What Is Drown Proofing? (Explained)


a man stands waist deep in water with a snorkel mask

While trying to build water confidence, and learning about how to deal with difficult water situations which could be life threatening, I came across the concept of “drown proofing”.

As a swimmer, the thought of being so water confident I can survive indefinitely in the water sounds very appealing, so I had to dig deeper into this term to learn what drown proofing is.

Drown proofing is a water survival technique. It was first taught in 1940 and started with being able to float vertically in the water, bobbing up and down with the head submerged, popping up for a breath when needed.

In later years, the drown proofing survival technique was adopted by the US Navy Seals, and developed into a full survival test that involves various aspects including having your hands tied behind your back and diving to the pool floor to retrieve your mask with your teeth!

In this article I want to cover:

  • What Is Drown Proofing?
  • What Is US Navy Seal Drown Proofing?
  • Is Drown Proofing Useful?

What Is Drown Proofing?

In simple terms, drown proofing is a simple water survival technique. It can be learned and practised to help you become more water confident.

Today, drown proofing has become heavily associated with the US Navy Seals, which takes the technique to the extreme to ensure any US Navy Seal is comfortable in very difficult and distressing water situations.

For average everyday swimmers, however, the fundamentals of drown proofing and the basic technique without all the extremes that the US Navy Seals incorporate can be learned and adopted to help improve water confidence. It does not have to be taken to extremes to learn.

Never practice drown proofing on your own. Any water situations involve risk and ensure you are always properly supervised and safe.

What Does Drown Proofing Consist Of? (The Fundamentals)

When Fred Lanoue invented the drown proofing technique in the 1940s, it was based on the following simple theory: as humans, we all have some positive buoyancy, therefore, if you can keep upright in the water and bob up and down to take a breath you can survive indefinitely without wasting too much energy.

What Is The Basic Technique Of Drown Proofing?

In 1978, the following book was published by Fred Lanoue, “Drownproofing: A New Technique for Water Safety”

Unfortunately, the cheapest price I could find for this book is £117, so it is out of my budget range! If you want to original fundamentals of Drown Proofing, this is the original resource.

As the original book is out of my reach, I have looked everywhere online to find a simple drown proofing guide, and here is what I understand to be the basic technique of drown proofing.

Again, do not attempt this unsupervised, especially if you are not a strong swimmer.

The Drown Proofing Method

  1. Take a deep breath to fill your lungs.
  2. Submerge and float in a vertical position, with the top of your head just breaking the water surface.
  3. Relax and let your arms float up with bent elbows.
  4. When your arms are in front of your shoulders, press down and back with your hands until your mouth just breaks the surface.
  5. Once above the water, breathe.
  6. Then submerge again and repeat every 10 seconds.

The idea is to be fully relaxed and to gently take a breath when your mouth comes out of the water. You do not want to have harsh or energetic movements. Just slight bobbing is sufficient.

Because very little energy is required to do this, in theory, you could survive in water for a very long time doing this.

This is what I understand to be the fundamentals of drown proofing. To learn more about this, I recommend this website for a more detailed explanation.

The following video is an excellent demonstration of a more advanced drown proofing technique. In this video, the swimmers are keeping their hands behind their backs and legs together, which leans more towards the US Navy Seal Drown Proofing methods.

What Is US Navy Seal Drown Proofing?

As being completely calm in water is essential to survival, and the US Navy Seal complete many difficult and dangerous special water operations, a Navy Seal must be able to keep their head when facing panic in the water.

Drown Proofing has become popular in modern times because of the US Navy Seals, as all recruits must pass their Drown proofing Test.

Unlike drown proofing for the average swimmer, the US Navy Seals push the boundaries.

Firstly, your hands are tied behind your back, and your legs are bound.

Here are some of the fundamental tests that a US Navy Seal must do. [source]

  • Bob up and down in the deep end 20 times: This follows the basics of drown proofing from the 1940s. However, these US Navy Seals will have their hands and legs bound.
  • 5 Minute Float On Your Back: Being able to float on your back is a fundamental water survival skill. While doing research for my article, “How Can Good Swimmers Drown?”, I was shocked to learn that many excellent swimmers have never practised floating.
  • Swim Underwater: With their hands and legs bound, a US Navy Seal recruit must swim a length of the pool, without touching the bottom.
  • Retrieve A Mask From The Bottom Of The Pool With Their Teeth: It was this skill that first caught my eye and got me interested in drown proofing. With your hands tied behind your back and legs bound, you must dive to the bottom of a pool (usually 9 feet deep) and pick up your eye mask in your teeth!

The US Navy Seals have rigorous testing methods that go far beyond the basics of drown proofing.

Here is an awesome video showing actual drown proofing testing footage from the army special forces. It is not for the faint-hearted!

It should be noted that every swimmer is shadowed by a safety diver, and this should never be attempted alone or without the proper supervision.

Is Drown Proofing Useful?

Drown proofing technique is incredibly useful as it means you can survive indefinitely in the water if done correctly.

Because of the famous and extreme US Navy Seal drown proofing training, many do not realise that the basic drown proofing technique, where you are not bound but just bob in the water, can be learnt by regular swimmers and can save your life.

For anyone with a disability, where floating on your back or treading water is hard, then this could be the life-saving water skill they need.

As someone who loves to swim but has lived with a fear of deep water, I discovered the technique of drown proofing by accident.

In order to deal with my fear of deep water, which I have described in greater detail in this article, “How Do I Get Over My Fear Of Deep Water?” I used to just bob up and down lightly in the water if my fear ever raised its nasty head in the deep end.

By filling your air with lungs and just submerging beneath the surface, you quickly realise that you will always come back up if you remain calm because of the laws of physics.

Indirectly, I was practising a simple form of drown proofing that is similar to Fred Lanoue’s original theory.

Final Thoughts

Today, when you learn to swim, most of what you are taught is to do with swimming and moving through the water.

I have learnt that surviving in water is far more than just being able to swim. (See this article, How Can Good Swimmers Drown?)

I believe that everyone who swims should be taught how to float in water, tread water and be aware of the art of drown proofing.

But remember, never try drown proofing on your own or unsupervised.

Drown proofing has a fantastic record, and it would not have been adopted by the US Navy Seals if it was not a success. Why it is not more popular or talked about in the world of swim teaching is hard to explain.

Perhaps it has been forgotten since it was first invented in the 1940s, or perhaps the publicity the US Navy Seals have given to it has shown it to be for expert swimmers only since they have adapted it to the extreme.

Or, perhaps modern swim instructors do not find it useful to teach. Either way, knowing about how it works and the fundamentals of surviving in water is a key skill for any enthusiastic swimmer.

Louise Byrne

Hi, I am Louise and I am obsessed with swimming. I spend my free time in the water or getting ready for my next water adventure.

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