Utah State Parks Blog

Help! It’s Cold In Here! – What to do in cold water.

A lot can go through your mind if you find yourself stuck swimming or sinking in cold water. Here at the Utah State Parks Boating Program, we hope you never have to go through a situation like this; however, we want you to be prepared just in case it should happen.

To help, we put together this article with some tips and information to help you understand what cold water can feel like, what happens to your body, and what you should do.

Cold Water Immersion Phases 

When you find yourself unexpectedly in cold water, remember  – 1:10:1

DO NOT PANIC, because you have:

  • 1 minute to get breathing under control (cold shock response);
  • 10 minutes of meaningful movement (muscle incapacity);
  • 1 hour before becoming unconscious due to hypothermia.

These times are averages and only possible while wearing a life jacket

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Extend Your Survival Time 

Cold-water-immersion hypothermia can happen very quickly.

Here are some potentially life-saving tips on how to extend your survival time in the event of cold water immersion:

  • Wear a personal flotation device. Wearing a PFD increases survival time by decreasing amount of movement necessary to stay afloat while insulating against heat loss
  • Use Heat Escape Lessening Posture (HELP) to conserve body heat. If there are two or more in the group, use the “Huddle” technique to maintain body heat.
  • Keep calm and control your breathing.
  • Remove yourself from the water. The sooner you can get your body out of the water the greater your chances of survival will be! If possible, reboard your boat, even if it’s filled with water. If you can’t right the capsized boat, climb on top of the boat and hang on!

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Do I Stay Put or Swim to Shore? 

Do you know when to stay or swim?

When immersed in cold water with a capsized boat, you may have to decide whether or not to stay with the boat or swim towards safety. Always stay with the boat. Attempt to use your swamped or capsized boat to remove yourself from the water. Do not attempt to swim to shore unless your boat has sunk.

Only consider swimming to shore if you are within sight of shore and wearing a life jacket.

If you are wearing a life jacket and you can’t reach the shore, you are still able to float and wait for rescue. If you are not wearing a life jacket and can’t reach the shore, the results will be fatal.

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When considering swimming, remember this:

-Swimming will increases heat loss and use up valuable energy.

-Wind and wave conditions, along with any injuries you may have, could restrict your ability to swim the required distance to safety.

-If you do swim, make sure to swim with a head-up breaststroke at an even sustained pace.

– Once you begin to swim towards safety, it’s important to continue or else risk losing even more valuable body heat.

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