Solved! How to Float on Water Vertically (Without Treading)

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Floating in a pool on a warm day can be such a calming experience.  Often, an inflatable lounger is the go-to that will ensure you’re kept afloat and dry (barring any splashing guests).    

What happens if you’re looking to drift through the water without actually swimming, but you don’t have an inflatable around?  

Fortunately, many of us are able to float on our back for at least a short period of time.  It may not be as relaxing as lounging on an inflatable, but the back float can still satisfy the desired sensation of drifting away.

While the back float is a common technique amongst most swimmers, floating vertically without treading is often more challenging.  Even with the best technique, floating on the water vertically may not be possible for everyone. 

This article will explore how to float on water vertically, and what factors play a role in our ability to float.

Ultimately, if you find that floating vertically is impossible, it may be worth trying to learn to tread water without using your hands.

How to Float Vertically

If you’re unable to float on your back, it’s also unlikely that you’ll find success floating vertically –but, it’s still worth a try!  

Even those that can float on their back, may not find complete success in floating vertically without treading arms or legs.  

Here are recommended steps that can be taken when attempting to float vertically without using arms and legs to tread:

Precautionary Word

To attempt floating in the vertical position, you will need to be in water that exceeds your height.  Do not attempt this without appropriate supervision if you are not comfortable swimming in deep water.

Step 1 – Location

Swim to a location in the water that is deeper than you are tall to prevent your feet from touching the ground.

Step 2 – Deep Breath

Take a deep breath to fill your lungs with air.  The more air you have in your lungs, the more buoyant you will be.

Step 3 – Relax

Allow your body to relax, with arms and legs hanging down.

Step 4 – Spread Arms

Slowly spread your arms out across each side in order to provide a larger surface area for buoyant forces.

Step 5 – Tilt Head

Tilt your head back so that your mouth and nose point up to the sky.  Remain relaxed during this, as sudden muscle tension can affect your buoyancy.

Step 6 – Maintain Air in Lungs

Try to keep a moderate amount of air in your lungs while taking slow short breaths.  Exhaling too much air may cause you to lose buoyancy and sink.

Additional Tips

If you find your face sinking below the water surface, a few other tips to try to improve your buoyancy:

  • Slowly paddle your arms or legs a couple times to re-establish your level. Practice reducing how frequently you need to use your arms and legs to float.
  • Adjust the position of your arms, including different angles or down by your sides.
  • Adjust the position of your head or shoulders.  Try them angled further backwards or even forwards.
  • Change your breathing technique.  Attempt to quickly exhale and inhale during each breath instead of going slowly.

If these steps do not work, your natural buoyancy may require that you have to move your arms up and down periodically to stay afloat –similar to “Drownproofing”.


Drownproofing is a survival technique that has been used for decades, including in the US Navy.  It has been proven successful in allowing people to remain afloat in the vertical position for prolonged periods of time without drowning, even with hands and feet tied.

During this technique, the person is in the vertical position in which the mouth and nose are typically submerged in water.  Arms or legs are exerted downwards to allow the mouth to extend above the water briefly for a quick breath.  

While this technique does require some effort to remain afloat, it may be the closest that some of us can get to floating in the upright position without continuous treading.

Reasons Why We May (or May Not) Float

Our ability to remain afloat without moving depends on our body attributes in addition to the water conditions.

Body Composition

A person’s body composition heavily influences their buoyancy and whether they are a floater or sinker.  

While some may expect that a heavy-set person is more likely to sink than a leaner person, it is more likely that the opposite is true.  Those with a higher amount of body fat may have an easier time floating than those with a lower amount of body fat.

This is because muscle is approximately 15% more dense than fat. Density is the amount of mass across a volume.  

If an object is more dense than water, it will sink; an object that is less dense will float.  Both water and a typical human have similar densities, right around 1.00 kg/l.  

With the average human having a density very close to water, this means that the percent body fat in a person can be a determining factor in how easy it is to float.  

A heavy-set person has more fat (less dense material) that is spread across a larger volume than a lean person does.  This results in a lighter density than that of lean person, making the heavy-set person more floatable.

This isn’t to say that lean people cannot float, as most people are actually considered floaters.  It just may require more practice and differing techniques.  

Lung Capacity

Lungs play an important role in being able to remain buoyant in the water.  Similar to how air allows inflatables to float, air in your lungs can help keep you floating in water.  

The average adult male’s lungs can hold about 6 liters of air.  However, lung capacity varies based on a person’s size, age, gender, and health.  

Maintaining air in your lungs will reduce your overall density and can help keep you buoyant.  

Think of your lungs as being two balloons inside your chest to help keep you lighter.  Those that can hold more air in their lungs may have an increased buoyancy.  

Salt vs Fresh Water

While our bodies play an important role in determining whether we float or not, the salinity of the water can be just as important a factor.

Salinity is the amount of salt in the water.  While salt water is more dense than freshwater, its density can widely vary based on just how much salt is in the water.

The average density of seawater is 1.025 kg/l which increases the buoyancy of swimmers in the water. 

The Dead Sea is a well known tourist destination that has a very high density of approximately 1.25 kg/l –this can keep pretty much anyone afloat without needing to actually swim.  

In general, saltwater pools are not nearly as saline as seawater.  Saltwater pools have a density very similar to standard chlorinated pools.  

If you’re looking for a fool-proof way to easily float in your pool, converting the pool to saltwater may not be the answer.  Although, any addition of salt to the pool will only improve your chances!

Cold vs Warm Water 

While unlikely to be a huge factor in the pool, water temperature does also play into the density of water –and, our relative buoyancy.

For quick reference, the density of water at a few different temperatures:

  • 40°F is 1.000 kg/l
  • 60°F is 0.999 kg/l 
  • 80°F is 0.997 kg/l. 

This means that frigid water at 40°F is only 0.5% more dense than more comfortable water at 80°F.

While cold water may be slightly more dense than warm water, it’s unlikely to make a noticeable difference in floatability. In other words, don’t start chilling down the pool just to help float better as it’s probably not going to be worth the trade-off.  

Why is it Easier to Float Horizontally Than Vertically?

While the horizontal back float can often be mastered by novice swimmers, floating vertically without moving is more challenging for nearly everyone.

It’s more difficult to remain afloat vertically than horizontally due to the laws of buoyancy, as defined by Archimede’s Principle.  This principle states that the force that you are buoyed up is equal to the weight of water that you have displaced.

In simpler terms this means:

  • Lying Down: A person is displacing a larger amount of water across the top of the surface.  This requires the person to sink only a small distance in order to remain afloat.
  • Upright: A person is displacing a smaller amount of water across the top surface.  This requires them to continue sinking further down in order to displace enough water to remain afloat.  

Based on Archimede’s Principle and general human body characteristics, it may be more likely that your mouth and nose will remain above the water while attempting to float on your back versus attempting to float in the upright position.  

Final Takeaway

Unlike the back float, floating vertically in the water without moving is not a feat that most are capable of. The ability to float in general relies on multiple factors, some that are not within a person’s control.

Hopefully the steps provided in this article give you a starting point of how to best attempt this challenge.  If you find that you’re on the verge of keeping afloat vertically, try making minor adjustments to see if you can improve your buoyancy.  

Once you’ve attempted this floating challenge, maybe you’ll be ready to try training your eyes to see underwater without goggles!

Good luck and happy floating!

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