Pre-hospital Management of Drowning Events

As summer approaches, drowning events across Australia will be more prevalent. Healthcare professionals can assist in the community during these stressful emergencies, and use their skills to help manage drowning events.

As summer approaches, drowning events across Australia will be more prevalent. Last year with the hottest summer on record, saw an increase of 17% drowning deaths compared to the previous 10-year average. Healthcare professionals can assist in the community during these stressful emergencies, and use their skills to help manage drowning events. We can initiate immediate treatment by directing bystanders to call for assistance and position the person into a safe place to start emergency care. Below is a quick reminder if you are ever in the situation of needing to assist someone who has had a near drowning event.

Steps in managing a near drowning event:

  • Remove the person from water & any other dangers, without endangering yourself or bystanders
  • Follow DRS ABCD to quickly assess the person
  • Commence CPR if required - avoid delays or interruptions
  • Compression only CPR is not recommended, as effective ventilation is required to address the hypoxaemia and hypoxia
  • If vomiting/regurgitating turn the person into the left lateral position, point their mouth downwards to protect the airway
  • Remove wet clothing and apply warm, dry blankets when possible
  • Apply supplemental oxygen when available to keep saturations > 94%
  • Take spinal precautions if risk factors present or clinical signs of spinal cord injury
  • Ensure the person is transported to hospital for further assessment and management as required

If you are looking for further updates on drowning and other emergencies, join us at our popular Acute Life-threatening Emergencies, Recognition and Treatment (ALERT™) course. 

It covers a range of emergency situations, focusing on the recognition and immediate treatment for medical, nursing and paramedic professionals. It is accredited for Continuing Professional Development (CPD) with a variety of medical colleges, and qualifies for 12 hours of CPD for nursing professionals. Our next ALERT events will be at:


Australian Resuscitation Council (2014) Guideline 9.3.2 Resuscitation of the Drowning Victim, March, Melbourne, accessed October 219 at 

Emergency Care Institute New South Wales (2017) Drowning, September, Chatswood, accessed October 2019 at

Royal Life Saving Society - Australia (2019) Royal Life Saving National Drowning Report 2019, Sydney Australia, accessed October 2019 at

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Crystal Smith

Crystal Smith

Crystal Smith is a Senior Education Consultant for Critical Care Education Services (part of the Medcast Group). She has a clinical background in critical care, paediatrics and education.

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