Float like a butterfly, sink like a brick

Float like a butterfly, sink like a brick[1]

Well, maybe not like a butterfly –sad when they are floating on water.
OK…so, I got carried away with the idea of a catchy headline….

How about, Float like a Seal OR Sink Like a Brick?

That just about sums up the problem we all face in the water.

It’s little comfort I guess when you are learning to swim, but I can reassure you ….


It may not be quite as swift as the proverbial brick but that sinking feeling – it seems to start with your legs – is real enough for many if not most people. And reason enough for many to have second thoughts about staying afloat.
Here’s why!

  • We can’t escape the force of GRAVITY in the water.  It works in the same way as it does in air or a vacuum.[2] It pulls us ‘down’. On terra firma, it’s a swift descent and the ground stops us going any further.

Water is 800 times denser than air so in the water it happens in slomo.

We also have a ‘centre of gravity’, which is where our ‘mass’ is concentrated. It wont be a surprise to anyone to know that it is approximately around our ‘waistline’.
We are most stable- steady – when gravity acts directly down through our ‘centre’.
If we tilt off centre, as we also know too well, and we will feel like we are toppling over.
Our reflexive response is to take evasive action. In the water beginners get their feet back on the bottom as quickly as they can.

If you have watched beginners as they learn to float on their back, it’s often obvious where gravity is pulling. Their seat begins to drop, they tuck and sink.

And then there is the DENSITY of the ‘object’- that’s you and me.

Anything LESS dense than water will float.
Anything more dense will SINK

YOU – your bones are denser than water (so they will sink.)

And of course, we have a lot of them, bones that is– including some quite big ones.
From head to toe:  skull, shoulders, arms, hands, chest, spine, pelvis, legs, ankles and feet.
Chunky bits of scaffolding which give us our shape and ‘substance’.

The foot bone’s connected to the leg bone – the leg bone’s connected to the knee bone- the knee bone’s connected to the thigh bone – the thigh bone’s connected to the back bone- the back bone’s connected to the neck bone- the neck bone’s connected to the head bone….

And …as the song[3] goes, they are all CONNECTED and joined together

The biggest and longest bones – with our biggest muscles attached -are in our legs.
When they begin to sink, we are going to notice. They are connected to our centre of gravity*.

You are not likely to remember the song once your legs begin to drop…
Followed inevitably by your hips as you slip and slide from horizontal to vertical.  You have other things on your mind!

In the water vertical is not the easiest position to maintain – unless you have rehearsed a solution.[4]

It’s no comfort either, that most of the rest of you, connective, muscle, organs and every other type of tissue attached to those dense bones, also sinks- or at best only just about floats- usually just below the surface.

BUT, you say “I CAN FLOAT!!!”                                  

TRUE….and here’s why…


Some of us have more than is almost certainly good for us.
And however hard we try to hide it-  we all know where it ‘shows’.  
Around our middle, our waistline* – out front and ‘behind’.
I float better now than I have ever floated (!)
Many children float better than others too.

It’s bizarre I know – but as it turns out, that’s rather convenient when it comes to exploring your own buoyancy and ability to float, as a toddler or young child.
And for some of us later in life as well.

Those of us with ‘more’ have an advantage over those of us with ‘less’.
If the lean, ‘athletic’ beginner, “with less” wants to join those of us with ‘more’ – they will need to have something else going for them.


IDEALLY tucked out of the way – inside somewhere – like some canoes and kayaks…?


Our Lungs and the air in our LUNGS are quite big airbags![5]    

THANKS MOSTLY TO THEM – We ALSO have a so called ‘Centre of Buoyancy’

It is situated up there in our upper body- our chest.

If I take a big breath and hold it – and with a little help from my spreading waistline – I’m there…floating…

If I totally relax, then my centre of gravity will swing below, directly in a line with my centre of buoyancy to stabilise me. (Stable equilibrium – even sounds cool)

I will be vertical but if I have taken a big enough breath my face will be out of the water.

And if I have enough ‘natural’ buoyancy material on board it might even cause amusement.[6]

How important then are those big breaths when we are exploring and discovering that we can float – sort of seal like…….?

But let’s not push the similarity too far….eh?

The point is that once we have mastered the art of using what we have got going for us anyway, that sinking feeling is not something that will concern us much in the future. Believe me!

[1] With apologies to the boxer Muhammad Ali

[2] However, the force of Gravity pulls on the water too.

[3] Dry Bones is a ‘gospel’ or spiritual song; lyrics are taken from the Biblical book of Ezekiel.

[4] A well known self rescue skill is ‘Treading Water’

[5] Most people can hold about SIX (6) litres of air in their lungs.

[6] www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2922229/Meet-human-buoy-Gravity-defying-grandmother-67-float-water-UPRIGHT-without-sinking.html