Cold Water Shock – More Dangerous than Hypothermia?

We usually think about lifejackets, EPIRBS, and personal locator beacons with a person overboard. We think that our equipment will save us, and it often will help. But it may shock you to know that drownings can occur even if a lifejacket is worn. Here we’ll look at Cold Water Shock – more dangerous than hypothermia?

Emergency Preparedness Workshop - survival at sea

When entering chilly water we gasp. Now imagine the shock of being flung overboard unexpectedly, hitting cold water and taking an involunatary gasp… while you are under water, before your jacket has had time to inflate and bring your body to the surface.

Cold Shock is immediate; much faster than hypothermia.

Back to our scenario: you’ve taken a lung full of water with that involuntary gasp. You rise to the surface coughing and gasping for air. The seas are more likely rough. As you gasp and cough for air, you swallow more water. It’s very hard to recover from inhaling water, even for fit people.

It’s Deadly

Sudden disappearance syndrome aka cold water shock is a deadly shock for humans.

If the first gasp doesn’t finish you, then the shock, fear, and panic will raise the heart rate and the problems grow exponentially.

If you survive this, then you face cold incapacitation; within 15-20 minutes failed muscle control may cause drowning. We still haven’t reached hyperothermia stages.

How do we prevent this?
Stay on the boat
Dress appropriately, consider a wetsuit if you are in precarious conditions, good wet weather gear will help (with good neck, wrist, and ankle seals)

Control your breathing as best you can. Close your mouth and breathe through your nose to minimise water ingestion.

We tackle different Emergencies in our Emergency Preparedness Workshop (aka “Last Chance”) – we help you prevent, plan, and prepare – giving you your best chance of survival.

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Last Chance Sea Survival Workshop - raise the alarm
Last Chance Sea Survival Workshop – raise the alarm

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