Skip to Content

Can You Swim In Quicksand? (Easily Explained!)

Swimming is somewhat possible in quicksand. However, this amounts to more like wading rather than swimming.

Oops! The simple sentence conveyed the complex meaning. But don’t worry, keep reading the article and once you finish it you’ll have no more confusion about swimming in the quicksand.

Man sinking in the quicksand - can he swim
Hand sinking in quicksand, trying to get out, tips to survive in the desert, buried

What Is Quicksand?

According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, the definition of quicksand is ‘a deep mass of loose sand mixed with water into which heavy objects readily sink.’ [source]

Quicksand is simply sand, silt, or grainy soil ultra-saturated with water. It is a combination of clay, saltwater, and fine sand. The mixture can form close to the edge or periphery of natural water sources, such as riverbanks, lake shorelines, tidal flats, marshes, beaches, and close springs. Practically anywhere the earth becomes waterlogged. As quicksand is the typically wet sand, it is improbable for humans to swim in it.

The most infamous region for quicksand is Morecambe Bay, Yorkshire, located in the northern section of England. The bay is shallow and very broad.

Regular wet sand consists of approximately 25 percent water, while on the other hand, quicksand has over 70 percent. [source]

When pressure is applied, the combination converts from compact sand lying on the water to a dense, molasses-like mixture. The sand becomes loose and sinks and then compacts around the legs of the individual, ultimately causing them to be stuck. Depending on the body’s position, being trapped in quicksand can impair breathing. The feeling would be more of suffocation due to the pressure and deep sense of being gripped and stuck. 

When individuals are in the areas listed above, be vigilant and look for sand with a rippled or spongy appearance.

In Swimming: How dangerous is it to swim in the Amazon River?

How Dangerous Is Quicksand?

According to a study published in the journal ‘Nature,’ researchers indicated that trapped individuals in quicksand float when their body is halfway in rather than sink to the bottom, contrary to popular belief. [source]

Quicksand has the appearance of a solid, to the point that if an object or an individual steps lightly on the surface, it has the potential to support the weight. However, a firm or forceful movement will separate the sand and water, causing the object or individual to sink. 

The good news is that just being stuck is not a fatal scenario because the human body is more buoyant, with an average density of 62 pounds per cubic foot compared to quicksand’s 125 pounds per cubic foot. 

The real dangers lie in heat and physical exhaustion, starvation, dehydration, and hypothermia. Physical exhaustion is the main contributor because of the amount of energy expended when trying to become unstuck. 

Most occurrences of quicksand are no more than a few feet deep therefore drowning in quicksand is impossible as the individual would have to force their head into the sand on purpose. However, nearby rising tides can result in a drowning hazard. 

What Lies At The Bottom Of Quicksand?

As quicksand is no more than a few feet deep, there is nothing more than sludge beneath the top layers of sand, clay, and water. After the sludge, mostly there is the rock layer. 

Has Anyone Died From Quicksand?

In 2015, a 50-year-old Texan man, Joe Rey Escobedo, allegedly died from being stuck in quicksand after swimming in the San Antonio River. Four days after being reported missing, Game Wardens discovered his body lodged in quicksand. [source] During the five years prior, 580 deaths occurred on lakes and rivers. This death was the first to involve quicksand.

In January 2012, a British female visitor to the Caribbean island of Antigua was on the beach during low tide, watching the sunset. According to reports, her cries for help went unheard when she became trapped in quicksand. The high tide rolled in before her rescue party could find her, and she drowned. [source]

Liquefaction is also a dangerous natural phenomenon created by a natural disaster such as an earthquake stirs up sand and or soil with water. It is known as the deadliest form of quicksand in the world.

The structural integrity of the liquefied soil is lost, allowing it to flow resembling a liquid, devastatingly weakening foundations resulting in the collapse of buildings and other structures. 

For example, the 1964 Niigata earthquake resulted in this phenomenon, killing roughly 36 people. In 1989 Loma Prieta, California earthquake resulted in liquefaction of the soil used for filling in the lagoon, killing approximately 63 people. [source]

Another variation of quicksand, known as dry quicksand, is potentially fatal to humans, even though there are no confirmed occurrences naturally. Grains of sand that form a very loose structure unable to support its weight are known as dry quicksand. 

An example of dry quicksand is a silo full of grain. Any object with adequate weight will immediately sink when placed on dry quicksand. The loose structure will automatically collapse on itself, completely burying its victim. 

How To Escape Quicksand 

Every expert on the topic suggests that the first thing anyone trapped in quicksand should do is remain calm. This action is crucial as the individuals struggle to get free, the more they become stuck, as the sand grains become compact around the submerged body parts. Aggressively attempting to escape will result in more sand compacting around you. 

  • Control your breathing. Breathing heavier than usual will increase the body’s buoyancy while calming you down so that you can think more effectively. 
  • Leaning back will distribute the body weight over a larger area. If you have a trekker or walking stick, place this behind you before lying backward. This action will assist in stabilizing your body while you try to escape. 
  • Slowly rock back and forth to allow water to enter the spaces created, loosening the quicksand’s grip on the ensnared limbs. The process will be prolonged, as the force required to lift a medium-sized car is needed to move your foot one centimeter per second. [source]
  • Try always to have your arms and head above the quicksand so that if help arrives, you can grab hold. Even though this can be dangerous for the helper, they should ensure that they pull steadily and slowly, as yanking will only worsen the situation. 

Why Do Mules Not Sink In Quicksand?

Commonly compared to the donkey, mules are said to not sink in quicksand. Both animals will become submerged in quicksand if they struggle to get out. The donkey is fearful and anxious, and they fight to get free and become stuck more firmly in the quicksand. 

However, the mule remains relaxed and calm. The animal immediately sits down, preventing the quicksand from pulling it down quickly.