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Personal Survival Techniques in Cold Water

Maritime Personal Survival

The maritime industry can be very dangerous, and you need to know the personal survival techniques in the event of ship abandonment. On average, there are around 100 deaths and 1,100 injuries of crewmembers each year.

There are several guidelines and standards that OSHA has for maritime and personal survival. Check out OSHA’s website for more information on it. The 29 CFR 1915.158 standard ensures that there is lifesaving equipment aboard the ship. The purpose of these guidelines and standards is the safety of the employees in case of ship abandonment.


There are several more techniques for maritime personal survival that are not listed here. However, these techniques are applicable and essential to increase your chance of survival.

Each emergency situation is different and unique. It’ll be essential for you to use your training and judgment to perform in these situations.

Heat. In hot conditions or climates, the heat can be one of the most serious factors for your survival. Sunburns are very painful and will make every task you perform very difficult. Use sunscreen if available, but if not try to make some sort of sunshade or canopy. Remember, the sun’s reflection on the water can cause sunburns as well.

Cold. In cold conditions or climates, the survival time is significantly reduced. The greatest danger is hypothermia. Make sure you have your immersion suit on if available. Keep the floor of the raft dry, and if there are others, huddle together to keep warm and move to circulate the blood.  

Heavy Weather. In heavy weather conditions, capsizing can be the difference between life and death. Make sure that everyone is sitting low in the raft and sitting in a position for even weight distribution. Do all that is necessary so that the raft doesn’t turn over.  

Dehydration. Outside of the environmental conditions, dehydration is the greatest danger. You must rationalize the water that you have. Also, try everything to collect rainwater by containers that can capture it or clothing that can absorb it. Remember to not eat if you have not drunk anything. You can survive with as little as 2-5 ounces of water a day.

Mental Health. If you can fight off the environmental conditions and can stay hydrated and eat, your mental health will become a huge risk factor. It is very important that there is mental stimulation. Use the pen and paper if available to keep a journal or to write. This can give you a routine and count the days.

For more techniques, check out Hard Hat Training Series that has trainings specifically for maritime personal survival techniques. They offer many more techniques that you can utilize. Taking their training will help prepare and ensure safety in your maritime workplace. 

Good luck and stay safe!

Even if the weather is nice and warm, the water can be cold enough to be dangerous. In fact, any water under 77 degrees should be considered cold water. Cold water carries the body’s heat away 25 times faster than air of the same temperature. When maritime work brings you to the open waters, it is important to know how to be safe when the water is cold.

One Minute - One of the first things that happened when you are immersed in cold water is known as cold shock. This happens within the first minute of immersion and causes you to gasp for breath, your heart to race, and your thinking to be impaired. Water temperatures between 50 and 60 degrees can cause cold shock just as severe as if you were in water that was 35 degrees.

Ten Minutes - After 10 minutes of exposure, you can become incapacitated. Your limbs become unusable because your body is trying to focus on keeping your core warm. Because of this, you can no longer grasp things with your hands, and it becomes nearly impossible to stay upright in the water. Many people drown during this stage of exposure.

One Hour - Within an hour, you can experience hypothermia. Because of the dangers of hypothermia alone, it is imperative that you are wearing the proper clothing to be in or near the water. Wear layers of clothing to help keep your body heat in and wearing a bright outer layer can help you be seen if you fall into the water. Don’t be afraid of wearing many layers. Wet clothes are only heavy outside of the water.

Personal Flotation Devices, or PFDs, are important to have on hand. If you are in the water long enough that you are incapacitated, it will keep you afloat. Make sure you inspect it and that it fits you properly. If you have immersion suits on board, make sure you are trained to use one and know how to don one in an emergency.

When you are alone in open water, floating is your best option. Use the HELP position (also known as Heat Escape Lessening Position) to maintain warmth and stability. This position is essentially hugging yourself, crossing your legs, and raising your knees to your chest. Keep your head out of the water and lean back slightly. Remember, the parts of the body outside the water will stay warmer.

As winter quickly approaches, the water is already getting colder and colder. Take the time to prepare yourself before you go out on the water. For more detailed information, take a look at our OSHA-Compliant Maritime Cold Water Safety Training.

Good luck and stay safe!

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