4 Floating Positions That Could Save Your Life

Floating in water isn't just for relaxation; it could help save your life.
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Being stranded in open water without a life vest is a nightmare. If you ever find yourself in this situation without a boat to climb onto or land within a short swim, you need to know what to do to survive.


It's vital that you conserve energy, and the best way to do that is to know how to float. Knowing how to float in the water for long periods of time could save your life in an emergency. Although you often see swimmers floating on their backs, this is just one of many possible positions.

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Relaxing and staying motionless help you float more easily, regardless of the position. The U.S. Navy and the Boy Scouts of America have been teaching survival floating tactics for decades. These methods may be your key to surviving in open water.


No matter how confident you are in your floating abilities, always carry a life jacket on any boating trip.

1. Survival Float

According to the Navy Swimming and Water Survival Instructor's Manual, floating on your back — the most common way people like to float — only works in calm water. If you're in a rough ocean or lake, water can come over the top of your face and enter your mouth and nostrils, causing you to aspirate.

The most effective method of floating while in rough, open water is the face-down float. The survival float uses very little energy, making it ideal for situations when you don't know how long you'll need to stay afloat.


  1. Take a deep breath in and lie on your stomach with your face underwater and your legs dangling. Let your arms hang out to the sides, close to the surface, palms facing down.
  2. With your face underwater, tuck your chin to your chest. It's critical that you remain calm.
  3. When you need to breathe, lift your chin off your chest and pull your arms down toward your body. You may also need to perform one scissors kick to clear the surface.
  4. Exhale as you bring your face back up out of the water.
  5. Take a breath in, hold it and relax completely for a few seconds to drop back into the water.


2. Horizontal Back Float Technique

When performing the horizontal back float swimming technique, you don't use much energy, and you stay fairly comfortable. In the horizontal back float, you lie on your back in the water with your back slightly arched, your arms out to the sides and your legs straight, according to AceBoater Boating License Certification. Your face won't go underwater and your legs, if relaxed, will float.


3. Vertical Back Float

In the vertical back float, as in the horizontal back float, your face remains above the water; however, in the vertical back float, less of your body floats above the water. While your upper chest and your face stay out of the water, your legs drop down below the surface. Keep your arms extended out to the sides and kick only when it becomes necessary to stay afloat.


4. Treading Water

Although it's technically not a type of floating, treading water is how to do the float transition, makes it easy to switch floating positions. Because your head remains completely above the water's surface, treading water is ideal in situations where you need to look at your surroundings. Keeping your arms outstretched, move them slowly just under the surface of the water while performing scissor kicks to stay afloat.

How to Make Your Pants Into a Flotation Device

Pants can be a life-saver when stranded in open water. Pull them off immediately while you're treading water and blow air into one of the pockets so they stay afloat while you're preparing your flotation device.

Tie the pant legs together — a square knot is most effective. Stick your head between the tied pant legs, as you would a life jacket, with the knot around the back of your neck. Once you have the pants securely around your head, spread open the waist band with your hands.

Lift the open waist above your head and then slam the opening back down toward the water. Tightly wrap your hands around the waist band to close it shut, trapping the air. The legs should swell up with air, creating a makeshift life jacket.

If you're wearing shorts instead of pants, you can still use them to make a flotation device. Blow air into both pockets of your shorts and wrap the loose leg openings around your neck. The air in the pockets will help keep you afloat.

And if you're wearing a collared shirt, make sure it's tucked in and buttoned. Blow air into the opening by your collar. Grip the collar shut and trap the air inside. Your shoulders and back will fill with air and help you float. You may have to repeat this motion a few times, depending on how long you're stranded in open water.