A simple technique for surviving while awaiting rescue at sea that saved the lives of teachers and children following the March 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami is spreading across the globe.
The method is called "uitemate," meaning "float and wait" in Japanese. It entails floating spread eagle face up while awaiting rescue and was conceived by Hidetoshi Saito, chairman of the Society of Water Rescue and Survival Research and a professor of engineering at the Nagaoka University of Technology.
On March 11, 2011, children and faculty at a seaside elementary school in Higashi-Matsushima, Miyagi Prefecture were forced to evacuate to their school gymnasium in the minutes following the quake.
Some of the teachers and kids were caught in the rising waters in the massive tsunami that followed, but they survived the harrowing experience by using the uitemate technique.
Saito has been promoting this method since 2000, and paramedics with the society regularly hold lectures in elementary schools across the nation to instruct kids in drowning prevention.
In many cases, a person trapped in deep water is likely to remain upright. With only their head above the water surface, the entire body sinks if the person tries to attract the attention of rescuers by waving their arms in the air. In a worst-case scenario, the person can drown in a matter of minutes.
Uitemate is superior to the upright position because it enables people in trouble to breathe while floating face up and conserve their energy while lying motionless instead of flailing about.
"Don't force yourself to swim, just float your body like a leaf on the water," said Yuji Tamura, deputy chairman of the society and associate professor at the Tokyo University of Marine Science and Technology. "It's a very simple method."
Uitemate, both its concept and Japanese name, is catching on in other Asian nations. The method began gaining international attention when Saito and others introduced uitemate at the World Conference on Drowning Prevention in Vietnam in May 2011.
In June 2012, an international workshop titled "Uitemate 2012" was held in Tokyo. Participants from the United States, the Philippines and other nations received instruction in becoming uitemate trainers.
In Thailand, 20 lectures were held in 2013 alone, resulting in more than 1,000 new uitemate trainers. The Life Saving Association of Sri Lanka is also helping spread the method throughout the island nation.