Cold Water Shock

When providing pontoons, ultimately our role is to provide a working platform that ensures you’re safe and secure whilst working on water and for very good reasons. Falling into water even whilst wearing a life jacket or buoyancy aid can be potentially fatal.

What’s the risk?

Anything below 15°C is defined as cold water and can seriously affect your breathing and movement, so the risk here in the UK, is significant most of the year.

The average UK and Ireland sea temperatures are just 12°C. Rivers such as the Thames are colder! Even in the summer.

What is cold water shock?

Cold water shock causes the blood vessels in the skin to close, which increases the resistance of blood flow. Heart rate is also increased. As a result the heart has to work harder and your blood pressure goes up. Cold water shock can therefore cause heart attacks, even in the relatively young and healthy.

The sudden cooling of the skin by cold water also causes an involuntary gasp for breath. Breathing rates can change uncontrollably, sometimes increasing as much as tenfold. All these responses contribute to a feeling of panic, increasing the chance of inhaling water directly into the lungs.

This can all happen very quickly: it only takes half a pint of sea water to enter the lungs for a fully grown man to start drowning. You could die if you don’t get medical care immediately.

How can you minimise the risk?

If you enter the water unexpectedly:

  • Take a minute. The initial effects of cold water pass in less than a minute so don’t try to swim straight away.

  • Relax and float on your back to catch your breath. Try to get hold of something that will help you float.

  • Keep calm then call for help or swim for safety if you’re able.

RNLI advice

Wear a flotation device. It greatly increases your chances of making it through the initial shock stage, holding your head above the water, and will keep you alive when cold prevents you from swimming. Life jackets should have a splash guard, a light and crotch straps or similar.

Content taken from RNLI Website, click here for more information