Centre for Maritime Safety


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Cold water

Cold water can be dangerous, be prepared. Plan your trip and always wear a lifejacket.

Two men fishing on a boat

Cold water is a significant contributing factor in fatal and serious injuries in boating and is identified as a priority issue in the Maritime Safety Plan. This is because if you fall in to cold water, cold shock can set in very quickly and you’re at risk of catching hyperthermia. If you do end up in cold water, wearing a lifejacket could save your life.

You can find more information on the rules for safe and responsible boating on NSW waterways in the Boating Handbook.
Water can be dangerously cold even on sunny days. Water temperatures below 15 degrees are considered dangerous. Low temperatures like this can occur in alpine waterways all year round. In NSW these include:

  • Lake Burrinjuck
  • Lake Eucumbene
  • Lake Jindabyne
  • Khancoban Pondage
  • Swampy Plains River
  • Mannus Lake
  • Googong Reservoir
  • Blowering Reservoir
  • Pejar Dam
  • Yass River
  • Lake Oberon
  • All navigable waters within Kosciuszko National Park.

Cold water doesn’t just occur in alpine regions, it can occur in most parts of NSW in winter and spring.

Tips to stay safe:

Your boat and equipment

  • Always wear a lifejacket. If you fall into the water it will help you manage the initial cold shock, conserve energy and give you precious time to get back into your vessel or for rescue assistance to arrive.

Before you head out

  • Plan your trip and check the weather
  • Always dress for the conditions
  • Know your boating environment and check the water temperature
  • Tell someone where you are going and your estimated time of return.

While you are out on the water

  • If you’re boating in an open runabout or paddle vessel like a canoe or kayak, take special care as these vessels are the most prone to capsize and swamping
  • If you do fall into the water, try to get back onto your vessel as quickly as possible, or get as much of your body out of the water that you can.  Only swim for shore if it is very close and you are sure you can make it there quickly
  • If you have no other choice but to stay in the water, stay with the vessel and huddle with anyone else who is in the water to reduce the loss of body heat
  • If you are by yourself, stay in the heat escape lessening position, where you draw your knees to your chest and wrap your arms around your knees and clasp your hands together so you’re in a tucked position. This will protect you from the body's three major areas of heat loss - groin, head/neck and rib cage/armpits.