Cold Water Working Training

Practical Exercise for the cold water working training course. Wading in the river to understand how powerful the flow can be.
Practical exercise for the cold water working training course. Wading in the river to understand how powerful the flow can be.

After spending the last 3 weeks in numerous training courses, meetings and exercises. The best (the most informative and important) was the Cold Water Working Training Course. This course is for water safety awareness for working near water. The course was led by Spartan Rescue; who provide specialist training and knowledge in water safety and rescue response.

The course took place at a small hotel just off the M6, Preston, on the edge of the River Ribble. To my surprise, the practical later that day would be held in the river itself. I believe this was a better way of understanding rivers, flows and dangers. Much more constructive than in a swimming pool.

What was learnt will be carried forward in my work and this should be taken on board for anyone working near any water body. Whether that is a lake, pond, or river; fast slowing or not!


400 people die from drowning a year in the UK 

These are usually from ignorance and misjudgement or the absence of adequate supervision/ training on self-rescue.


  • Auto inflation lifejackets are there for ‘dry’ work and should be worn to protect the wearer in the case of an unplanned fall into the water.
  • Risk assessment, Risk assessment, Risk assessment, and do another for good measure. A generic, site/task specific and then a Dynamic risk assessment to be carried out during key parts of the task for adaptations or changes. The risk assessments must look at the hazard and the likelihood of it occurring/causing warm.
  • Emergency plan, location details, who to call and what to do if it all goes wrong.

Be realistic in the assessment of each risk. Consider every angle.

Are you able to recover unaided from an accident? Is help likely to arrive in time for a casualty in the water if they cannot recover themselves or assisted out by team members? What is your Swimming experience? What is the force of the water? Is white water foam present? Water temperature?



If it does go wrong; 

  1. Keep yourself safe
  2. Keep others safe
  3. Only then attend to casualty from a position of personal safety

Cold water immersion response

Breath hold becomes considerably less than normal, rapid gasping, increased heart rate, panic/shock, easy to aspirate water.

Cold water swim failure

After shock from the cold the body weakens, meaning swimming time and effectiveness decreases. Before your core temperature drops, the veins in your arms and legs constrict.

Hypothermia (core cooling)

It is unlikely to kill you in less than 30 minutes however it accelerates muscle cooling. If movement is restricted with some buoyancy aids, move as you are likely to die from the cold! This has nothing to do with level of fitness; it is a significant risk to all who fall in without thermal protection.



WHAT TO DO. If you’re the casualty;

  • do essential tasks early or as soon as you enter the water, such as lifejacket inhalation
  • try preserving as much heat as possible, such as movement.
  • understanding the risks and issues working near water

In Deep Water (Lakes, Sea and Estuaries)

  • preserve heat
  • signal for help
  • if without thermal protection do not swim

In Moving Water (Rivers)

  • self-rescue is critical for survival
  • feet up to the surface
  • face downstream
  • keep hips and bottom up
  • use arms and legs to swim
  • head for low speed water or inside bends
  • swim early to avoid other hazards and high speed water flow

Looking downstream helps you understand the water and terrain you are headed towards (these downstream features should be pointed out before the start of the work)



WHAT TO DO. If you’re on the side line;

Bank Based Help

  • shout and encourage
  • use any reach devices
  • deploy any throw lines
  • provide downstream cover of setting up lines (be cautious, set these lines at an angle to each bank!)


Jumping in to help someone is highly likely to create additional casualties rather than a rescue. So keep safe, call for the emergency services and work from a safe position.

Resuscitating a drowned casualty: 5 BREATHS FIRST, then continue with regular CPR of 30 compressions followed by 2 breaths.

Make sure before the work starts that every member of the team has had the full water safety training and a good understanding of the emergency plan. Comfirm all staff are briefed and risk assessments have been completed. The correct PPE must be worn on site. And if anything was to happen after the safety precautions, you are aware of what do if you became a casualty or how to help one.

“Emergency services response often ends with body recovery.”


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