Basic Survival Guide in Cold Water

temperaturesPeople often associate landing in ‘Hot Water’ with being in big trouble, but ‘Cold Water’ has some equally problematic scenarios that those working and playing on boats and near lakes, rivers and the deep blue sea should be aware of.

A human body is plunging unexpectedly into shockingly cold water —or anything lower than 20° C (70°F)— can lose its vital heat 25 times faster than it would in an air of equal temperatures. This will instantly cause the body to shiver violently in an attempt to gain warmth, this is, of course, is ineffectual against the cold water rapidly absorbing body heat.

If body temperatures are allowed to drop to 35° C (95° F), cognitive function can be lost, and this causes disorientation, unconsciousness and death soon after that. Surviving a fall into a freezing water will be mostly dependent on understanding the dangers your body will face as heat is lost and, above all, sufficient preparation for any such occurrence.


Anyone operating on a small watercraft should wear a personal flotation device, as should anyone on the deck of a larger vessel if the weather is heavy.

Regular inspections of equipment and safety gear can prevent many accidents, but they might happen, so it is essential that boaters and sports people inform a trusted acquaintances of their whereabouts and estimated return time.

What to Do in the Cold Water

1.First Minute — On contact with cold water, hyperventilation can begin; it is important to gain control of breathing patterns and not panic. The survivor must keep their head clear of the water as they carefully assess the situation and environment.

2.The Next Ten Minutes — The body will usually keep cognitive function for up to ten minutes and much less in colder water or with people more susceptible to low temperatures. The survivor will have this time to plot their escape and perform any tasks that will prolong their survival time.

attempt to swimIt is not recommended that survivors attempt to swim any long distances as this is not likely to end successfully. It is a better idea to search for a floatation device, and survival time is greatly improved with any amount of the body held out of the cold water.

The survivor must then face the possibility that they will pass out in the water and must secure their vital airways clear of the water. It is standard practice for winter sports athletes to allow their arms to freeze into surface ice, thus keeping the head and shoulders clear of the water.

3.The Next Hour — The cold water survivor will then be down to about an hour of useful consciousness, depending on their physical condition and resistance to cold. It is best to conserve warmth in any way possible, adopting an efficient heat position can help to a certain extent.

With a proper personal flotation device, it is possible to keep the airways clear of the water and conserve enough heat to avoid hypothermia until rescue comes, in any case, the chances of survival will be considerably greater.

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