Boating is often enjoyed year-round. What is essential for our boating community to remember is that water temps below 77º F can start to affect your breathing. But when water temps are below 70º, things begin to get really dangerous.

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cold water, father and son at the end of a boatThe human body does not like cold water. If your body temperature drops by just 3.5 degrees, hypothermia begins.

Hypothermia is the result of your body’s inability to maintain its core temperature (98.6º F). In an attempt to protect your vital organs (brain, heart, lungs), your brain will start to shut down less necessary body parts and functions.

Click here to download free our cold water 4×9 with life-saving tips!


You will experience three stages of trauma in a cold-water event:

Stage 1 – Cold Shock Response

In the first three minutes, your body goes into cold-shock response, when you’ll experience uncontrollable gasping, hyperventilation, vertigo and panic.

>> Resist the urge to fight the water. Try to stay calm and raise your body to a floating position. While lying on your back, concentrate on steady, deep breathing.

Stage 2 – Cold Incapacitation

Within 30 minutes cold incapacitation occurs: Your arms and legs start cooling down, which impairs their function regardless of your swimming ability.

>> Prioritize your most essential functions first, like deploying emergency communications and distress signal devices.

Stage 3 – Immersion Hypothermia

Immersion hypothermia begins after 30 minutes. Cooling of your body’s core temperature eventually results in the loss of functioning consciousness.

>> Your rate of survival for all stages increases when wearing a life jacket. However, in Stage 3, your life jacket is likely your best tool for survival.



If the unexpected happens and you get thrown overboard into cold water, it’s important that you minimize activity until your breathing is under control. Yes, easier said then done, but your life depends on it. Also, it’s important to first rescue yourself, locate and assist others and then deploy emergency communication and distress signaling devices. It is important you carry both, to alert authorities there is an issue and to aid search and rescuers to find you.

If getting out of the water and into or onto your boat is not an option, you must quickly minimize heat loss.

First tighten your life jacket, collar, cuffs, hood, shoes, anything and everything to help reduce water flow around your skin.

Assume the HELP position (Heat Escape Lessening Posture) where you bring your knees to your chest and your arms grasp your lower legs. It protects your body’s three major areas of heat loss, which are your head/neck, groin and armpits.

Upon rescue, medical treatment is a must. Warming and “feeling good to go home” is too often followed with death from capillary failure. Get medical attention immediately.


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This infographic from BoatUS highlights six key necessities when boating in cold water. Visit their site for more tips on cold water immersion.

cold water immersion

download icon, orange shaped like documentVisit our resource library for downloads, event materials, tips and ideas on how to create a safe boating culture 365 days a year.

Fine more resources on the dangers of cold water immersion in our resource section:

We’ve provided a variety of advocate tools and outreach methods, choose what works best for you and your community.

  • Visit spread the word for easy outreach through personal social media outlets and boating forums.
  • Provide year-round education on all boating safety topics – download pamphlets, flyers, banners, and posters. Great event materials. Search by topic in the resource section.
  • Don’t know where to start?  Contact us. We’re happy to help.

To truly spread the Boat Live 365 message, please make a concerted effort to discuss and promote all of the “Serious Fun Topics” together, all year long.

Reference to any specific commercial product, process, or service, or the use of any trade, firm or corporation name is for the information and convenience of the public, and does not constitute endorsement, recommendation, or favoring by the U.S. Coast Guard.