Irish Water Safety Week | How to Avoid Cold Water Shock

This week is Irish Water Safety Awareness Week. Each day this week we are sharing safety tips to help keep you safe in the water.

Today’s tip – How to avoid cold water shock.

Some things like big waves rocking in or a storm cloud bank forming on the horizon can be obvious indicators of tricky and changeable conditions. But others like cold water shock can be much less obvious but pose a very real danger. And cold water shock is one hazard many people just don’t know much about.

What is Cold water shock?

The textbook definition is ‘the sudden lowering of skin temperature on immersion in cold water’. Doesn’t sound too bad? That’s just jumping in the water, right? Well, if you’ve been soaking up the heat all day and your body isn’t use to cold water, aside from being struck by lightning, cold water shock is one of the biggest jolts your body can experience.

Here’s what’s happening to your body

First, closure of the blood vessels in the skin means increased resistance to blood flow. The heart then has to work much harder and your blood pressure increases. At the same time there is a “gasp” response which can result in water being breathed rather than air. At the same time, breathing rate increase dramatically. All these responses contribute to a feeling of panic. And panic in water is something that leads to seriously poor decisions.

This is what you want to avoid and sadly many people have lost their lives because of cold water shock.

How to avoid Cold Water Shock

  • Before jumping into water you should splash some cold water on your face. Just 10 – 15 seconds of this helps your body get use to the lower temperature and the shock passes.
  • Then you should start swimming straight away so your body completely adjusts to the lower temperature.

It’s worth noting this only works with your face and not any other part of your body. If you have no plans to be in the water and are going on a boat or some other water craft, always stick on a life jacket.

float survive cold water shock

If you find yourself suddenly immersed in water and experience cold water shock remember to fight your instincts and float to help increase your chances of survival. By fighting your instincts to panic and just remembering to float until the effects of cold water shock pass and you can catch your breath, before then trying to swim to safety or call for help.

The effects of cold water shock will pass quite quickly, within 60–90 seconds. Floating for this short time will let you regain control of your breathing and your survival chances will greatly increase.

About the Author

Ann Robinson
Has a passion for coastal heritage and maritime history. Loves sharing the best of the Irish coast online. Contact me or follow me on Twitter @AnnRobinson22