Did you know that all waters around the UK are cold enough to induce the cold shock effects, even during high summer?
In waters below 15°C, cold water shock is a real threat. When the human body is suddenly immersed in cold water, it undergoes a number of physiological responses. One of biggest of these is the sudden lowering of skin temperature.
The biggest danger of cold water shock is the immediate loss of breathing control. You take one or more huge gasps, followed by hyperventilation. This can lead to inhaling water and drowning.
Cold water shock is much more deadly than hypothermia. The latter kills over time whereas cold water shock can kill within the first minute. About 400 people die annually in the UK as a result of being immersed in cold water – more than die from cycling accidents or fire.
When you are immersed in cold water it creates a “gasp” response and uncontrollable hyperventilation. This increases the chances of inhaling the water and drowning.
You can increase your chances of being able to hold your breath by completing six, three-minute dips in cold water, with your head out of the water. This can as much as halve cold water shock.
What You Should Do
The RNLI outline it in five easy to remember steps with their #FloatToLive message:
- Fight your instinct to thrash around
- Lean back, extend your arms and legs
- If you need to, gently move them around to help you float
- Float until you can control your breathing
- Only then, call for help or swim to safety
If it always better to try and prevent these kinds of things from happening in the first place. If you are going to be around deep water then a wet suit, dry suit and life jacket are essential. You can also pre-cool your skin before entering the water by simply splashing water onto the skin. And of course, always avoid jumping or running into cold water, it should always be entered slowly.
Remain in Control
As difficult as it may be in serious events it is important that you remain in control at all times. Cold water shock will make you want to thrash around but you need to stay calm and do the opposite. Keep your mouth away from the water until you have fought the cold water shock and are able to hold your breath again.
Everybody can float so if you are somebody who thinks that you can’t, your wrong. Sometimes it just takes a little bit of gentle sculling.
As the RNLI put it, ‘fight the inctinct’, and then ‘float’.