Cold water hazards and their effects: knowledge that can improve survival chances
An understanding of how your body reacts to cold air or water exposure, and knowing the steps you can take to help your body delay the damaging effects of cold stress, will help you stay alive.
If you need to abandon your ship you should, if possible, avoid going into cold water at all. Cold water represents a much greater risk than cold air, partly because water takes heat away from the body much faster than air. Human beings cool four to five times faster in water than in air at the same temperature – and the colder the water is the more likely it is that you will suffer the physical reactions and medical problems described below. Therefore, you should try to enter survival or rescue craft directly, without entering the water.
The major threats of cold water immersion are:
- collapse just before, during, or after rescue.
Four stages of immersion have been identified. Each is associated with particular risks, and it helps to understand these and so be better able to deal with them.
Initial responses to immersion in cold water may include:
- inability to hold your breath
- an involuntary gasp, followed by uncontrollable breathing
- increased stress placed on your heart.