shallow water blackout

Meet Our Newest Ambassador, Nick Thompson!


Nick Thompson is a sixteen-year old avid water polo player and swim team member who also enjoys spear-fishing, surfing, snorkeling and freediving. Nick grew up in the seaside community of Newport Beach, California, a beautiful beach town that is home to the largest recreational harbor on the West Coast and ten miles of ocean coastline. Like most local residents, Nick has been swimming and participating in water sports since he was a young child. And, like many of his fellow community members, until recently Nick had never heard of SWB, despite completing Junior Guard training, volunteering on his neighborhood swim team as an assistant coach and participating in competitive water sports. 
Nick learned of SWB from a close family friend, who shared the story of how her son succumbed to this phenomenon, also referred to as the “silent killer.” In speaking to Karen Curreri, proud Gold Star mother of Staff Sergeant and Green Beret Joseph Curreri, Nick learned that Joe drowned in a lake in the Southern Philippine Islands during his first deployment. Nick was shocked to learn that even though Joe was an accomplished All-American varsity high school swimmer, water polo player, member of the USC Pac-10 All-Conference Team, 2002 Olympic Trials qualifier and the Distinguished Honor Graduate from the highly challenging Combat Diver Qualification Course, he died of SWB. Nick learned that SWB does not discriminate and has claimed the lives of a significant number of accomplished and experienced aquatic athletes, as well as children who engage in breath holding water games.
Nick was honored to accept the invitation to become the first West Coast Ambassador for the Shallow Water Blackout Prevention Association. As part of his Community Service graduation requirement for Mater Dei High School in Santa Ana, CA, Nick will be distributing information to local water polo teams, swim teams, Surf and Dive Shops and Jr. Lifeguard Programs across Orange County.  More importantly, Nick’s hopes to honor Joe’s life and all of the other amazing people who have lost their life to SWB by increasing the public’s awareness of what SWB is and how to prevent it, thereby saving lives. With so many Southern Californians involved in water related activities the need for SWB education is paramount.
Besides sports, Nick is part of his school's governing organization, ASB, where he serves as a Senator. Nick has also devoted countless hours into his work with children on the autism spectrum and said that his motivation is his older brother, Zack, who is also on the spectrum. In his spare time, Nick enjoys music and attending concerts with his friends and family.

Welcome, Nick, we are so glad to have you!

Children and Shallow Water Blackout

It’s Not Just About Elite Swimmers, Freedivers and People Who Spearfish.  Children Are Equally Susceptible to Shallow Water Blackout Too!

According to the World Health Organization there are over 375,000 drownings annually and it is the third leading cause of all unintentional deaths worldwide. Even though awareness about SWB is increasing, but slowly, experts believe that it remains the cause of more than 50% of all unintentional drownings worldwide and regrettably children are among its many victims. One in five people who die from drowning are children 14 and younger. The Centers for Disease Control reports that for every child who dies from drowning in the U.S., another five receive emergency department care for nonfatal submersion injuries.  Most drownings occur is private or public pools.

SWB occurs when the swimmer prolongs their breath holds underwater preceded by hyperventilating, which is the rapid and successive in-take of deep breaths and the expulsion of the air taken in. This is considered intentional hyperventilation and it is usually practiced for a minute or more.  Excessive physical activity such as playing tag or just running around in the yard or playground immediately prior to swimming can have the same physiological effect on the body. This is considered unintentional hyperventilation.

Unless a SWB victim’s pre-swimming activities are known it is almost impossible to assign SWB as the cause; therefore, related drowning victims are simply labeled as accidental.  Although it can happen at any depth many SWB victims drown in water less than 15 feet deep, hence the name.

How Can SWB be prevented:

  • Always monitor a child’s pre-swimming activities and require them to rest before swimming if they have been over-exerting themselves physically.

  • Never let children swim unattended or alone.

  • Never permit them to intentionally hyperventilate when they are swimming.

  • Never permit them to prolong their breath-holds or play breath-holding games when they are swimming.

    • Challenging each other to see who can stay under water the longest or trying to do so themselves.

    • Challenging each other or themselves to swim the most laps underwater.

Remember, Shallow Water Blackout is preventable and we strongly encourage all parents to follow the above guidelines.  

Study of Shallow Water Blackout Prevention Policies at 73 Pools Garners Negative Results

A Study Conducted by The Redwoods Group.


During the summer of 2016 The Redwood’s team designed a study of aquatic safety procedures to identify any potential gaps in Shallow Water Blackout (SWB) prevention practices and rule enforcement. The study spanned 73 YMCA associations in 17 states and the District of Columbia. At each observation, the team’s procedures included documentation across four categories:


  • Pool environment
  • Lifeguard behaviour
  • SWB simulation
  • Staff interviews


The study found SWB pool signage was inconsistent and sometimes nonexistent. Only 51.8% of pools displayed a sign related to prolonged breath holding. Of the pools that had signs, only 59.6% of the signs were both unobstructed and differentiated from their surroundings.

This study also revealed that even when SWB-related rules may be known, they may not be enforced consistently, if at all. 

Though 31.2% of lifeguards interviewed showed awareness of SWB-related rules, only 7.5% enforced those rules.

This study revealed meaningful gaps in the awareness and enforcement of Shallow Water Blackout prevention procedures in YMCA pools. To close the Awareness Gap and Action Gap, YMCAs should clarify and promote rules regarding Shallow Water Blackout and equip lifeguards with tools to simplify and maximize enforcement.

For more details on this study click here.

What precautions do your local aquatics managers take to prevent SWB from happening in their pool?  Please reach out and let us know. Send photos, or request a free poster or two to give to your pool manager. We need your help to prevent more senseless tragedies. Email [email protected] for more information on how you can help.




US Coast Guard Warns Trainees of SWB

Photo courtesy of

Photo courtesy of

When speaking with ASTC  (Air Survival Technician Supervisor) Matthew Laub at the Coast Guard Air Station in Miami, we were pleased to learn that the trainers there are very aware of the dangers of shallow water blackout. Before each trainee begins training they must read and sign the form below. The form explains what SWB is and states that if the policy of no hyperventilating is violated the student will be removed from training.


We applaud the US Coast Guard for taking this step to prevent SWB and senseless tragedies!  This is another step in the right direction.

* Special thanks to ASTC Matthew Laub.

Photo courtesy of

Photo courtesy of

Young Boy Saves Teen From Shallow Water Blackout

Staff, swimmers at Palo Alto pool credited with saving teen's life.

Photo and article from Fox affiliate KTVU, Fox2

Photo and article from Fox affiliate KTVU, Fox2



PALO ALTO, Calif. (KTVU) - Staff and swimmers at a Palo Alto country club are being credited with saving the life of a 17-year old boy. They say he nearly drowned, after blacking out at swim practice.

Austin Chase wasn't breathing when staff members pulled him out of the pool. And while they had never dealt with anything quite like this before, they had trained for more

Aquatics Safety Research Group Releases Newest Lifeguard Video: shows why Lifeguards Can’t See – Visually and Mentally

Lifeguards, parents, and other human supervisors continue to miss drowning victims in the water. Who is to blame – Lifeguards? Parents? From decades of drowning prevention research and experience, the new Complex Quadriplex of Lifeguard Blindness video reveals a  hidden culprit – the perils of human sight and cognition.  

 Aquatic Safety Research Group’s brand new Lifeguard Blindness educational video illustrates the four most significant challenges that lifeguards and other supervisors face around the water. More significantly, this video provides strategies to strengthen supervision and supplement supervision with simple and affordable lifesaving strategies.

The four challenges presented include external distractions, internal noise, cognitive body blindness, and perceptual body blindness. Learning about these hidden lifeguard “blindfolds” will raise awareness of these challenges, saving lives in, on, and around the water. This 27 minute video is perfect for lifeguard in-service training and can be viewed one section at time - a must see video for every lifeguard!

The new CQLB – Complex Quadriplex of Lifeguard Blindness video is available with a limited pre-order special at or streaming on demand for 6-month rental or purchase at

and for more information contact
Rachel Griffiths at [email protected]

Drowning Deaths of Two Navy SEALs Were Due to Shallow Water Blackout

Special Warfare Operator 1st Class Brett Allen Marihugh, 34, of Livonia died April 24,2015.  A group of trainees found him and Special Warfare Operator 1st Class Seth Cody Lewis of Queens, New York, at the bottom of a combat training pool. Lewis also died.

Special Warfare Operator 1st Class Brett Allen Marihugh, 34, of Livonia died April 24,2015.  A group of trainees found him and Special Warfare Operator 1st Class Seth Cody Lewis of Queens, New York, at the bottom of a combat training pool. Lewis also died.

The Detroit News has obtained a copy of the results of the Navy's formal investigation of the drownings of two Navy SEAL's at a naval training facility in Virginia this past April.

Please view their informative article about the results of the investigation here

Highlights include:

- Cause of deaths have been ruled as shallow water blackout

- The Navy will now require a lifeguard or first-class swimmer to be present on deck at Naval Special Warfare pools for all conditioning swims other than laps. 

- Signs will be posted in pool facilities expressly prohibiting breath-holding.

- Rear Admiral B.L. Losey, commander of the Naval Special Warfare Command, has ordered a review of all training requiring breath-holding for compliance with safety standards, and for inspections at pool facilities to ensure the proper posting of emergency-response plans and equipment.

- Technically they were abiding by the "two man rule" so their deaths were not due to misconduct, as ruled by the Navy.

“Our commitment to be the best and push ourselves to ever higher levels of proficiency must be tempered by safety compliance that is often learned from a past tragedy like this one,” Rear Admiral B.L. Losey, commander of the Naval Special Warfare Command, wrote in an Aug. 14 letter accompanying the investigation. “Overconfidence is an ever-present risk factor.”

Our deepest condolences to the families of these true American heroes.  

Proposed Regulation for Pool Signage in NYC

The New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene has published a draft regulation that would require all swimming pool operators in NYC to post a sign with a specific image alerting swimmers that underwater breath-holding is dangerous and prohibited.

The department is accepting comments on the proposed regulation
until November 24, 2015, and welcomes our input.

Please click on the link below to comment on the proposed
regulation and show YOUR support.
Lives will be saved!

View more details about the proposed regulation here.