FWP issues warning about “cold water immersion”

Posted at 8:31 PM, May 26, 2018
and last updated 2018-05-26 22:31:10-04

MISSOULA – State wildlife officials are looking to spread the word about the dangers of what’s known as "cold water immersion."

Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks notes it’s a threat to people’s safety all year round because many of Montana lakes, streams and rivers are fed by high mountain springs.

Cold water immersion begins with cold water shock which can lead to swim failure and hypothermia.

To survive cold water immersion FWP says to follow these steps:

  • Wear a life jacket
  • Avoid entering the water if possible and if you must enter the water slowly while holding onto something.
  • Keep your head neck and face out of the water
  • Get out as soon as possible
  • Do not attempt to swim to shore if you’re in still water. FWP said this will cause greater exposure to the cold.
  • Heat Escape Lessening Position or Huddle is a floating position where you float with your back towards the sky and your arms wrapped around your knees. This will help to protect your vital organs.
  • Remain as still as possible. Excessive movement will cause your body to cool 35 times faster
  • Do not remove clothing
  • Carry survival gear including blankets and extra clothing.

Click here to learn more about cold water immersion and water safety.

The National Center for Cold Water Safety has more information about the dangers of cold water immersion on their website, including the following:

Why Cold Water is Dangerous

Sudden Drowning 
With very few exceptions, immersion in cold water is immediately life-threatening for anyone not wearing thermal protection like a wetsuit or drysuit.

When cold water makes contact with your skin, cold shock causes an immediate loss of breathing control. The result is a very high risk of suddenly drowning – even if the water is calm and you know how to swim. The danger is even greater if the water is rough. Inability to coordinate your breathing with wave splash greatly increases the danger of inhaling water.

Gradual Drowning 
Cold water drowning can happen immediately, but it can also take a fairly long time – a gruesome, drawn-out process in which small amounts of water are inhaled, over and over again, until your lungs become so waterlogged that you suffocate. Inhaling about five ounces (150 ml) of water is enough to cause drowning.

Heart Failure and Stroke 
Because skin blood vessels constrict in response to sudden cooling, cold water immersion also causes an instantaneous and massive increase in heart rate and blood pressure.  In vulnerable individuals, this greatly increases the danger of heart failure and stroke.

All of these things happen long before hypothermia becomes an issue.

– information from Lauren Heiser included in this report.