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Drowning is a horrible struggle where the victim flails against the uncaring sea and screams for help again and again. At times she slips below the waters, but strength borne of new desperation drives her to surface. Finally, all hope fading, her exhausted frame fails her and she goes down the third time. She may shed a Single Tear, but it's hard to tell.

Meanwhile in reality, a victim generally paddles quietly for a few moments and sinks. She's in no shape to splash about or yell for help. Instincts are running the show, and they're ineffectually trying to flap her arms against the water to push her mouth above the surface. An untrained onlooker may not even notice that anything's wrong. Professionals keep a watch for telltale signs, like an inability to keep her mouth above water, or to respond when spoken to.

The flailing and screaming approach does still get used. It's what many people do right before they start to drown, and no less an emergency, but it's absent more often than not. So the lack of a scene does not mean that things are all right. Kids in particular are noisy swimmers, and more worrying if they're quiet.

As morbid as the reality may seem, in fact it's even worse. Swimming after someone who's panicked will not only fail to kick off a Rescue Romance and a subplot about fame, but may very well kill you. If you come within her reach, she will grab you and bear you under in a futile attempt to breathe. An important part of layman's water rescue is knowing when to cut your losses and let the victim drown. Another is knowing how to fight her off and flee.

This article should be limited to aversions and Egregious examples: tropers cannot be asked to tell if King Graham's drowning animation is realistic enough, unless the process is depicted in detail and gotten wrong.

See also Last Grasp At Life, Super Drowning Skills.

This trope article was written by laymen. We're pretty confident that we got it right, but a trained lifeguard or other professional should look it over and then remove this notice.

Examples of Hollywood Drowning include:



  • Averted in the film of Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, where Sam's near-drowning occurs without much flailing or noise. Frodo knows he's drowning because he knows Sam can't swim.


  • In a short story by Bjorn Bjornsterne, called "The Father," a young man drowns after falling out of a boat, he stuggles quietly for a few seconds, then rolls over on his back and drowns. His father knows he's died when the bubbles stop and the body sinks.

Live Action TV

  • Rescue 911:
    • "Twin Drowning": The mother realizes that something's wrong when she hears a conspicuous silence.
    • "Two-Year-Old Pool Save": The mother checks the pool the moment she notices her youngest child is missing, and finds it empty, but doesn't post a watch on it before searching the house.
    • "Texas Pool Tot": The mother turns her back to the pool for 20 seconds.
    • "Double Football Player": A man pulls a boy out of a whirlpool in a river, and once the kid is secure, the rescuer drowns and dies. An onlooker comments that she didn't see him give any sign of distress, and she didn't realize that anything was wrong until he started going under.
    • "Motel Toddler Plunge": It doesn't really count since the kid falls from a third-story window and may well go unconscious on impact.
    • For the record, a number of other segments are known to feature drowning, but have not been checked one way or the other: "Potomac River" (s2e11), "Regatta Rescue" (s3e11), "911 My Baby Drowned" (s3e27), "11-Year-Old CPR Save" (s4e6), "911 Nurse's Bathtub Baby" (s5e1), "911 Son in the Spa" (s5e25).


  • Waist Deep In the Big Muddy: "We heard a gurgling cry; a second later, the captain's helmet was all that floated by."

Web Comics

  • The Dragon Doctors: In a spiritual realm that's still enough to do the job; the victim appears in an ocean without boundaries presided over by a drowning spirit; the chilly water completely saps her strength over the course of a handful of panels and she sinks beneath the waves.

Video Games

  • In Photopia, a work-at-home mom hears a splash, and when she looks outside, her daughter is floating face down in the pool. The game notes the mother's restraint in taking the stairs five at a time instead of throwing herself down the staircase.

Real Life

  • Probably the greatest single danger for toddlers. It takes them just a moment unobserved to climb 5-foot pool ladders, fall in and drown. Even a puddle all of one inch deep can be enough.

Cough splutter gasp ack:


  • The Green Hornet really played up the loud flailing and splashing and even a roughly intelligible yell of "I can't swim". The drowner is saved with an inflatable lobster.
  • It's done in-universe in the second Addams Family movie. Campers are learning lifeguarding techniques. The Alpha Bitch, a "great actress", jumps in to pretend to drown with a display of worried shouts and flailing arms.

Newspaper Comics

  • In Peanuts, Peppermint Patty flunks an English test and describes and re-enacts a dramatic drowning in grammar, complete with going down three times (and sputtering commas).

Western Animation

  • Common in Looney Tunes, particularly when Wile E. Coyote is drowning. Complete with the hand coming up with fingers enumerating "one... two... three..."