Cold water shock
Cold water shock can have a dramatic effect on your body, such as causing you to breathe in water, make your muscles weaken, and can even cause your heart to go into abnormal rhythms, ultimately resulting in death.
Anything below 15°C is defined as cold water. Average UK and Ireland sea temperatures are just 12°C.
If you find yourself in trouble in the water
If you find yourself in trouble in the water, float to live. Do not panic, float on your back until the effects of cold water shock pass. When the cold water shock has passed, swim to the edge or call for help.
If someone else is in trouble in the water
If someone else falls into the water, call 999 straight away and ask to speak to the fire service and ambulance.
Never enter the water to try and save someone, even if you are a strong swimmer. Shout to the person in the water ‘swim to me;’ The water can be disorientating, and this can give them a focus. Depending on where you are there might be lifebelts or throw bags – use them. If they are attached to a rope, make sure you have secured or are holding the end of the rope so you can pull them in.
Enjoying the water safely
Spending time in the water
If you are thinking of entering the water, consider your exit point, and any emergency exits, before you get in.
Do not jump into open water as this can cause potentially fatal cold water shock, even on the warmest day. Think twice before swimming in open water such as rivers or lakes. You have no idea what’s beneath the surface, there could be unseen currents and reeds, which could pull you under.
Do a risk assessment on the water for the dangers present, it pays to know any dangers before you go swimming. Always consider your exit point, and any emergency exits, before you get in the water. Make sure you feel fit and well before swimming.
Spending time near the water
When running or walking next to the water, stay clear of the edges. Riverbanks and cliff edges may be unstable and give way – particularly after bad weather. Look out for trip or slip hazards – pay attention to your footing and avoid walking or running next to water if levels are high.
If you are walking the dog and they end up in the water, do not go in after them.
- Further water safety advice is available on the Royal Life Saving Society (RLSS) Water Safety Advice website page;
- Read more about cold water shock on the RNLI Cold Water Shock – Water Safety Tips website page;
- Further information on winter water safety is available on the RLSS Winter Water Safety website page;
- Watch this RNLI: Float to Live video so you’re prepared if you unexpectedly find yourself in water;
- Stay safe on the beach with this RNLI Beach Safety advice;
- The RLSS website has more Open Water Safety Tips;
- The RNLI website has more Open Water Swimming Advice;