Drowning looks nothing like the dramatic wild thrashing you see on TV -- a drowning person usually can't splash, wave or cry out. In 10% of child drownings, an adult is nearby but doesn't recognize the signs.
When the instinctive drowning response kicks in, a person generally appears to be treading water:
- head bobbing above and below the surface
- head tilted back
- arms trying to press down on water
- legs upright, not kicking
This automatic behavior also extends to rescue -- if you approach a drowning person, they will not act logically or consciously, but will instead violently grab hold and pull you down with them. If you're untrained and have no means of flotation, it's safer to wait for the person to stop struggling before approaching and grabbing them.
This video demonstrates more signs of drowning.