RNLI warns of potentially lethal effects of cold water shock

With hot weather predicted for the weekend, the Royal National Lifeboat Institute in Scotland has warned people that coastal and inland waters may remain deceptively cold and dangerous.

By Neil McGrory, Local Democracy Reporter
Friday, 7th August 2020, 2:40 pm
The Girvan crew members on Girvan beach.
The Girvan crew members on Girvan beach.

The RNLI is reminding families to look out for one another and to remember the possibly lethal effects of cold water shock.

Water below 15 degrees Celsius is considered dangerously cold as it can affect breathing and movement. Average UK sea temperatures are just 12 degrees all year round and some popular spots such as Loch Ness are colder still.

The sudden cooling of the skin by cold water causes an involuntary gasp for breath and breathing rates can increase as much as tenfold, which also contributes to a feeling of panic – all of which can result in water inhalation. Half a pint of sea water is enough to cause a full grown man to begin drowning.

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Michael Avril of RNLI, said: “Each year, in Scotland, we see tragic incidences of lives being lost to cold water shock. When we have the rare opportunity to enjoy a really hot weekend it’s easy to forget that the water is still very cold. However, we would remind the public that your split second decision to take the plunge can be a lethal one. Cold water shock can take effect immediately and could cost you your life.

“If you are at the coast or around any other body of water this weekend, please look out for each other, avoid suddenly immersing yourself in cold water and if you do find yourself suddenly in the water, float to live. 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.”

The RNLI also recommends following Scottish Government advice around social distancing and local lockdown and avoiding any risk. If you do see someone at risk call 999 and ask for the coastguard.

RNLI lifeguards will be stationed at five major Scottish beaches over the weekend –  St Andrews East Sands, Elie, Aberdour Silver Sands, Burntisland and Coldingham Bay. Where possible you should visit a lifeguarded beach and swim between the flags.