What are Guidelines for Survival from Cold Water?

This guidance is intended primarily for seafarers. It provides information which will help you if you are unlucky enough to fall into cold water, or have to enter it in an emergency, or have to use survival craft in cold conditions. It also provides information which will help seafarers, trained as first-aid providers, to treat those rescued from cold conditions.

The guidance is laid out as follows:

  • an explanation of cold water hazards and their effects followed by sections on:
  • actions to be taken prior to abandoning your ship that will improve your chances of survival
  • actions to be taken during the survival phase, whether in survival craft or in the water
  • the rescue phase
  • treatment of people recovered from cold water or from survival craft in cold conditions
  • treatment of the apparently dead.

You may also know cold water hazards:

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.


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