Apple’s upcoming smartwatch may have a life-saving feature: protecting you from drowning

A patent filed by Apple imagines a drowning detector integrated into the Apple Watch. In the event of prolonged immersion underwater, the watch could trigger an alarm on all surrounding devices to call for help.

In the summer of 2023, 598 people drowned in France. Among them, 177 lost their lives. A figure down from one year to the next, but still frightening. Worldwide, several thousand people die from drowning every year.


Apple could address this problem with a future version of the Apple Watch (or watchOS, its operating system). As noted by the site Patently Apple, the brand has filed a patent for an SOS system in the event of drowning. Nothing says that it will one day be used, but the operation described in the document seems to hold water.

An SOS triggered on surrounding devices

Today, Apple presents its watch as a health tool. Apple Watch can detect a heart problem, a fall or a car accident. Word of mouth is leading more and more people to buy one to protect themselves in the event of a problem.

In the future, the Apple Watch could tackle an even trickier problem: drownings. The problem is that on average a person loses breathing after 30 seconds, which makes any call for help too slow to be effective.

The sensors of the Apple Watch Ultra 2 // Source: Thomas Ancelle for Numerama
Apple Watch Ultra 2 sensors could be used to detect drowning. // Source: Thomas Ancelle for Numerama

In its patent, Apple details an ingenious system, which could “hack” neighboring devices to help a person in danger:


  • The Apple Watch will first have to make sure the person is actually drowning. The movements will be observed to ensure that it is not a classic swim. The watch could also analyze heart rate and respiratory rate to understand what is happening (a heart attack underwater for example).
  • If a problem is identified, the watch switches to SOS mode. It can trigger the pool alarm (if it has one and has a compatible system) or send a radio signal to surrounding devices, probably iPhones.
  • People around the pool or on the beach receive a sound notification and a message that someone is drowning. It's up to them to become a lifeguard and save a life.
The patent on underwater SOS.The patent on underwater SOS.
The patent on underwater SOS. // Source : Patently Apple

In an ideal world, most public swimming pools could be equipped with an alarm compatible with this technology, in order to increase the chances of rescue. It remains to be seen what frequency Apple uses.

Will this system be added to a future watchOS update or a new Apple Watch? Maybe, if he proves himself. The risk is twofold for Apple, which could not detect a drowning or detect it too late, at the risk of letting the user die, or generate stressful situations with false alerts, by announcing a drowning to all the vacationers around a swimming pool while a person is having fun doing a handstand. The innovation is promising, but still needs to prove itself.