How to

24 June 2016

Cold Water Shock: Understand the Danger


Cold water shock, a short-term involuntary response generated by your body as a result of sudden immersion in cold water, has caused many deaths, perhaps far more than we realise. While deaths at sea are often attributed to conditions such as hypothermia or the act of drowning, many of these fatalities are actually brought on by cold water shock.

Cold water shock affects your body in a number of ways. Blood flow resistance is increased as the blood vessels in the skin close up, causing raised blood pressure and overworking the heart. Breathing, as you may expect, will also become difficult; your breathing rate can increase by up to 10x its usual rate, and the natural instinct to gasp can cause you to take on water, rather than air. As all of these symptoms emulate feelings of panic, sufferers often struggle to think clearly about their situation, making it so much worse.

One particularly worrying potential effect of cold water shock is to induce heart attacks, even in healthy people and younger generations. This has led to many misdiagnosed deaths, as water found in the lungs is thought to have caused the fatality, when really it has been taken on following a fatal heart attack.

The best advice anyone can give to help you avoid cold water shock is to wear a life-jacket. This will help to keep you afloat, ensure you actually head up rather than down as you land in the water disorientated, and even help to control your breathing and retain some warmth in the freezing water. They’re not just some badly thought out fashion accessory, a decent life-jacket really could save your life in this situation.


If you want to challenge your knowledge on this subject and perhaps learn a little more, the Respect the Water campaign has some great resources available online.



Sam Bonson

Sam is an aspiring novelist with a passion for fantasy and crime thrillers. He is currently working as a content writer, journalist & editor in an attempt to expand his horizons.