New Zealand Date/Time:
Sat, Mar 24, 2018, 5:47:32 AM

Safety info on Lifejackets - go to:


Why we drown...

Most drownings are preventable but drowning is a leading cause of death in this country – only car crashes and falls cause more fatalities. Some people drown after entering the water intentionally (eg when swimming or diving), but most drown after accidental immersion. Understanding how your body responds when you suddenly find yourself in the water, will greatly improve your chance of survival. We have all experienced the effects of entering the water – and the colder the water, the more noticeable the involuntary response. But we can easily drown in water of any temperature. The difference between entering the water intentionally and when it is unexpected is huge.

First response – cold shock

When our skin suddenly cools, two main responses occur. Our surface blood vessels constrict and our heart rate increases, often doubling. Our blood pressure rises and together, these responses create danger of a heart attack. Assuming our heart keeps going, we also have to survive our respiratory response, which starts with a gasp reflex and hyperventilation. Breathing becomes difficult. This can lead to drowning within moments of entering the water. These initial responses are commonly as “cold shock”.

There is little you can do to guard against cold shock, but knowing what is happening can reduce your inclination to panic (which can impair breathing and hasten drowning) and increase your chances of survival. If you are near water where there is a chance you may fall in, then wearing a lifejacket will hugely increase your chance of surviving.

Next response – muscle strength loss

Having survived an initial immersion, many drown within a short time. As our body automatically protects its vital organs in the chest from cooling, our limbs cool very rapidly. Within minutes, the lowering temperature in our muscles reduces their strength (although the body cools more slowly in warmer water). The chemical and electrical reactions that control our muscles slow down, and our muscles stop working – we can do nothing at this time to help ourselves. Many drowning victims are strong swimmers. Swimming is not possible and people cannot even hold up their head or avoid inhaling water. Again, our greatest hope for survival is provided by a lifejacket. Often we hear reports that a person was affected by hypothermia. The term is widely used when a person is very cold, but the term refers to the cooling of the vital organs. Recent research shows that even a thin person cannot lose heat quickly enough to die from hypothermia within 30 minutes in freezing water. The cause of death is drowning.

Lifejackets save lives!

It is not hard to see why wearing a lifejacket is the most practical measure available to help avoid drowning – other than not falling in in the first place. Most people who drown are close to shore or help – sometimes within 2 metres. Of course, those in a boating mishap may only survive if they also have the means to let someone know they need help.

Modern lifejackets and buoyancy aids are very comfortable to wear, with inflatables increasing in popularity. Lifejackets are effective, arguably more so at preventing loss of life than a seatbelt. Wearing a buoyancy aid on or near the water should be as automatic as putting on a seatbelt. Boating accidents and falls into the water happen frequently and without warning, just as car accidents do.

help huddle

The aim of the “HELP” (left image) and
“Huddle” positions is to keep the warm
water close to the body from being
replaced by colder surrounding water.

For more information visit our website and search on“lifejackets” or “cold water”: