Drowning is one of the leading causes of death in the United States with − on average − 3,533 people dying as a result of drowning each year. Perhaps not surprisingly, most of those deaths are children under the age of four who drown in backyard swimming pools.

As the U.S. Swim School Association [USSSA] points out, the tragedy of these statistics is that nearly all drowning deaths are preventable.

However, if a drowning incident does occur it is vital that parents, children and bystanders know how to react because a proper response could save a life and an improper one − could result in two deaths instead of one.

The USSSA is the preeminent swim school organization in the country and has created guidelines that can be followed during a drowning incident.

How to React to a Drowning Incident

• Throw, Don’t Go – a young child struggling in the water can easily cause an adult attempting a rescue to drown as well. Panic can cause a child to obstruct an adult from being able to swim or stay above the water. Obviously it’s safer to throw a lifesaving device if one is available. However if there isn’t one, you may be able to us a towel, rope or a pool noodle to reach the person in the water, wait until he or she grabs hold and then tow the person safety.

• Call for help – alert others around you that a drowning is occurring before you take action to try to save the victim. In case something goes wrong it is vitally important that other people know you may need assistance with the rescue.

• Approach from behind – if you need to enter the water to save someone from drowning, it is best to approach the person from behind to lessen the likelihood the person will grab on to you and pull you under the water as well.

• Wear a life jacket – if you are attempting to rescue a drowning victim in an open body of water like a river or lake put on a U.S. Coast Guard approved life jacket before you enter the water and if possible secure yourself to your boat or shore with a rope. Conditions in the water will be unknown and you will not know if you will be fighting currents or an underwater log. The life jacket could save your life and the victim’s.

• Watch for signs of secondary drowning – people who experience a drowning incident can still have water in their lungs hours after and need to be watched closely for signs of trouble breathing which could indicate a secondary drowning emergency. If difficult breathing is noted after a drowning, immediately seek medical help and call 911.