theory, is explained by a study stating that the intrathoracic pressure exceeds the extra thoracic vascular pressure, which results in blood flow from the thorax. 

                                      Other than these two mechanisms of blood flow, there is one other, which is known as the abdominal pump mechanism. While this mechanism can work independently, it is advised to be used as an adjunct to the thoracic pump mechanism. With that being said, in an emergency, you must act fast, using the thoracic pump mechanism combined with abdominal compressions.

                                      Final Words

                                      Although it might seem complicated at first, CPR is a medical intervention that anyone can learn. Understanding the importance of educating ourselves in this field is very important, as we never know the situations we might end up in. When doing CPR, it’s important to remember to stay calm but think fast. When it comes to someone else’s life, there is no time to waste.

                                      There are plenty of benefits from learning CPR, including saving a life, making your home and workplace feel safer, helping you to have more control in emergencies, etc. CPR is not performed nearly enough, and with over 350,000 cardiac arrests happening outside of hospitals every year, learning this simple medical intervention will definitely improve your survival chances.