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Overboard Accidents and Drowning

Fresh Water Drowning Compared with Salt Water Drowning

Simulated Casualty by DrowningThe human body does not respond the same to every liquid that fills the lungs.

Fresh water drowning takes 5-20 minutes. In fresh water, the water filling persons lungs can enter the blood stream quickly causing blood cells to swell and burst. Also, the fluid entering the person’s lungs prevents the person from taking in enough air, which leads to cardiac arrest. When the heart stops because it needs enough oxygen. In fresh water drowning, the victim is likely unconscious by the time the heart stops.

Salt water drowning is known to be more painful taking 5-30 minutes. In salt water, you drown in your own fluids. The lungs fill with salt water, which draws blood out of the blood stream and into the lungs. This liquid buildup in the air sacks stops oxygen from reaching the blood and causes death. The painfulness is not just caused from the lack of oxygen that causes drowning, but salt water has higher concentrations of dissolved substances than blood or body tissues, so it is unlikely to enter the circulation. This means water is more likely to move from the capillaries of the lungs into the air spaces containing the salt water due to what is called osmosis and the drowning person feels this happening.

In cold seas, ocean temperature tends to be cooler than fresh water which may be ultimately make salt water less painful as victims are more likely to have developed hypothermia causing drowsiness and confusion and thus less aware of their demise.

Pathology of Drowning

Overboard Marine RescueActive Drowning, Human physiology does not allow our body to waste air it is starving for and therefore as it is necessary to breathe for one to yell. When an overboard passenger is suffering from cold water shock trauma, it is likely they would be unable to call for help. Further, as currents sweep you away from your vessel, calls become more difficult to be heard.

In the initial phase of drowning, as water enters the airways of a conscious person, the victim attempt to cough up or swallow the water inhaling more water involuntarily. Whether conscious or unconscious, laryngospasms will constrict the larynx and vocal cords to close off the air tube to prevent water from entering the lungs which forces water to enter the stomach instead. Laryngospasm will relax sometime after unconsciousness allowing water to enter the lungs causing wet drowning. A froth cone is produced in the throat when mucus mixes with air and water mix around the nose and or mouth during respirations. If a froth cone is present in a victim’s airway, it will indicate consciousness at the time of submersion. Water present in the lungs also indicates a victim was still alive at the point of submersion.

In 10-15% of victims will have maintained this seal through cardiac arrest caused by hypoxia from a lack of oxygen reaching the brain that induces unconsciousness. without oxygen, a brain will die within 6 minutes. Cases where no water is found in the lungs are known as dry drowning or shock trauma death before submersion. There is an upside to cold water situations as they sometimes can offer emergency responders prolonged response time where unconscious persons with closed airways have improved chances of full recovery.

Drowning Post-Mortem

Drowning Post MortemConsiderations determining length of time a body had been submerged: When passengers fall overboard without a PFD, their bodies may sink and not be found for days, weeks, or ever. If the person dies, the PFD will keep the person afloat on the surface enabling their remains to be recovered more quickly. This is key to recovery as strong ocean currents could pull one out to sea further.

Maceration of the skin: Bodies found not wearing a PFD will sink and be tumbled apon the ocean floor where bottom feeders (i.e. sharks and crabs) may feed on remains.
• Cooling of the body: The victims movement will effect how quickly heat is lost and waters with heavy current accelerate cooling.
• Rigormortis: Depending of various factors including water temperature and salinity PH change muscle rigidity may remain for two days.
• Livormortis: A body found not wearing a PFD will usually float face down bottom up with extremities dangling in a downward fashion. Due to absorption of water into the skin, the color range of skin will vary from blue red to pink.
• Life vests with evenly distributed buoyancy will be unstable and not keep a body in an upright position.
• Water temperature: The cooling rate will depend on the regional temperature of the water.
• Clothing: A naked body submerged in cool water can cool twice as fast as a body on land.
• Decomposition: Rapid cooling will retard development of post mortem changes. When a drowning victims body is brought ashore, decomposition will resume at an accelerated rate. Even after just a few hours, the appearance of a body may have completely changed. A body should be examined as soon as possible after the deceased has been brought ashore.

Alcohol Intoxication & Fatalities

Boating while Drinking a Dangerous MixApproximately one-third of all fatal boating accidents occur while inebriated.Never BUI Boat Under the Influence of Drugs or alcoholic beverages. The effects of the sun, motion, wind, and noise are amplified by alcohol consumption, drugs, and prescription medications. They cause fatigue, impair judgment, balance, and reaction time. Intoxicants impair critical lifesaving decisions and contrary to popular belief alcohol will not warm a person in fact, alcohol dilates blood vessels increasing heat loss. With water temperature less than 50 degrees. The misconception comes from those who have had a few drinks and then gone swimming in cold water. They may have felt that they became more sober. If one was drunk when they fell in, their movements will have been impaired without the added stress of the water temperature. Depending on the quantity of substance, they may even be insensible. The disorientation, and fear add to the temperatures effects potentially resulting in death.

As for drowning while under the influence of alcohol, Intoxication causes vasodilatation of the skin and causes a rise in the skin temperature. A strong reaction occurs when the person enters cold water. The person will incur extremely rapid skin cooling which may cause them to inhale water or suffer sudden cardiovascular collapse.

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