The facts about cold water safety


If I fall into cold water, someone will throw me a life jacket, and I can put it on. I’m a good swimmer.

These words aren’t valid in cold water. U.S. Coast Guard research reveals that when a boater falls into frigid water, the following is likely to happen:

  • Within the first minute, the cold shock response takes place, and the victim gasps for air. Without a life jacket keeping the victim’s head above water, the victim may drown when he or she inhales a significant amount of water and cannot achieve breath control.
  • Regardless of swimming ability, meaningful motion ceases within 10 minutes. Forty-three percent of cold water drowning victims who weren’t wearing life jackets were within 6 feet of safety.
  • With a proper life jacket, the victim may survive up to 50 more minutes. Ninety percent of cold water drowning victims weren’t wearing life jackets.

Always wear an approved life jacket when boating in frigid waters.
–John Venema

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The Ensign magazine is an official channel of United States Power Squadrons, America’s Boating Club, a volunteer organization whose members teach boating skills and best practices to help improve the safety of our nation’s waterways. Learn more.