Know the phases of cold water immersion
By angelamontana

Posted: March 12, 2020

With ice coming off Montana’s lakes and rivers it’s important to remember that cold water can be deadly. If you are recreating on or around water this spring, remember to wear a life jacket and always tell someone where you are going and when you plan on returning.

Here are the phases of cold water immersion:

  • Cold shock (initial entry to 5 minutes): Gasping for breath and hyperventilation are natural reactions to cold water. Try to get your breathing under control and avoid panicking.
  • Cold Incapacitation & Swim Failure (5 to 30 minutes): During this time, you will lose dexterity and grip strength.  Cooling of arms and legs impairs the ability to swim. Even the best swimmers cannot continue to function in cold water.
  • Hypothermia: Cooling of the body’s core temperature eventually results in loss of consciousness. How quickly hypothermia sets in depends on the water temperature, body type, clothing and behavior. Always seek medical attention right away.

If you have any questions, please contact Sara Smith, Boating Education Coordinator for the Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks Recreational Boating Safety Program, at 406-444-5280 or sarsmith@mt.gov.

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