How to Float in Water – Easy to Follow Guide

Whether going to the local park for a swim in the lake, or boarding a ferry for a trip across the bay, spending some time out in the water is almost an inevitability of summer life.

For some, leaving the comfort of dry land and venturing out into the dark blue depths of the open water can be an intimidating experience. This article aims to equip the reader with an increased sense of comfort and confidence in the water by highlighting some of the basic concepts behind a potentially life-saving skill: floating.

With the help of a video walkthrough, this article will provide the reader with a simple, five step process that anyone can use to quickly learn how to float, conserve energy, and build confidence in deep water, in addition to a frequently asked questions section.  

How to Float in Water

In this walkthrough on how to float in water, we will discuss a series of five simple steps that will allow even the most timid of swimmers to develop a sense of comfort and control in the water. For a visual review, be sure to watch the video below, which models each of these steps in a real-life setting.

Step 1. Deep Breath

To begin to build confidence and get a feel for floatation, a swimmer should first find an area to stand in the shallow end of a pool where only their head is out of the water. Once a swimmer has found a sufficiently deep section of the pool, they should then take a deep breath, tilt their head backward, and lift their feet slightly off of the bottom of the pool.

At this point, the swimmer should let their body relax, as the air that is trapped in their lungs should be enough to keep them floating. This step should be repeated a number of times until a swimmer feels comfortable enough to lift their feet off the bottom and float for 5 – 10 seconds.

Step 2. Treading Water

Finding a slightly deeper section of the pool, a swimmer should now attempt to sustain their floatation by making a wave motion with both arms, and an alternating kicking motion with their legs. This step should be treated as a continuation of the first, where swimmers first take a deep breath, lift their feet off the ground, then proceed to make gentle kicking/waving motions to sustain their position in the water. The exact motion of the arms and legs can be seen in the visual walkthrough provided by the attached video.

Step 3.Getting Comfortable in the Deep End

Moving into the end of a pool where a swimmer can no longer touch the bottom can be a scary step. To mitigate the anxiety that can come with the deep water, it is recommended that a swimmer first find a ladder to hold onto in the deep end and simply let themselves get a feel for what it feels like to float in the water with only their arms as support.

Once the swimmer is comfortable moving their feet away from the ladder, they should repeat steps 1 and 2 by taking a deep breath, tilting their head back, and beginning to make gentle treading movements with their legs.

After floating for a bit while holding the ladder, swimmers should slowly breath out and allow themselves to sink under the water to feel the loss of buoyancy that comes with the release of their breath. The swimmer should alternate between floating and sinking a number of times to really get a feel for how a full breath of air impacts their ability to float.

Step 4. Leaving the Ladder

At this point, a swimmer should feel comfortable enough on the ladder to warrant moving out into the deep end with the aid of a floating device (e.g. a boogey board or sealed container). Once the swimmer has pushed off of the ladder with the device in hand, they should again repeat steps 1 and 2: take a deep breath, tilt the head back, begin treading motion.

Initially, the swimmer may wish to hold onto the flotation device for support, but as they begin to feel comfortable in the deep end, they may opt to try briefly floating on their own, making sure to keep the device within arm’s reach. This step should be repeated until the swimmer can remain above the surface of the water without needing to grab the flotation device.

Step 5. Letting Your Body Do the Work!

Before moving on to the final step, a swimmer should be comfortable enough in the deep end to float for long periods of time without the aid of the wall, ladder, or other flotation device. At this point, a swimmer should be ready to ‘test’ their flotation skills by either jumping into the pool and letting their body naturally rise to the surface (i.e. letting the body float to the surface without swimming up to it), or by swimming down to the bottom of the pool and allowing their body to naturally float upwards. It is important to remember here that they key to floating is to take a large breath prior to jumping in/swimming down, and then letting your body relax and float to the surface.

Pros and Cons of Learning to Float in Water

Here are the main pros and cons of learning to float in water:

PROS

Safety

Aside from being a generally useful skill, being able to float can be a lifeline in a dangerous situation in the water. Learning how to relax and let the body naturally float allows a swimmer the chance to conserve energy and remain stationary in the water, something which could be of vital importance for a stranded, tired swimmer.

Confidence

All life-saving skills aside, learning how to float can be an incredibly simple way to build a swimmer’s confidence in the water. Being able to take a rest in the water gives an individual the ability to relax, avoid panic, and be confident in their swimming ability.

CONS

Not All Body Types are Created Equal

Unfortunately for many, floating may not be as easy as leaning back and holding in a big breath. As discussed above, flotation is the result of a difference in density between the human body and the water it would displace. This necessarily means that individuals with a higher percentage of fatty tissues will, in most cases, have an easier time floating in water than those with a more athletic build due to fat tissue being less dense than muscle. However, even the slimmest, most athletic swimmers should still be able to develop the technique and confidence required to float, though it may be a bit more difficult.

Conclusion

Whether at the beach or on a boat, swimming in a lake, or rafting through a river, having the ability to float in water without a flotation device is a simple skill that will give even the most naïve swimmer some peace of mind in the open water.

Due to the natural composition of the human body, a swimmer need only take a deep breath, position their body for maximum buoyancy, and relax successfully float in water. Through the five simple steps highlighted above, this article has given anyone with access to a pool or lake the opportunity to develop confidence in the water while simultaneously acquiring a potentially life-saving skill.

People Also Ask

While the five step process above should be sufficient material for even the most naïve of swimmers to learn how to naturally float in the water, there are a number of questions/concerns that an inexperienced swimmer may have during the learning process. The following five questions seek to answer some of the most common questions on flotation, with the hopes that each of the provided responses may provide swimmers with the additional confidence or instruction needed to master this simple skill.

Can Everyone Float Water?

In short, no. While most issues people may face while learning how to float may be due to inexperience, anxiety, or poor technique, the composition of the human body places an integral role in the ability to float in water. Specifically, the density difference between fatty tissue and muscle can make flotation harder for athletic, lean individuals, than for people with a larger build. However, with proper technique and confidence, even the leanest individual can learn to float.  

Why Do I Sink When I Try to Float?

While there are a number of reasons why an individual may sink when attempting to float, the most common two are a) being to anxious/tense, and b) poor body position/breathing.

What Makes a Person Float in Water?

This one comes back to grade school science class! Whether it be a giant ship, a piece of wood, or even a human, an object will only float if its density by volume is less than the equivalent density by volume of the water it displaces. In simpler terms, for a wood block to float, the density of that cube must be less than the density of water in the exact shape of the wood cube.

The resultant floating effect is ultimately the product of gravity, where denser materials (in this case, water molecules) are pulled relatively ‘harder’ by Earth’s gravity, meaning they will always find themselves, below, or closer to Earth’s surface, than less dense material like wood. This means that in an environment where gravity is minimal, like aboard the International Space Station, objects won’t float!

Why Can't I Sink in Water?

In most situations, it is rather fortunate that our bodily composition makes it relatively difficult to sink in water. Due to the relatively low density of fat tissues and the large pockets of air created by our lungs, our bodies are naturally resistant to sinking in water because they are, on average, less dense than the water they would displace. However, most people can intentionally sink by slowly releasing the trapped air from their lungs.

Can You Float in Water Without Moving?

Yes! In fact, limiting movement is the best way to float, and more importantly, a great way to conserve energy in a potentially dangerous situation. Though floating shouldn’t be the first plan of action in an emergency situation in the water, it is a much better alternative to panicked swimming/treading, which can ultimately result in rapid energy drain and a loss of buoyancy for an untrained or exhausted swimmer. By limiting body movement, a swimmer can maneuver their body into a position that is optimally buoyant, preserve energy, and keep their head above water.  

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