Donate now

How to float

If you find yourself in trouble in the water, you can help yourself get back to safety by learning to float. Floating minimises your risk of gasping uncontrollably and breathing in water, which can quickly lead to downing. Here’s how to do it. 

A man floating in water

1. Fight your instinct to thrash around

First, keep calm and try not to panic. Your instinct will be to swim hard – don’t.

Fight your instinct to thrash around

2. Lean back

Lean back, extending your arms and legs, to keep your mouth and nose out of the water and your airway clear.

Lean back

3. Gentle movements

If you need to, gently move your arms and legs in a sculling motion to help you float.

Gentle movements

4. Catch your breath

Float until you can control your breathing. Do this for 60-90 seconds or until you feel calm.

Catch your breath

5. Now think about how to get out

Only now can you think about the next steps. If you can, swim to safety. If someone is nearby, raise a hand and call for help.

Now think about how to get out

Remember, if you find yourself in trouble in the water – Float to Live.

‘What if I can’t float?’

After the launch of our Float to Live campaign in 2017, we heard back from people who told us the advice had helped save their lives – but also from people who believed they were unable to float.

So we’ve been working with Professor Mike Tipton MBE, University of Portsmouth, and his team to research floating ability and techniques.

We’ve done tests with people of different ages, genders, body types and clothing, in both waves and calm water. 

And the results have surprised both us and the participants.

Firstly: almost everyone can float if they take the right steps, and most people find it easier than they expect. Regardless of who you are or how you’re built, most of us can float with no, or a small amount of effort.

Secondly: one of the first things some people try to do is strip off their clothes, thinking they’ll make them sink. But clothing can aid your buoyancy in the first few moments of getting into trouble, particularly if you’re lying back resting horizontal in the water as air gets trapped between the layers.

Mike stresses the importance of not fighting the water: ‘During that initial minute or so of floating, your body will regain control of your breathing, it'll regain control of your heart rate, and you'll start to think straight. You can plan your next move.

‘Apart from panic, one of the biggest barriers to floating is confidence. But most people can do it.

'A little practice will prove this. Don’t wait until you’re in an accident, go to your local pool to practise in a controlled environment.

Find out more about floating on our Respect the Water page.