Cold water shock ‘can be precursor to drowning’ says RNLI

10 August, 2020 / By Matt Smith

In the midst of the current heatwave across the UK, The Royal National Lifeboat Institution is warning the public to think twice about jumping into cold water – which they say can be lethal.

The effect on the body when entering water that is 15°C and below is often underestimated, with the resulting shock often being the ‘precursor to drowning’, they say.

Average UK and Ireland sea temperatures are just 12°C, and rivers such as the Thames are sometimes colder – even in the summer.

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

Heart rate is also increased and as a result the heart has to work harder, which pushes your blood pressure up which can lead to heart attacks, even in the relatively young and healthy.

‘Stupidest idea ever’

As reported in The Evening Standard recently, a 17 year-old performing arts student, Shah Faisal Shinwari, jumped off Tower Bridge into the Thames, whilst his friend recorded a video for YouTube.

Shah quickly got into trouble as he entered a state of shock and inhaled mouthfuls of water once he hit the surface and being swept downriver by the strong current.

Thankfully he managed to drag himself to the side, where lifeboat rescuers pumped the water out of his lungs and stomach and he was taken to hospital.

Here’s a YouTube video of what happened when Shah jumped off the bridge.

‘Treat water with respect, not everyone can be saved’

If you find yourself entering a body of cold water unexpectedly, the RNLI has some recommendations to minimise the risk of drowning.

Take a minute. The initial effects of cold water pass in less than a minute so don’t try to swim straight away.

Relax and float on your back to catch your breath. Try to get hold of something that will help you float.

Keep calm then call for help or swim for safety if you’re able.

If you’re planning on entering water intentionally, then make sure to check conditions first – including water temperature and surf forecasts at the coast – and wear a wetsuit of appropriate thickness for the amount of time you plan to spend in the water and the type of activity you’re doing.

The RNLI’s guidance ends with a warning: ‘Our seas and rivers are cold enough to leave you helpless in seconds. Treat water with respect, not everyone can be saved’.

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