Cold Water Immersion Safety Tips from the U.S. Coast Guard
Be prepared! Cold-water shock immersion is a fight for survival
In this week’s episode of their “NWMA Weekly” podcast, Capt. Benjamin Garman and Chance Busey of Gig Harbor Marina & Boatyard discuss the dangers of cold-water shock.
Cold-water shock is the first stage in sudden and unexpected immersion in water with a temperature of 59°F or less. According to U.S. Coast Guard cold water immersion safety tips, the shock can cause an involuntary gasp reflex, followed by hyperventilation. If your head goes underwater during this phase, water will be inhaled and the result is simple: drowning.
Remember! Wearing a life jacket is critically important to keeping you afloat and breathing
Capt. Garman, administrator of the Northwest Maritime Academy, outlines some rules to live by, literally, in his latest NWMA Weekly podcast: Cold-Water Shock.
If Wearing a Life Jacket, the 1-10-1 Principle May Save Your Life
1 Minute – Get breathing under control
- After the initial cold-water gasp reflex and inhalation, focus on controlling breathing
10 Minutes (or more) – For meaningful activity
- Assess the situation and make a plan
- Prioritize and perform the most important functions first, such as locating other party members
- Self-rescue: re-board the vessel, or crawl/hang onto an object
- Emergency communication and signaling
1 Hour (or more) – Of useful consciousness
- Focus on slowing heat loss
Every boater should carry (on their person):
- A communication device: such as a hand-held water proof marine VHF radio, cell phone in a waterproof case
- Emergency signaling devices: such as emergency locator beacon, whistle, mirror, small flares
Always wear a life jacket when in an open boat or on an open deck. Trying to put your life jacket on in the water is extremely difficult (if not impossible) and costs precious time and energy.
Garman points out that a foam-core life jacket, which is absorbing body heat as it is worn, will also help insulate and keep an immersed person warmer longer.
But why does this matter if it’s warm outside?
We just finished a very warm summer here in Washington state, but for us here in the Pacific Northwest there is a risk of cold-water shock year-round. The average July water temperature in the Puget Sound is 53 degrees F, with 56 degrees for the Washington coast and 57 degrees for the Oregon coast. (See NOAA Water Temperature Table.)
Learn more about cold-water shock and other water safety skills in classes offered by the Northwest Maritime Academy, Garman says. These skills are covered in Proficiency in Survival Craft (PSC), PSC Limited and Fast Rescue Boat (FRB) classes offered throughout the year.
Check out course offerings at Northwest Maritime Academy Calendar & Registration.