Emergency advice


  1. Call 999.
  2. Give 5 breaths.
  3. Then 30 compressions and 2 breaths. Repeat 30:2 until help arrives.
  4. If responsive treat for hypothermia.

When a child is drowning, it may not always look like the distressed call for help that most people expect from watching TV. They may easily go unnoticed, even if friends or family are nearby.

If a child is unresponsive and not breathing normally, you need to call 999 or 112 for emergency help and start CPR straight away. 

What to do

  1. Do not put yourself in danger when trying to rescue a child.

  2. When the child has been rescued from the water, you should first perform a primary survey. If this establishes that they are unresponsive and not breathing, you should ask a helper to call 999 or 112 for emergency help while you start CPR. Ask a helper to find and bring a defibrillator, if available.

    •  If you’re on your own, you need to give one minute of CPR before calling on a speaker phone. Do not leave the child to look for a defibrillator yourself, the ambulance will bring one.
  3. Start CPR. Place the child on a firm surface and open their airway. To do this, place one hand on their forehead to tilt their head back and use two fingers from the other hand to gently lift the chin.

  4. Give five initial rescue breaths.

    Take the hand from the forehead and pinch the soft part of the nose closed. Allow the mouth to fall open. With the head still tilted, take a breath and put your mouth around the child’s, to make a seal. Blow into their mouth gently and steadily for up to one second, until the chest rises. Remove your mouth and watch the chest fall. That’s one rescue breath. Do this five times.

    • If the chest doesn’t rise, check the airway is open.
  5. You will then need to give 30 chest compressions. Kneel by the child and put one hand in the centre of the child’s chest. Push down a third of the depth of the chest. Release the pressure allowing the chest to come back up. Repeat this 30 times at a rate of 100 to 120 compressions per minute. 

    • The beat of the song ‘Stayin' Alive’ can help you keep the right rate
  6. After 30 compressions, you need to give two rescue breaths. 

    Continue to perform CPR, alternating 30 chest compressions with two rescue breaths, (30:2) until:  

    • emergency help arrives and takes over. 
    • the child starts showing signs of life and starts to breathe normally.
    • you are too exhausted to continue  - if there is a helper, you can change over every one-to-two minutes, with minimal interruptions to chest compressions.
    • or a defibrillator is ready to be use - if the helper returns with a defibrillator, ask them to switch it on and follow the voice prompts while you continue with CPR.
  7. Beware, many casualties that drown may bring up stomach contents, so be prepared to roll them onto their side to clear their airway.

  8. If the child shows signs of becoming responsive, such as coughing, opening eyes, speaking, and starts to breathe normally, put them in the recovery position.

    You may also need to treat them for hypothermia, covering them with warm clothes and blankets. If possible, replace the wet clothes with dry clothes.

  9. Monitor the child's level of response, and prepare to give CPR again if necessary.

    • If you have used a defibrillator, leave it attached.

    Children who have experienced near drowning (ie they have been successfully rescued, with or without the need for resuscitation) may need to be observed for a short period in hospital and medical advice should be sought, even if they appear well in the immediate aftermath.


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Related first aid advice

How to do the primary survey

Use the primary survey to quickly assess the situation and check the casualty for injuries or conditions that could be immediately life threatening. Find out what to do.

How to do CPR on a child

If a child is unresponsive and not breathing normally you will need to call 999 or 112 for emergency help and perform child CPR straight away. Learn what to do.


Hypothermia can become life-threatening quickly, so it’s important to treat someone with hypothermia straight away.  Find out what to look for and what to do.

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