Float to live: How to survive cold water shock

The Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI) is urging people who find themselves in trouble in open water to fight their natural instinct to swim hard and instead to try to float.

Their 'Respect the Water' campaign also warns people about the dangers of entering open water like seas, lakes and rivers which may have hidden rip currents, strong waves and cold temperatures.

Credit: RNLI

Just last week, divers pulled the body of a young man from Ullswater.

Bryxzel Galeon, 21, and his younger sibling Ayxzel, 18, got into difficulty while swimming one of England's largest lakes.

Yanek Kowal, who saw the pair struggling to reach a pontoon around 25 metres from the shore, saved Ayxzel but was unable to rescue Bryxze.

  • What is cold water shock?

According to the RNLI, any body of water that is below the temperature of 15⁰C can trigger anyone to go into shock.

UK and Irish coasts on average are around 12⁰C, which means even in the summer the water can be cold enough to seriously affect someone's body.

Cold water shock causes the blood vessels in the skin to close, which increases the resistance of blood flow.

The heart will start to work a lot harder which, in turn, could cause a heart attack, whatever the person's physical fitness.

The body's natural response to cold water on the skin is an involuntary gasp of breath which leads to breathing rates changing uncontrollably. This increases the risk of inhaling water directly into the lungs.

A grown man will start to drown if half a pint of sea water enters his lungs.

  • RNLI ambassador Ant Middleton tests the Float to Live survival skill.

Their #FloatToLive message outlines five simple steps to floating in the water:

  • Fight your instinct to thrash around

  • Lean back, extend your arms and legs

  • If you need to, gently move them around to help you float

  • Float until you can control your breathing

  • Only then, call for help or swim to safety