Children are most at risk for it, but drowning can happen to anyone.
In May, a four-year-old boy nearly drowned in his apartment complex pool before another resident came to help. The boy was underwater for more than three minutes.
And on Sunday, the body of 61-year-old "ER" actress Mary Mara was found in the St. Lawrence River near Cape Vincent, New York. Police said the preliminary investigation suggests she drowned while swimming.
Every year in the United States, there are an estimated 3,960 fatal unintentional drownings, including boating-related drownings, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That's about 11 drowning deaths per day.
Some demographics are at a higher risk to drown, like children ages 1 to 4 and males, who make up nearly 80% of people who die from drownings. Factors that might contribute to the gender disparity in drowning deaths could include males' increased exposure to water, risk-taking behaviors and alcohol use, the CDC said on its website.
Drowning death counts vary by race, too, the CDC said.
Drowning death rates for American Indian or Alaska Native people ages 29 and younger are two times higher than the rates for white people.
Rates for Black people are 1½ times higher than the rates for white people. The risk is higher for Black children ages 5 to 9 and 10 to 14.
People with seizure disorders or certain medical conditions are more at-risk for drowning as well, the CDC said.
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What does drowning look like? How to spot swimmers in trouble
People can't expect lifeguards to catch everything, so everyone needs to know what drowning looks like, says Andrea Zaferes, a water rescue instructor at Lifeguard Systems, a New York-based company that trains public safety diving and water rescue teams.
Non-swimmers are fairly easy to spot because they thrash their arms, slapping the water trying to keep their heads above the surface, she said. If these troubled swimmers find themselves in a dire situation in the water, they often cannot yell for help because they are trying to breathe and yelling closes the airways.
It's the poor swimmers who are hard to catch, she said. They use their legs and look like their heads are above water. Because their heads are above water, they may look fine, but really, they may be struggling.
Butch Hendrick, president and founder of Lifeguard Systems and Zaferes' mentor, said drowning is "a reasonably silent event," unlike movies and television where people "are yelling for help and waving their arms."
If someone is moving, but making no progress, they could be in trouble. Even if someone is a good swimmer, they might have drifted out too far, become tired or gotten a cramp, Stephanie Shook, senior manager instructor for Engagement & Quality Assurance for the American Red Cross, previously told USA TODAY.
Someone who is drowning might also have their head tilted back with their body in a vertical position, have their arms pushing downward as if they're standing up from a desk chair, or be floating face-down for 30 seconds or more (don't mistake it for purposeful floating).
For those who spot struggling swimmers and want to help, it's best to stay out of the water if you're a poor swimmer yourself.
Why? Because drowning people will inevitably try to pull you under, Zaferes said.
They aren't trying to hurt their rescuers, but to them, those who come to their aid are buoys.
"You are what's going to keep them on the surface, so they're going to grab onto you with strength like you cannot believe," she said.
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How to prevent drownings
Zaferes said part of the problem is that "people do not respect water."
"If you do not have swim lessons and you are not confident that you can swim for many minutes at a time without touching the bottom, you should not go in water deeper than you can stand in, and wear life jacket," she said.
"If you are a non-swimmer, jumping in water over your head is like running into a burning building."
Zaferes also said beach and pool-goers can use water watcher cards to keep everyone safe. The cards can be printed out and be passed around among adults standing out of the water to designate someone to watch swimmers at a given time, which can avoid the dangerous situation when all the adults in a group assume that someone else is watching the water.
Hendrick said people need to know their real swimming abilities versus overestimating their abilities.
"A person thinks they're a swimmer because they can swim from one side of the pool to the other, but they really are half swimmers," he told USA TODAY. "They can't swim 200 feet away and back. They ended up getting themselves in major trouble."
He also said that so often, people die trying to save others, so he recommends keeping a throw bag on hand at pools or other bodies of water. It's a bag with a rope that people can throw out to troubled swimmers. The swimmers can grab the rope and get pulled in, like with other throwable floatation devices.
Contributing: Ashley May, USA TODAY
Saleen Martin is a reporter on USA TODAY's NOW team. She is from Norfolk, Virginia – the 757 – and loves all things horror, witches, Christmas, and food. Follow her on Twitter at @Saleen_Martin or email her at email@example.com.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Drowning signs: How to spot swimmers in trouble at pool, beach, ocean