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Drowning Doesn’t look like Drowning.

ed note: this article was written in 2010 by Mario Vittone, USCG Rescue Swimmer #368 it has been released into the public domain, and has been reprinted into numerous publications. I tweet it regularly, because its important.

The new captain jumped from the deck, fully dressed, and sprinted through the water. A former lifeguard, he kept his eyes on his victim as he headed straight for the couple swimming between their anchored sportfisher and the beach. “I think he thinks you’re drowning,” the husband said to his wife. They had been splashing each other and she had screamed but now they were just standing, neck-deep on the sand bar. “We’re fine, what is he doing?” she asked, a little annoyed. “We’re fine!” the husband yelled, waving him off, but his captain kept swimming hard. ”Move!” he barked as he sprinted between the stunned owners. Directly behind them, not ten feet away, their nine-year-old daughter was drowning. Safely above the surface in the arms of the captain, she burst into tears, “Daddy!”

How did this captain know – from fifty feet away – what the father couldn’t recognize from just ten? Drowning is not the violent, splashing, call for help that most people expect. The captain was trained to recognize drowning by experts and years of experience. The father, on the other hand, had learned what drowning looks like by watching television. If you spend time on or near the water (hint: that’s all of us) then you should make sure that you and your crew know what to look for whenever people enter the water. Until she cried a tearful, “Daddy,” she hadn’t made a sound. As a former Coast Guard rescue swimmer, I wasn’t surprised at all by this story. Drowning is almost always a deceptively quiet event. The waving, splashing, and yelling that dramatic conditioning (television) prepares us to look for, is rarely seen in real life.

The Instinctive Drowning Response – so named by Francesco A. Pia, Ph.D., is what people do to avoid actual or perceived suffocation in the water. And it does not look like most people expect. There is very little splashing, no waving, and no yelling or calls for help of any kind. To get an idea of just how quiet and undramatic from the surface drowning can be, consider this: It is the number two cause of accidental death in children, age 15 and under (just behind vehicle accidents) – of the approximately 750 children who will drown next year, about 375 of them will do so within 25 yards of a parent or other adult. In ten percent of those drownings, the adult will actually watch them do it, having no idea it is happening. Drowning does not look like drowning – Dr. Pia, in an article in the Coast Guard’s On Scene Magazine: Fall 2006 (page 14), described the instinctive drowning response like this:

  1. Except in rare circumstances, drowning people are physiologically unable to call out for help. The respiratory system was designed for breathing. Speech is the secondary or overlaid function. Breathing must be fulfilled, before speech occurs.
  2. Drowning people’s mouths alternately sink below and reappear above the surface of the water. The mouths of drowning people are not above the surface of the water long enough for them to exhale, inhale, and call out for help. When the drowning people’s mouths are above the surface, they exhale and inhale quickly as their mouths start to sink below the surface of the water.
  3. Drowning people cannot wave for help. Nature instinctively forces them to extend their arms laterally and press down on the water’s surface. Pressing down on the surface of the water, permits drowning people to leverage their bodies so they can lift their mouths out of the water to breathe.
  4. Throughout the Instinctive Drowning Response, drowning people cannot voluntarily control their arm movements. Physiologically, drowning people who are struggling on the surface of the water cannot stop drowning and perform voluntary movements such as waving for help, moving toward a rescuer, or reaching out for a piece of rescue equipment.
  5. From beginning to end of the Instinctive Drowning Response people’s bodies remain upright in the water, with no evidence of a supporting kick. Unless rescued by a trained lifeguard, these drowning people can only struggle on the surface of the water from 20 to 60 seconds before submersion occurs.

This doesn’t mean that a person that is yelling for help and thrashing isn’t in real trouble – they are experiencing aquatic distress. Not always present before the instinctive drowning response, aquatic distress doesn’t last long – but unlike true drowning, these victims can still assist in their own rescue. They can grab lifelines, throw rings, etc.

Look for these other signs of drowning when persons are in the water:

  • Head low in the water, mouth at water level
  • Head tilted back with mouth open
  • Eyes glassy and empty, unable to focus
  • Eyes closed
  • Hair over forehead or eyes
  • Not using legs – Vertical
  • Hyperventilating or gasping
  • Trying to swim in a particular direction but not making headway
  • Trying to roll over on the back
  • Appear to be climbing an invisible ladder.

So if a crew member falls overboard and everything looks OK – don’t be too sure. Sometimes the most common indication that someone is drowning is that they don’t look like they’re drowning. They may just look like they are treading water and looking up at the deck. One way to be sure? Ask them, “Are you alright?” If they can answer at all – they probably are. If they return a blank stare, you may have less than 30 seconds to get to them. And parents – children playing in the water make noise. When they get quiet, you get to them and find out why.

Pool Drains can be Dangerous.
Do you have a backyard pool or spa? Before you or your family jumps into the pool this summer, check the drain. The very quick and valuable lesson on what to look for (and why) is brought to you by the ZAC Foundation. To learn more about how to help keep your family, friends and community safe, visit and

HMCS Onadonga

Back in July 2008, before this blog was a thing, the Tug Jerry Newbery towed the retired sub HMCS Onadonga to Rimouski Quebec where it would become a museum piece at the Pointe -aux Pere Sit Historique maritime. That site includes the Point aux Pere light station, and the Empress of Ireland museum.

The first attempt to get under way didnt even make the Macdonald bridge before the tow line parted, and the pair gingerly made its way back to the Dockyard Jetty NL in Dartmouth. The tow was successfully got under way a few days later.

Saturday, I went to see her.

Onadonga served for 22 June 1967 to 28 July 2000, at which point she was laid up at the Dockyard Annex in Dartmouth, the last of the Oberons to be retired.

When Visiting, you enter at the stern and work your way forward. Though the sub consisted of 2 decks, only the main deck is available to tour. (Above) the 2 16 cylinder diesel engines that power the generators. (Below) the steering position in the Ops room.

(Above) 3 bunks. the hallway is cozy enough that children have trouble passing each other. Note the top bunk, which has a wall at 45 degrees, and a valve sticking out. (Below) the forward torpedo room feels huge by comparison.

The Full gallery of photos can be found on Flickr.


So news broke today of a proposed 300million dollar Titanic Experience. The proposal is by Halifax business consultants Clarke Squires & Associates. Saltwire reported on it, based on the Linkedin Post Below.

Both the Saltwire article and the linkedin post were edited after they were posted. The original Saltwire article this morning indicated that the Titanic Experience would be located at the Port of Halifax, and included details about an aquarium, and that it would feature escape hatches. I assume both have been toned down since they were initially posted.

My Initial Reaction was oh god, that’s horrible. The building looks tacky, like an lightweight industrial building with ship bits attached – think a smaller version of the Assembly hall at Halifax Shipyards. because its not clear its the Titanic, the name needs to be plastered on the Awning over the front door.

Even the concept is ugh. 150 cabins. and escape hatches? Look the titanic was luxurious by ocean transport standards of the day, but compared to a modern cruise ship its tiny – smaller then the modern day Holland America lines callers to Halifax. I get the appeal of a reproduction of the Titanic’s banquet hall, but then just do that and run a banquet facility.

I reached out to the Port Authority – they know nothing about this proposal, and are not providing land. Comments in the Linked in post say location is under NDA, but in an email, Clark Squires indicated “it will be hopefully close to water at or close to Halifax Harbor” that says to me next to a lake in a business park,which is backed up by the architecture. The linkedin post suggests this is part of a larger development, likely ruling out a central location.

Halifax has many Titanic stories. they are currently well told, in a respectful and dignified manner. Halifax is the final resting place for victims of the disaster who were recovered. You can visit there graves at Fairview lawn cemetery. the Cable ships that were sent out to recover them tied up at the Cable Wharf. what is now the 5 fisherman, was the J.A Snow Mortuary, where the bodies were taken. Barnstead lane is named for the corner who pioneered techniques for forensic identification of victims of mass casualty incidents, as he worked to identify the recovered bodies. The Titanic Disaster established the International Ice Patrol. It led to what is now the SOLAS Convention. It directly made shipping safer.

Lots of folks try to make money off the Titanic. A Chinese company is building a sailing replica of the ship you will be able to book a cruise on. RMS Titanic Inc is a thing, and has recovered artifacts from the ship and operates an experience in Orlando Florida of all places.

This proposal just throws kitsch at it, and is all over the place – Hotel, distillery holographic theatre, banquet hall. The aquarium, is kinda garish if you stop and think about it. The proposal looks like an attempt to throw a bunch of cool sounding stuff at a wall and see what sticks. its perhaps surprising that the bow isn’t rigged up for the movie shot. they could probably sell alot of $20 photos.

The proposal is all over the place, and its hard to take seriously. Clark Squires bio on the website is full of buzzwords, and is not particularly readable or understandable also, if your going to pitch a 300million development project, how about not having a gmail address as your primary email contact. How can anyone trust you with details on a 300million dollar project, when you cant even properly brand your email, or pay someone to do it for you.

If we want to celebrate our maritime history, and we should, then this is not the project. This is tourist tackiness that belongs at Niagara Falls, or in Orlando. Battle of the Atlantic place would actually be a benefit to the city, and is 100million less to build.

Search for Missing Vessel – Located!

the 50′ Sailing vessel Strange Situation (above) was expected in Lunenburg on the 25th but did not arrive. The vessel departed Bermuda May 16th, with 3 persons on board.

Earlier today the Joint Rescue Coordination Center released the following two tweets, indicating that a search was underway for a missing sailboat, but no furether information was provided.

thanks the the US Coast Guard, who became involved in the search, we learned complete details about the vessel.

the CCGS Earl grey is searching off the coast of Nova Scotia, between Shelburne and Lunenburg.

Update: the vessel was located in Clarke’s Harbour yesterday evening, and is safe. they have updated the destination with a new ETA.

Know Your Rules

Transport Canada issued the tweet above as part of safe boating week. Its very wrong.

A PCOC per the Canada Shipping Act regulations, is required to operate any pleasure craft. The link in the tweet indicates operators of any pleasure craft with a motor require a PCOC, even if the motor is not in use (ie a sailing vessel) or is a electric trolling motor. The PCOC is proof a person have the basic knowledge to operate a vessel.

So where does this tweet come from? well boats with motors greater then 10 horsepower are required to be licensed. this is synonymous with registering your car at the DMV. a boat license has nothing to do with your ability to operate a vessel, but is issued to the vessel itself.

this is why there are 9.9HP outboard motors – to avoid the licensing requirement.

Many people casually refer to the PCOC as a boat licence, much the same way you have a drivers licence. Transport Canada took the basic requirement for boat licensing, and applied it as the base requirement for a PCOC.

UPDATE: the tweet has been deleted and corrected to remove “of 10HP or more”

Yachts are Back

the yacht Ziggy tied up on the waterfront Saturday morning. it was taking on Fuel.

Ziggy is an Ocean Alexander 35R and was launched in 2021 from the shipyard in Taiwan. She is comes in at 199 Gt. and sleeps 10 guests in 5 cabins, and has a crew of 5 (in 3 Cabins)

registered in the US, the vessel sailed from Newport RI. she is reportedly owned by Michigan couple Bonnie and Harold Zeigler, who own the Ziegler Auto group, which own 78 car dealerships and other related businesses wit a combined 1.7 billion in sales.

PSA Buys Fairview Cove

PSA Halifax has purchased Ceres Halifax Inc from NYK. Ceres has been the terminal operator at Fairview cove since the terminal opened in 1982, with 2 twenty year leases on the terminal. As a result of the purchase, Fairview Cove will retain its name, and the south end terminal will now be known as the Atlantic Hub.

The planned acquisition was previously revealed in a December 2021 competition bureau filing.

Historically there was some competition for carriers between Ceres and Halterm. When Ceres began operating Fairview Cove in 1982, the company’s founder Chris Kritikos was successful in bringing ACL and Hapag-Lloyd to the new Ceres terminal by offering better rates then Halterm. Ceres first year in operation at the Port of Halifax saw the terminal handle 55% of the Ports total volume. To this day, almost 40 years later, both ACL and Hapag Lloyd both still call at Ceres Fairview Cove, though ACL did switch back to Halterm for a period. 

Ceres Terminals  was acquired by Japanese shipping company NYK in 2002. That year Ceres renewed it lease on the terminal for another 20 years, ending in 2022.

The release indicates that PSA will be rationalizing terminal use with a goal of reducing truck traffic – likely smaller ships and RO-RO will begin to call at Fairview cove – I expect to see Oceanex make the move.

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