Cold water shock is a killer – Here’s how to avoid it

Summer is here and a lot of us will be taking full advantage and heading towards the coast. And as we all head to the beach to soak up the rays and cool down in the sea it’s worth keeping in mind that we still have to be smart around water. Cold water shock is one of those little known hazards that can really put you in danger and is definitely worth knowing more about.


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.
  • If you get in to trouble fight the instinct to panic, lean back and float until you get control of your breathing.

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. For more information, check out the RNLI information page.

Whatever you do by the beautiful Irish coast, be smart and enjoy!

About the Author

Daniel Farrell
Interested in all things on the Irish coast and sharing the best of it. // Email: // Follow on Twitter: @DanielsSeaViews