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If you are underwater (by more than 1 block) and you run out of air and start drowning, you can't actually swim back up to the surface! Is there any way to actually survive if you are drowning?

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Are you sure that's a thing that happens? Couldn't reproduce on beta 1.8.1. –  lunboks Sep 17 '11 at 10:17
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Really? I'm playing Beta 1.8.1 SMP and while I was drowning I was trying to surface, but each time my character lost health he would get moved back down. –  DanielGibbs Sep 17 '11 at 10:22
    
@lunboks I can back DanieL on this one. I have had this happen to me several times on the most recent build –  AndyPerfect Sep 17 '11 at 10:23
    
I too can confirm this. It also happened on earlier builds (such as 1.7.3), btw. –  Lg102 Sep 17 '11 at 11:10
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As badp points out, swimming up falling water is much slower than swimming up standing water. Enough so that the knockback from drowning damage prevents you from making any progress at all. –  Ben Blank Sep 17 '11 at 15:18

4 Answers 4

up vote 14 down vote accepted

You are trying to fight downwards current, so your progress is much slower. The only suggestion I can give you right now is to try and strafe against a vertical surface and place a sign there to give you breathing room, then continue fighting your way up.

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Doors and sugarcane also displace water blocks. Even a torch will displace water for long enough to catch a breath. –  Fambida Sep 17 '11 at 12:41
    
Cool, thanks badp and Fambida. I'll have to make sure I always carry a sign/door/ladder/torch/sugarcane with me when I'm working underwater. –  DanielGibbs Sep 18 '11 at 9:58
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Also, a ladder. It doesn't open a popup window like the sign, doesn't block your way like the door, doesn't go out instantly like the torch and doesn't block your line of sight like the sugarcane. –  Septagram Oct 26 '11 at 20:02
    
But torch seems to be the quickest way to do it - and it's probably in your quick slots anyway. –  Septagram Oct 26 '11 at 20:03

Sink to the bottom and place a door. A door block counts as having air, even if placed underwater.

When you can't swim up while drowning, it's because the water you're in is actually a downward flow block. When you diggy-diggy-hole underwater, the hole is filled with downward water flow, rather than the still water that makes up the rest of the ocean. This downwater flow will hinder you when trying to rise to the surface.

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I can confirm that the water you are in does not have to have a downward flow to trap you. Sometimes when you start drowning, even if you've got plenty of upward momentum in perfectly still water, every time you get hurt the game pushes you down with enough force to prevent you from swimming up to the surface. –  user13458 Oct 26 '11 at 18:20
    
Just because the top of the water is still, the rest can still be flowing. –  Timtech Aug 23 '13 at 22:14

If you place a torch against a block at head height it'll create a (very) temporary air bubble that will replenish your air. Placing a sign, a trapdoor, or a fence will make a permanent bubble. If you dig into the wall sideways you can create a passageway that will automatically be air-filled. ...and if you're standing on the bottom you can place a door or some sugar cane. Finally, even while swimming in the middle of a huge ocean you can use an empty bucket on the block right in front of your face and it'll temporarily be air; that may save you.

My testing confirms that swimming up in water that has a current is slower and it's much harder. I hear that armor also slows you, but my minor testing of the moment is inconclusive.

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When you are in the water, try to place blocks on the ground so you can jump on them to get out of the water.

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Surely it's much quicker to just swim upwards? –  fredley Apr 27 '12 at 20:15

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