Shallow Water Blackout – What Is It & How To Prevent It!

Every Summer without fail we hear reports from all over the United States of deaths attributed to Shallow Water Blackout (SWB). This is something that can be experienced by the strongest military swimmers to small children in backyard pools. This type of drowning does not discriminate and is an equal opportunity killer. It is also known as a silent killer.

Sadly, many parents, nannies and even lifeguards do not know what this is and how to prevent it. This is the reason we are presenting you with this blog on a subject that needs to be taught.

Many swim coaches unknowingly put their swimmers at risk by having them practice underwater dolphin kicks which requires some breath holding and the risk is increased of Shallow Water Blackout.

There is a ton of documentation that clearly illustrates the need to educate people on the dangers of Shallow Water Blackout. Hopefully through education and awareness, this silent killer can be eradicated saving many lives from a needless death.

What is Shallow Water Blackout?


Shallow Water Blackout results from hypoxia (low oxygen) to the brain. What triggers one to breathe is elevation of carbon dioxide (CO2), not low oxygen (O2). One basically “blacks out” or faints in the water. For some, their lungs will take on water leading to drowning while others simply suffocate or die of other causes brought on by the breath-holding. **Death can be a result of the prolonged breath-holding, even if not from so called “Shallow Water Blackout.” Breath-holding may stimulate genetic triggers leading to various causes of death.


When does Shallow Water Blackout occur?


Frequently, Shallow Water Blackout occurs WITHOUT ANY WARNING of its onset. In fact, because of the hypoxia and detached mental state one can feel euphoric and empowered to continue breath-holding. Unlike regular drowning where there can be 6-8 minutes before brain damage and death, there are ONLY about 2 ½ minutes before BRAIN DAMAGE then DEATH with SWB because the brain has already been oxygen deprived coupled with warm water as in swimming pools, hastening brain death.


Where can Shallow Water Blackout occur?


Shallow Water Blackout can occur in any body of water (pool, lake, river, ocean or bath tub) when breath-holding under water, regardless of water depth. Even if lifeguards are on duty, there is still a great risk because it is hard to detect from above the water.


Why does Shallow Water Blackout occur?


Shallow Water Blackout occurs because of the LACK OF EDUCATION, AWARENESS, and UNDERSTANDING of the dangers of breath-holding. It also occurs because of the lack of safety training for swimmers. The breath-holders do not understand how to prevent Shallow Water Blackout or how to survive if it happens to them. Unfortunately, training does not inoculate one against SWB.




As we stated, a majority of lifeguards are not trained in Shallow Water Blackout or Secondary Drownings which has attributed to deaths at backyard pool parties, public pools and even at health clubs all over the United States. Even many seasoned lifeguard instructors are not aware of Shallow Water Blackout and fail to teach lifeguard students of this danger.

Our staff is trained in the dangers of Shallow Water Blackout and Secondary Drowning. Knowing what it is has allowed us to effectively operate at aquatic events and we have adopted an extremely proactive stance on prevention. Our staff have learned to identify risky behavior that can lead to Shallow Water Blackout.

One of the most common activities that can lead to Shallow Water Blackout is a game that many kids play at pool parties you may know as the “breath holding contest”. We highly discourage this activity and counsel kids on why that is dangerous.

Our goal this Spring/Summer and going forward is to be a voice in the prevention of deaths caused by Shallow Water Blackout.


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