Boat Rat: Cold Water Survival

An excerpt from “Cold Water Survival” in the June issue of BWS as provided by Mariners Learning System.

Few will disagree that the first rule of survival when operating in a cold water environment is to stay dry. Obviously, you don’t want to get in the water if you can avoid it. If you do go into the water, you want to get out as soon as possible. If you can’t get all the way out, get as much of your body out as you can, especially your critical heat loss areas (the head, neck, armpits, sides and groin), as water robs body heat up to 25 times faster than the air of the same temperature.

If you fall overboard in cold water, your body’s natural response will be to lose control of your breathing as you gasp for air and begin to thrash about in an effort to stay afloat. An important key to cold water survival is resisting this reaction. Admittedly, remaining completely calm may be impossible. However, you can learn to control your breathing and minimize your state of alarm. If you panic, struggle or begin to swim, the flushing action of cold water against your body’s critical heat-loss areas will speed the loss of muscle control, ultimately leaving you incapacitated. In the event that you fall into the water with someone else, huddle together. There will be less heat loss and you will be easier to find. If you are by yourself, assume the Heat Escape Lessening Posture or HELP position. The HELP posture can increase your chance of survival by reducing the amount of body surface area that is directly exposed to cold water. If you are not wearing a life jacket, this is a difficult position to maintain.

HELP Position:
1. Draw your knees to your chest.
2. Keep your face forward and out of the water.
3. Hug yourself, putting your hands in your armpits.

For more information, pick up the June issue of BWS and go to

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