How to survive in the open water -

Could you survive in the open water?

When the Italian cruise liner Costa Concordia set out from port, none of its passengers imagined that, just a few hours later, it would crash into a rocky shoal and sink. As terrified passengers scrambled to board lifeboats, some fell or even jumped into the frigid sea.

While cruise ship disasters like the Costa Concordia are rare, in the United States alone, the Coast Guard rescues five people per month who have fallen off cruise ships. They stress the importance of following these safety precautions:

  • Be extra careful on balconies and higher decks, especially in rough seas and strong winds.
  • Wear shoes with good rubber-grip soles. Dress shoes should only be worn indoors.
  • If you've consumed alcohol, stay away from the rails.
  • Always know where the closest life jackets are.

U.S. Coast Guard's Petty Officer Adam Eggers says, "That life jacket will keep your head above the water so you can continue to breathe. The longer you can keep yourself alive, the longer that you can keep your head above water, the better chance that a rescuer has to find you."

Falling from cruise ships is just one way people end up in the open water. The large majority of the 100-plus rescues the Coast Guard conducts every day are people who've set sail on fishing or recreational boats.

"The overall key to water survival, no matter how you end up in the water, is being prepared," says Officer Eggers.

He also says the first thing to know if you go overboard is to stay with the vessel or floating debris. That not only provides you with a potential floatation device, but dramatically increases your chance of being spotted by rescuers.

"If you're in an aircraft that's a couple hundred feet above the water searching for people, it's extremely difficult to find a head just bobbing on top. It's much easier to see a 20-foot boat that may be flipped upside down," says Officer Eggers.

The most extreme danger you face in the open sea is hypothermia -- the loss of core body temperature. Scientists describe what happens in 50-degree water with a principle known as "one-ten-one."

"Basically, what the one-ten-one principle says is you have one minute once you enter the water to get your breathing under control," says Officer Eggers. "The 'ten' stands for ten minutes of meaningful movement. That basically says you have 10 minutes before that cold water starts affecting your muscle tissue and your muscle nerves to slow them down. So if you need to swim to something, swimming toward flotation, you need to get there right away. The last 'one' stands for one hour. That means you'll have about one hour before you lose consciousness due to hypothermia."

The best way to slow down loss of body heat is pulling your knees to your chest in what's known as the "help" position.

Eggers says this posture will increase your survival time. And that's the bottom line: Keeping your head above water long enough for rescuers to arrive.

"Remember, when you find yourself in open water and in a fight for your life, we're going to be out and we're going to be looking. So anything that you can do to prolong your time above the water is vital," says Officer Eggers.

The U.S. Coast Guard's final word: Don't think it can't happen to you. Be prepared and survive.

Copyright 2012 America Now. All rights reserved.

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