This may save your life.
tl;dr? Drownproofing!In my researches about the 1966 Heron Bridge disaster, I came across this "just how dopey can young chaps be?" video. Young Ugg looks barely into his teens, knocking away at a roof-supporting pillar with his hands and palaeolithic rocks, until it collapses almost on his heels. He'll probably live to a venerable old age if he can make it through the thoughtless death-wish years from 15-25. In my Heron Road piece I called myself a wannabe engineer but actually, aged 11 or 12, I wanted to be an architect but my family and teachers 'helpfully' pointed out that my handwriting was so crabby that my blueprints would be illegible and I should choose a different vocation. I believed them and, although I taught myself a fine cursive hand a couple of years later, it was too late for me to go head to head with Gehry, Pei, van der Rohe, Rogers, Safdie and Saarinen.
Actually, through much of my childhood, people would say "You can't do that you're too little / stupid / clumsy / illegible" and I would meekly accept their verdict. Somebody had to be the family nebbish, and, for an easy life, that role suited me. As a sub-teen in the Drake Baths in Plymouth, I achieved a minimum Bronze level of proficiency in the water, while my brother and sister sailed through to Silver and Gold medals. I would have liked to match them, but had been critically sapped of determination and was happy enough to swim a length underwater, or two length on the surface and then cease-and-desist. Maybe related to my weakness in the wind [similar]. So I can swim, but I'm not sure how far I'd get if I had to swim to save my life; although I did once save someone else from drowning. Last week, beachcombing alone at Garrarus strand [prev with buoy] on the Waterford Coast, I threw off my clothes and plunged into the sea for the craic, like, but didn't stay in long enough to get fit . . . or even warm.
These damp musings primed me for reading a MeFi blue on Fred Lanoue, a swimming coach at Georgia Tech whose book Drownproofing, A New Technique for Water Safety (Prentice-Hall, 1963) really didn't make waves when it was published 50+ years ago. You can pick up a 2nd-hand copy for about $40. Who can afford that? But you can get the key information on this single longish Drownproofing page. Lanoue's method works because he counter-intuitively advises survivors to rest with their face in the water and entrain a gentle rhythm of exhaling every 10-12 seconds and bringing your mouth up for an in-breath and returning to rest position. Calmness is key. You can't do anything about hypothermia and sharks, but conserving energy is going to keep you alive for longer. They say drownproofing is similar to dead man's float - but the top video of that technique show a chap who takes no inbreath at all this one neither. US Navy Seals do it sustainably.
One interesting sideline is that Lenoue wrote that 30% of young black males had negative buoyancy and Mike Kearney the Drownproofing page editor quotes that uncritically. Very few white males have negative buoyancy except those that are really obsessed with having a sculptured six-pack. It's the body-fat, lads! A crap-detecting commenter on Mefi called ArbitraryAndCapricious pointed out that, when Lenoue was writing, many young black men were on the edge of starving and that made all the difference to their buoyancy.
Who can not afford to get acquainted with drownproofing? Bearing in mind the RNLI's chilling note that "Half the people who drowned last year didn't intend to get wet", and that about as many people drown each year in Ireland as get oblivioned on Irish roads. We can finish by quoting in full Stevie Smith's enigmatic existential poem:
Nobody heard him, the dead man,
But still he lay moaning:
I was much further out than you thought
And not waving but drowning.
Poor chap, he always loved larking
And now he’s dead
It must have been too cold for him his heart gave way,
Oh, no no no, it was too cold always
(Still the dead one lay moaning)
I was much too far out all my life
And not waving but drowning.