RNLI Respect The Water Campaign

British and Irish waters are dangerously unpredictable. Over 200 people die accidentally each year in British and Irish waters alone.

To understand the full power of the water, read our article below and immerse yourself in the RNLI interactive experiences.

What are the effects of Cold Water Shock to your body and breathing?

Stage 1: Automatic gasp reflex. As a natural response to rapid skin cooling, if the head goes underwater, water may be breathed into the lungs during the gasp. The result is simple: drowning.

Stage 2: Hyperventilation. Like the gasp reflex, this is a natural reaction to the cold. Although this response will subside, panic can cause a continuance of hyperventilation which can lead to fainting. The key is to concentrate on controlling your breathing.

Stage 3: Cardiac arrest. As the arteries narrow (vasoconstriction), the heart has to work harder to pump the same volume of blood throughout the body. Especially for people with underlying heart disease, this additional workload can cause the heart to go into cardiac arrest.

Stage 4: The final and most fatal stage. Cold Incapacitation occurs within 5 – 15 minutes in cold water. Blood flow to the extremities decreases in an effort to preserve heat in the core, thereby protecting the vital organs. Within this critical time frame you will lose meaningful movement in your hands and feet, and then your arms and legs. Without the use of a floatation device, you will be unable to stay afloat and will drown.

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