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Drownproofing: The Life-Saving Water Survival Technique



What is Drownproofing?

Have you ever come close to drowning? It can feel as if you’ve lost all control, as panic and desperation set in. Your body will force uncontrollable movements, and without help you may suffer an ultimate fate. Fortunately, there is a survival technique that you can turn to water disaster scenarios: Drownproofing.

Drownproofing was developed in the 1930’s by swimming coach Fred “Crankshaft” Lanoue, and later officially adopted by the US Navy. While Drownproofing isn’t widely used today, every student at Georgia Tech was required to pass a quarter-long course in Drownproofing until 1988. This technique does not depend on advanced swimming ability or physical strength, but rather on the positive buoyancy most human beings have within their own lungs. With their lungs fully inflated, people have fractionally less specific gravity than the water beneath them, and will not start to sink unless they exhale. A typical human being has up to 4 lbs. of positive buoyancy in fresh water and even more in salt water, due to its higher density. If executed correctly, a person can use Drownproofing to float indefinitely and intermittently bob their head above the water for air.

Drownproofing Training

To learn this survival art by naval standards, one must start by plunging into a swimming pool with their hands and feet bound. This trains the Drownproofing student to survive even if they are severely disabled, without use of their extremities. While bound, trainees plunge into a swimming pool, where they must bob, float, and flip comfortably. To execute these moves the student must maintain icy calm, buoyed by the air they hold in their lungs.

Once the technique is mastered, students are instructed to swim 50 yards underwater and salvage diving rings from the bottom of the pool using only their teeth. The pressure around them makes things increasingly more difficult the deeper they go.

Students can keep bobbing underwater and execute the challenges demanded of them without suffocating for a unique reason: the human body has specific adaptations meant for diving underwater. As humans evolved our DNA kept some of the mammalian diving reflex intact. This is the very reflex that we share with dolphins, seals and otters among other animals. The reflex optimizes the body’s respiration, enabling it to stay submerged for long periods. It is activated in every mammal when water colder than 70 degrees Fahrenheit hits the body. Be careful though, a few select human beings have negative buoyancy, and thus require advanced Drownproofing training from an expert to master it.

While Drownproofing is not a vastly advanced technique, the training can make one feel helpless and suffocated. Without proper supervision it can be incredibly dangerous. Even amongst the hardened, expert sailors of the U.S. Navy SEALs, one candidate has been known to perish and come back from the dead after resuscitation, as reported by Esquire.

Drownproofing training can be the ultimate test of the nerve, but if you are up to the task it is an invaluable skill to master. For Adrenalists taking on the oceans deep, it may keep you alive in the worst of situations.

Cover Photo Credit: USASOC News Service /

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