What Is Survival Floating in Swimming?

A man is floating in the water.
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Whether you're a commercial fisherman or weekend kayaker, being stranded in open water without a life vest is the ultimate nightmare. If you ever find yourself in this situation without a boat to climb on to or a short swim to land, you need to know what to do to survive. It is vital that you conserve energy, and the best way to do that is to know how to survival float. The U.S. military 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.

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Pants/Shorts Make-Shift Life Jacket

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

Shirt Flotation Device

If you are wearing a collared shirt, make sure it is 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 are stranded in open water.


Face-Down Survival Float

According to the U.S. Naval training on survival floating, floating on your back, the most common way people like to float, works only in calm water. If you are 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. Take a deep breath and let your arms hang out in front of you, close to the surface, with palms facing down. Lower your face underwater, placing your chin to your chest. It is critical that you remain calm. To breathe, lift your chin off your chest and pull your arms downward toward your body. You may also need to perform one scissors kick to clear the surface. Clear the air from your lungs and then take another deep breath and perform the flotation again.