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Drowning Prevention

Anyone can find themselves in trouble in the water. Read our advice to help keep yourself and others safe and to learn what to do in the event of an emergency.

Cold Water Shock

It may be tempting to go for a dip in a river or loch but open water is dangerous. It can become very cold just a few feet under the surface.

Cold water shock affects your ability to breathe, overwhelms your ability to swim, and leads to drowning. It can affect even the strongest swimmers.

Even in high summer, all waters around Scotland are cold enough to induce the cold water shock.

Water Safety Scotland's Water Safety Code should always be your first port of call before being around water. Our guidance below should also be followed at all times.

What you should do if you experience cold water shock:

  • Fight your instincts - don't swim hard or thrash about.
  • Remain calm and relax
  • Float to live – lie on your back and spread your arms and legs
  • Once the initial effects of Cold Water Shock have passed (about 90 seconds) call for help and look around for anything which you can use to float or get out of the water
  • Even when you are out of the water - call 999 - hypothermia could still be a risk

Float to Live

Learning how to float is an essential skill – if you find yourself in the water unexpectedly it could save your life.

The steps below are essential. Please also learn the Water Safety Code before being in or around water.

Take a minute: The initial shock of being in cold water can cause you to gasp and panic. The effects of cold water shock pass in less than a minute so don’t try to swim straight away.

Relax and float: Float on your back while you catch your breath. Try to get hold of something that will help you float.

Keep calm: Once you’re calm, call for help. Swim for safety if you are able or look for something to hold on to. 

Want to know more? Get more info from our partners or visit our related water safety pages: