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To show that a victim has drowned, rather than resort to showing a blue-faced, bloated corpse, their Nice Hat (or other character specific personal effect) is seen bobbing on the surface of the water. If the particular water hazard was a predator rather than mere drowning, expect a large bite mark taken out of this item. This is subverted frequently, when a hero's hat is floating, sympathizers looking sadly on, only to have the hero show up wondering why everyone is looking at their hat. Sometimes used for Never Found the Body.
A common variant where the victim was already swimming is to have various items of diving gear float to the surface, such as masks, fins or airbottles. The latter is almost always a way to demonstrate that they couldn't possibly have survived.
- The Pokémon episode "The Needs of Three" (DP 151) ended with J's ship being gunned down by Legendary Pokemon Uxie, Mesprit, and Azelf, and falling into a lake and exploding, killing everyone on board. Just right before the ship explodes, J's glasses, can be see floating out of one of the damaged windows and rising out of the surface, implying her death.
- In One Piece, Sabo's signature hat floats to the surface of the ocean after his boat gets attacked for interfering with a nobleman's arrival. Since this is the last one saw of Sabo, it's safely assumed he's dead... He's NOT dead, however - though if not for Dragon and his group fetching him up, he would have died.
- Not a drowning, but in Higurashi no Naku Koro ni when Rena is shot by Takano's men all we see is her hat flying off.
- In the Yu-Gi-Oh Tenth Anniversary Movie, Yugi finds his grandpa's bandana after Paradox attacks the city, killing everyone except Yugi.
- In early episodes of Ano Hana, a shot of a sandal floating downstream is sometimes shown when Cute Ghost Girl Menma's death is mentioned. This is because she fell into a river and drowned.
- Near the end of My Neighbor Totoro, someone finds what they think is one of Mei's shoes floating in a retention pond after she runs away from home. Everyone sighs a breath of relief when her older sister Satsuki sees it and doesn't recognize it.
- Pictured above: In the Haunted Junction anime, the flashback to Hanako-chan's death has her dropping her purse when she's fatally hit by a car.
- Happens in one of the Crocodile Dundee movies. The victim is a bad guy actually captured by Crocodile Dundee. Dundee leaves the victim's hat torn and floating on the water as if an actual crocodile had attacked.
- In the 2000 Les Misérables movie, Javert walks into the water. Doesn't even jump or dive. And his hat floats off his head.
- In the novel, and in the 1982 film, he leaves it on the parapet. Genre Savvy, apparently.
- The guy in the panama hat (listed in the credits as "Panama Hat") from the opening sequence of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade is implied to have died on his exploding freighter off the coast of Portugal when his hat is seen floating in the water near a swimming Indy.
- It's Chaz's floating hairbrush that convinces Stranz he's drowned in Blades of Glory.
- In the film version of James and the Giant Peach, Centipede is left behind fighting underwater ghost pirates. Spider goes back to get him when she sees his hat float up to the surface. Moments later, a pirate's hat emerges, and everyone assumes the pirates have come up to get them. Turns out to be Centipede wearing the spoils of victory.
- A variation occurs in the film version of A Series of Unfortunate Events: when Aunt Josephine is left to the leeches, her banana peel is shown floating to the surface of the lake.
- Another non-drowning example in the 2009 film version of Astro Boy, where Toby's hat is all that is left of him after he gets vaporized.
- Appeared in early storyboards for The Incredibles; the reason why the shot of Helen looking down at the sinking plane after it's shot down lingers for so long is because she was originally watching the hat of an old friend turned Mauve Shirt float past.
- In Up, this is combined with a kind of grim Trophy Room, as Charles Muntz has killed other explorers and, apparently, kept their aviator helmets on stands as a way of keeping track.
- The original Piranha film had a police officer fall into the water during the mass attack near the end. He flails, disappears underwater, and the camera cuts to his hat floating down from the bloody water above through clearer water and onto a carpet of water weeds.
- In The Assassination Bureau, Bostwick and von Pinck see Sonya's fancy hat floating in the canal after telling Muntzof to kill her. They also see Muntzof's body floating nearby, so they assume that Sonya put up a fight and took him down with her. Dragomiloff actually knocked Muntzof into the canal and threw Sonya's hat in the water, and they escaped together in a gondola.
- This is toyed with in, appropriately, Toy Story 3. During his escape from the daycare centre, Woody loses his hat: when the remaining toys discover it, they briefly believe that he has died.
- It helps that Lotso actively implies it when giving it to them.
- Friday the 13th (film) has Jason's metallic hockey mask float down to the bottom of a lake after he was incinerated in the Earth Two's atmosphere.
- Aliens uses this trope to suggest that Newt is dead after an alien grabs her. Ripley sees her doll's head sinking into the water.
- Subverted in Father Goose. After the Catherine is destroyed, Eckland's hat is recovered by the girls in the dinghy, followed by Eckland himself about a minute later.
- One victim's demise in the hands of Leech Man is made apparent with his hat floating on the surface of swamp in The Return of Swamp Thing.
- At the end of Shrek the Third, Prince Charming is crushed by a tower prop by Dragon after Shrek's friends prevent him from killing the titular ogre, when the tower crushes him, his crown is sent flying through the air and onto the ground, signaling his death.
- This also shows up at the end of the original after Dragon eats Lord Farquaad, although the crown bouncing to a stop might also be a subversion since he gets eaten on-screen.
- Toward the end of The Pebble and the Penguin, just right before they actually arrive at Drake's island to save Marina, both Hubie and Rocko are chased by orcas. When they finally arrive at Drake's island, Hubie noticed that Rocko's bandanna got washed up onto the island, but not Rocko himself, and as a result, Hubie actually thinks that Rocko was eaten by an orca. It then turns out that Rocko survived, and he actually ends up saving both Hubie and Marina when Drake's island falls into the sea.
- After Judd is eaten by his pet crocodile Rocky in Eaten Alive, his prosthetic leg floats to the surface of the croc's pool.
- The end credits of The Longest Day are superimposed over footage of an American helmet laying upside down on a beach.
- After the Waterfall Shower scene in Angels Revenge, the Angels force the mooks who tried to capture them to submerge themselves in the pond. One of the mooks is wearing a cowboy hat that floats on the surface after he goes under.
- Yu-Gi-Oh Tenth Anniversary Movie has a rare non-drowning example; after the buildings fall on them, Yugi finds his Grandpa's bandanna in the rubble, to show that his Grandpa was killed. This being a time travel story, this gets fixed.
- In Stargate, Skaara's friend Nabeh liked to wear one of the soldiers' helmets. When they're running from the gliders later, one of the gliders' blasts hits where Nabeh had been, and we see the helmet bouncing out of the dust cloud as Skaara yells his name. In the novelization, later on in the book, a mostly okay Nabeh triumphantly reclaims his helmet in the usual subversion of this.
- Another non-drowning example: Jango Fett's helmet after his beheading in Attack of the Clones.
- Averted in Neal Asher's Gridlinked the psychopathic android Mr. Crane is knocked into a deep river, the idea being that he is very heavy and will sink. This seems to work leaving his signature hat floating on the river. About five seconds later he reaches up, grabs the hat and walks up from the river bed onto the shore.
- In A Series of Unfortunate Events, Aunt Josephine's lifevest is found in Lake Lachrymose
- In Star Wars, one of the Expanded Universe dealing with Boba Fett's rise to fame is tracking down a Niemoidian. After the guy dies, Boba brings back his hat as proof, because his client says "No Niemoidian would ever part with his hat!"
- In The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, only Ichabod's hat is found, along with a shattered pumpkin, after he is ambushed by the Headless Horseman.
- The Adventures of Brisco County Jr used this in the pilot.
- Mr. Howell faked his death on Gilligan's Island by setting his hat on some quick sand.
- Monk uses his jacket to fake his death (long story) in order to go undercover and solve the case without the police (who think he's done the deed) on his back.
- Top Gear and the first Stig's 'death', complete with glove left floating on the sea.
- Dad's Army played with this. Having just rescued Private Pike from a bog, the men see Jones' hat sticking out of the mud. Turns out he'd gone off when they weren't looking to find rope.
Fraser: PUT IT ROOND YER NECK!!
- There's a The Far Side cartoon involving a boy scout troop that does this for humour, although it's quicksand, not water.
- In Little Shop of Horrors, Audrey II, after eating Seymour, spits out his glasses.
- In Britten's opera Peter Grimes, Ellen realised that John, Peter's second apprentice, is dead when his sweater floats ashore.
- In Wicked, Elphaba's witch hat is left behind after her faked death.
- This happened with the bowler-wearing fellow in Time Crisis II.
- If you fall in the water in the Dick Tracy Genesis video game your hat floats to the surface. It also falls off when you die by more violent means.
- In the Sega Genesis Jurassic Park game, if you die as Dr. Alan Grant, his iconic hat comes to rest differently depending on how he died. If you die by a standard Dino attack, he falls flat on his back, his hat falling off his head and landing perfectly on his chest. If you are eaten by a T.Rex, only his hat remains on screen as it slowly drifts to the ground. The trope is played straight if Grant falls in water, all that is left is his hat floating on the surface.
- The World Ends With You subverted due to a rare inversion of Never Found the Body. You steal Minamoto's Hat and it acts as an Infinity+1 Sword however his body didn't dissapear meaning he's still as dead as he was for the rest of the game.
- King's Quest V has a Dummied Out image of Graham's hat over water. This image was recycled for the Fan Remakes of the first two games.
- Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom for the NES had Indy vanish in a poof of smoke when killed, leaving only his hat.
- Happens to Captain LeFwee in Sly 3: Honor Among Thieves.
- The very last scene of the Mega Man Zero series is a shot of Zero's damaged helmet in the dust after the space station Ragnarok disintegrates while falling to Earth. Also falls under Never Found the Body.
- Breath of Fire IV has an especially tragic, non-water-related version: Mami's bells (which she wears in her hair) serve as this when they fall out of the sky after Fou-lu is hit by a massive Fantastic Nuke. What makes this especially tragic: Mami was in fact the warhead for aforementioned Fantastic Nuke, which is an Evil Weapon that literally operates on the principle Love Hurts. And she was explicitly tortured to insanity and then used as a Human Sacrifice to fire the Fantastic Nuke because she was in love with Fou-lu. Mami was also pretty much (with one solitary other exception) the only person to treat Fou-lu with decency, and aforementioned owners of Fantastic Nuke are the direct descendants of the very empire who summoned Fou-lu in the first place and whom he is technically King in the Mountain of--except that his empire is now The Empire and sees him as an Unwanted Revival, and has spent most of the game going to greater and greater extremes to try to kill their own God-Emperor. It is probably not a shocker that this is the Wafer-Thin Mint that shoves Fou-lu affirmedly into Woobie, Destroyer of Worlds territory.
- Noble Six's broken helmet in the opening and post-epilogue cutscenes of Halo: Reach. During the epilogue, his final moments are shown from the discarded helmet's camera, with his head just off-screen.
- Happens in some versions of Oregon Trail if your wagon sinks while crossing a river.
- The Game Over screen of the Metal Slug series has this, accompanied with the words drawn in the sand.
- Subverted in Call of Duty World At War at the end of "Vendetta" when Petrenko must jump into the river to avoid a tank attack: you see Reznov's distinctive fur hat floating in the river in front of you, leaving his fate ambiguous until the next mission when he makes an explosive rescue.
- LEGO Chess has a non-lethal version, with the owner of the hat (either the Pirate or Imperial captain, depending on who won or lost) emerging from under the water, hat still on.
- In Persona 5 Royal, when a main character's sister is hit by a car in a rainy day as she saves her sibling from being hit, the girl's umbrella is seen flying in the air.
- In Disney's Robin Hood, this occurs with the titular character. Needless to say, despite the arrow through the hat, he lives.
- In their adaptation of Peter and The Wolf, the Wolf chases the duck into a tree, and comes out with feathers flying, licking its chops. Subverted when the duck turns up alive at the end.
- In a non-hat variant, it's finding Cody's shredded backpack in a crododile-infested river that convinces the authorities he's drowned in The Rescuers Down Under.
- Return to Neverland subverts it: shortly after Peter and Tinkerbell dive into the ocean to rescue Jane from the octopus, Peter's hat is seen bobbing on the surface of the water. This leads to Hook congratulating himself for finally defeating him... until seconds later, Peter emerges holding the sack Jane is inside of and asks Hook if he missed him.
- Another variation on this trope occurs in the Defenders of the Earth episode "The Ghost Walks Again", where the Phantom falls into a river after being shot. On finding his belt floating in the water, Jedda immediately fears the worst and, when the Phantom is subsequently declared dead (even though his body has not been found) has to decide if she is ready to take over his duties. However, the Phantom has, in fact, survived and is reunited with his daughter by the episode's conclusion.
- The Chip 'n Dale Rescue Rangers episode "Seer No Evil" includes a non-drowning variation on this trope. Here, Chip is seemingly crushed by a falling treasure chest and, when Zipper pulls his hat out from under the chest, the other Rangers mourn his apparent death. However, they then discover that Chip survived by diving into a conveniently placed hole in the floorboards.
- Bart tossing his red baseball cap on to a cardboard box when he ditches the Class Trip to the box factory leads Homer to conclude that he has been made into a box in an episode of The Simpsons.
- Another Simpsons example: season nine's "Simpson Tide," during the random "In The Navy" musical, featuring the actual Village People (though the cop -- who's black in real life -- is shown with yellow Simpsons skin) and Smithers dancing on the submarine—until it begins to dive. Naturally, Smithers disappears, but the Village People aren't so lucky and end up drowning. The only hats that float to the surface are the Construction Worker's hard hat, the cowboy's Stetson, and the Indian's headdress.
- In Brother Bear, we are shown that Kenai's older brother has been killed by his fall from a glacier into the water hundreds of feet below when his hat is found floating.
- In the penultimate episode of Beast Wars the battle between Depth Charge and Rampage ends with a massive underwater explosion followed by various bits and pieces (most notably one of Depth Charge's wings) floating to the surface in a deliberate send up of this trope.
- Looney Tunes: In Speedy Gonzales, a mouse tries to get to the cheese factory without getting captured by Sylvester. He goes and Sylvester eats him offscreen and all that's left of him is his sombrero. Another mouse throws it onto a pile of other discarded sombreros.
- This occurs to a ship-captain extra in the first act of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2003) episode "Junklantis". Curiously, this ends in a shot that's almost an exact mirror of the picture above.
- Non water variant: In Disney's Mulan, the helmet of Shang's father is found in the snow after the troop reach a destroyed town.
- At the very beginning of Cars 2, Finn McMissile actually deploys several fake tires to escape the Lemons' oil rig causing them to think that he has died while escaping into the ocean. However, it's played straight with one of the Pacers on the rig; when McMissile pushes him off the railing, once he falls into the sea, only his wheels remain.
- Used against the Hacker in one episode of Cyberchase (dealing with odds) when the heroes pull a Gambit Roulette on him hoping he'd get sucked into cyberspace after choosing the wrong door.
- A bizarre real life example, in Canada, there was a bizarre string of running shoes washing up on shore, with the feet still in them. They could understand why (ankles are fairly weak, so feet will likely snap off in water, and shoes float), they just had no idea where they were coming from, and why they couldn't find the bodies (which will occasionally float themselves.)