Cold Water Diving

Diving in cold water for us who lives up in the Northern Hemisphere is more or less an everyday occurrence. Even during our short summer months the water temperature is in the low 20’s (Celsius) and if a bad summer dominates we’re lucky if we get 17-18 degrees.

The thermo cline can be reached the year around and fluctuates to be around 20 meters in the summers to about 12 in the winters. The major difference is that the water above the thermo cline is warmer in the summers but colder in the winters! I.e. it’s warmer at the bottom than on the surface in the winters.

You guessed right when you guessed that it can’t be recommended to dive such environment, and the fact is that according to PADI’s Dive-encyclopaedia it’s not recommended to dive in water temperatures below 2 degrees C.

So why dive in cold waters?

In e.g. Sweden the diving is a lot better in the winters though the visibility can become up to about 15 meters and that’s a lot in Sweden. In the summers the life in the water is much greater, but then the vis. is not that great, so it’s simply something you as a diver have to weigh the pros and cons.

What can happen to me if I go diving in cold water without the right equipment and education?

If divers ignore the shivers the body produces to warm up the body, the body continues to loose heat and can lead to hypothermia. If the body-temperature continues to decrease the uncontrolled shivers will stop as well as the contractions of the blood vessels in the arms and legs. The diver suddenly feels really warm because more blood comes out in the limbs. This is a VERY dangerous state due to you feel warm but still heat is lost in an uncontrolled way and the body temperature continues to decrease. A heat loss often is followed by reduced consciousness and the diver becomes dazed and gets problems with the co-ordination and the memory. This can lead to the diver becomes unconscious, may end up with coma or even death.

If you are planning to die, which I do not hope, freezing to death is something I can recommend. *smile* Because you will feel a sense of well-being and delight in the warmth you get before you fall into sleep, which is the good part though you will just die nice and easy and you will never feel a thing.

Body temp. Symptoms of hypothermia
Marked shivering, Confusion
Shivering ceases, Heartbeat slows
Possible abnormal heart rhythms
Muscles relax
No pupil reflexes
Apparent death / Death

What do I have to think about if a boat emergency arose in freezing waters, e.g. Titanic?

PRAEPARATUS SUPERVIVET – that’s Latin for ‘The prepared will survive’

Plan your emergency moves in advanced! – Ask your self what you should do if an emergency arose.
  • Where is your nearest exit to the deck for escape? Where is help if you need some? Know how your emergency equipment works, there is no time for learning during an emergency; it’s time to show your skills.
  • Even in the tropics, before abandoning ship, wear many layers of clothing , to offset the effects of cold. Wear an immersion suit if available.
  • Put on a lifejacket as soon as possible in an emergency situation.
  • When abandoning ship, try to enter lifeboat or raft dry , without entering the water. Take anti-seasickness medicine as soon as possible.
  • If immersion in water is necessary, try to enter the water gradually.
  • Swimming increases body heat loss. Swim only to a safe refuge nearby.
  • To reduce your body heat loss, try to float in the water with your legs together, elbows to your side and arms across your chest.
  • In a survival situation, you must force yourself to have the will to survive. This will very often make the difference between life and death.

In conclusion, advanced planning, preparation and thought on your part can be the most significant factors in your struggle with cold water immersion and in your survival.

What are symptoms and how can I treat my self or my loved ones?

Immersion foot is a term given to the condition when the temperature of local tissue in the limbs (usually the feet) remains subnormal but above freezing for prolonged period. Shipwreck survivors who have been adrift and cold for several days commonly encounter it. Usually the feet have been wet and immobile, but this injury can also occur in dry conditions. Other contributory factors are tight footwear and sitting still with the feet down as when sitting in a chair for prolonged periods.


Feet become white, numb, cold and frequently are slightly swollen. When returned to the warmth, the feet become hot, red, swollen and are usually painful.


Every effort should be made by survivors to keep their feet warm and dry. Shoelaces should be loosened; the feet should be raised and the toe and ankle exercises encouraged several times a day. When possible, shoes should be removed and feet kept warm by placing them under the armpits, but outside the clothing, of an adjacent occupant. Alternatively, unwanted spare clothing may be wrapped around the feet to keep them warm. Smoking should be discouraged (we don’t like smokers anyway).


After rescue, every effort should be made to avoid rapid re-warming of the affected limbs. Care should be taken to avoid damaging the skin or breaking blisters. Elevate the lower legs to reduce swelling and cover lightly. Remember: numb limbs do not feel heat or any other pains and are very easily burned. Do not massage affected limb.

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