The role of bystanders during rescue and resuscitation of drowning victims

Resuscitation. 2010 Apr;81(4):434-9. doi: 10.1016/j.resuscitation.2010.01.005. Epub 2010 Feb 10.


Background: Bystanders make a critical difference in the survival of drowning victims. Little information on their role before arrival of the Emergency Medical Services (EMS) is available in the scientific literature. In a descriptive study, this role is investigated.

Methods and results: We studied 289 rescue reports (1999-2004) available from the Dutch Maatschappij tot Redding van Drenkelingen (Society to Rescue People from Drowning), an organisation that, since 1767, acknowledges awards to bystanders who have contributed to the survival of a drowning victim. There were 138 variables retrieved from these reports. The Utstein Style for Drowning (USFD) was used as a guideline. Of the 26 USFD parameters on victim and scene information, 21 were available for analysis. Eight non-USFD parameters, defined by the authors of this research, were available in >60% of the cases. There were 343 victims, rescued by 503 rescuers. 109 victims were resuscitated by bystanders. Of the 18 victims who first received resuscitation from bystanders and then consequently from pre-hospital professionals, 14 survived. Rescues often occurred in dangerous circumstances: multiple victims (n=90/343), cold or ice-cold water (n=295/341), deep water (n=316/334), swimming to the victims (n=262/376), young age of rescuers (the youngest rescuer was 5 years of age).

Conclusions: Bystander rescue and resuscitation of drowning victims seems to contribute to a positive outcome. Bystanders are prepared to take responsibility to rescue a drowning victim in spite of significant dangers. The USFD is helpful in understanding the role of bystanders in drowning situations, but may need modification to become more instrumental.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation
  • Child, Preschool
  • Humans
  • Near Drowning / therapy*
  • Rescue Work*
  • Resuscitation*