RNLI: To Survive Cold Water Shock, Take a Moment to Float
The UK's Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI) says that its simple survival advice for cold water immersion is already helping to keep people alive. The message - broadcast via a social media campaign - is that the best way to avoid drowning is to float on your back until you can control your breathing, fighting the natural impulse to immediately swim or thrash the water.
In July, a 24-year-old man was pulled from the River Thames with help from the crew at the RNLI Tower lifeboat station. Using the RNLI’s advice, the survivor was able to stay alive in the water for 25 minutes until he was rescued.
"The man had decided to go for a swim in the Thames, but quickly found himself overcome by the river’s very strong currents and suffering from cold water shock," said RNLI Helm Steve Doherty, from the Tower station. "He told us he thought he was going to drown but then remembered the RNLI float advice he’d seen on YouTube, so he made himself float until help arrived, and he thinks that this saved him."
When suddenly immersed in cold water, the natural reaction can be to swim or thrash energetically, which raises the odds of inhaling water into the lungs and drowning. RNLI suggests that the best response is to float on your back until you get control of your breathing. This puts you in a better position to plan your next move, increasing your odds of survival in an extremely dangerous situation.
Last year, 128 people died on the UK's coast, and about half of them never expected to end up in the water, according to the RNLI. The awareness campaign is applicable to mariners and fishermen, but is targeted at members of the general public, who may not be as familiar with the effects of cold water shock.