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Cold Water Shock - Advice from the RNLI

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cold water shock

Cold Water Shock
When your body enters water below 13oC three key changes happen to your body that greatly increase your risk of drowning quickly.  Watch this short video from the RNLI to find out how best to reduce this risk.

What is cold water shock?
When sailing or boating on water at sea, in a river or on a lake there is always the risk of falling into the water.  If the water temperature is below 13oC then no matter of how strong, fit, thin, fat, old or young you are cold water shock could happen to you.
When the human body is immersed in cold water the skin temperature rapidly drops this causes:

  1. the heart to beat faster
  2. blood pressure to increase
  3. lose control of your breathing

The loss in control of breathing is the biggest risk to drowning.  You start to hyperventilate (over breath) and you can't hold your breath. Normally you can hold your breath for a minute when in the air but that reduces to just a few seconds when immersed in cold water.  You only have to inhale the equivalent of about a third of a normal breath of water (2-3 pints) and you pass the lethal point for drowning.

If you survive this initial stage then the coldness starts to impact the functioning of bodies blood and muscles.  As you try to swim you become weaker and lose coordination.  Even the strongest of swimmers will lose the ability to swim and become upright in the water within 15-20 minutes just struggling to keep their airways clear of the water.

  

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