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Suffocation is a game mechanic which occurs when a player or mob's upper body is inside a solid block, preventing them from breathing, similar to realistic causes of suffocation. Suffocation can also occur by having a player's upper body in water for long enough that their air meter has become empty. When a player dies of suffocation, the contents of their inventory will spill out onto the ground and remain somewhere near or inside the block where he/she died, unless keep inventory is on.

Sources of suffocation

  • Drowning of a mob or player in water.
  • Sand or gravel is arguably the most common way of suffocation after water. Standing directly under sand or gravel when it is falling will cause it to begin suffocating a player once it makes direct contact with them.
  • Riding a boatminecart or pig or throwing an Ender pearl into a 1 block high area.
  • Using bonemeal on mushrooms or saplings to instantly grow them directly under a mob or player.
  • Using faulty piston mechanisms.
  • Standing or swimming where water and lava are about to make contact could place an obsidian, stone or cobblestone block where a player's head is, causing them to suffocate.
  • Squids and fish suffocate outside of water.
  • Tamed wolves and cats might suffocate when they teleport to their owner, if they teleport directly into a wall.
  • There is a glitch that can cause a player to suffocate whilst walking down a diagonal stone tunnel for no apparent reason.
  • Sleeping in a bed with blocks one block above ground adjacent to it may cause a player to suffocate when they wake up.

Preventing Drowning in Water


A gif of the player losing bubbles.

When a player or mob is submerged in water long enough that their air meter has fully emptied, their health bar will start to lose half a heart every second. Other than simply swimming up to the water's surface every so often for air, there are a few situations where a player can stay underwater for a longer period, even indefinitely, effectively preventing suffocation:

  • A potion of Water Breathing will temporarily prevent a player's air meter from depleting, allowing him/her to stay underwater until it wears off.
  • Eating an enchanted apple will grant a player a similar temporary Water Breathing effect as the potion mentioned above.
  • The Respiration enchantment allows a player to stay underwater for a longer period before succumbing to drowning, as the air meter will drain at a slower rate. However, this will not make a player completely immune to drowning, as he/she will still eventually run out of air.
  • Having a boat on hand since the boat will automatically float to the surface when placed underwater. However, since the boat will float upwards immediately after placement, a player must right click on it quickly in order to get in it.


  • The best way to avoid suffocation from gravel or sand when mining is to first place a torch directly under the blocks expected to fall and then mine the blocks above it. The falling gravel or sand will drop as an item when it hits the torch.
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