South Carolina Boater Education Course


CHAPTER 4: Emergency Preparedness


If you fall overboard or your boat capsizes in cold water, your number one priority is to get yourself out of the water as soon as possible. Hopefully, there will be another boat nearby to come to your aid. If not, you may be able to get out of the water by either climbing onto your capsized boat or any other floating objects; or swimming to shore if it is within reach.

Before attempting to swim to shore, remember that your ability to swim may begin to be affected in as little as a few minutes and you’ll lose the ability to swim within 30 minutes.

If you’re in the water and awaiting rescue, you should do your best to conserve energy and body heat.

The following tips will help you conserve heat and energy in cold water.


It is recommended that you practice these recovery techniques so that you can remain calm in the case of an emergency.

1. Wear your lifejacket or P-F-D. Without a lifejacket, you’ll expend valuable energy treading water. Your chance of survival in cold water is far decreased without a lifejacket.

2. Use the "HELP" or Heat, Escape, Lessening Posture. This posture involves bringing your knees close to your chest and wrapping your arms tightly around them. This will prevent as much heat from escaping as possible. This posture requires a lifejacket to be effective.

3. If you're with other passengers in the water, you can use the "huddle" technique to maintain body heat. Get the sides of everyone's chests as close together as possible, wrapping your arms around each other's backs and intertwining your legs.


If you’re going to be operating in cold water temperatures, you may also want to look into wearing additional cold water protection, such as:

  • A floater suit, which is a full nose-to-toes style PFD.
  • An anti-exposure work suit, which is a PFD with a thermal protection rating.
  • A dry suit, which is used with a flotation device and thermal liner.
  • A wetsuit, which traps and heats water against your body, and which is also combined with a PFD; or
  • An immersion suit, which is used in extreme conditions or upon abandoning your boat, and is typically for offshore use.

Remember, in most situations your most important piece of cold water protection is to wear your lifejacket at all times.