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How Long Can a Human Survive in Water?

A close up of the peak of a wave that formed with sunset clouds behind it

There are lots of situations that could leave you stranded in a large body of water, like a shipwreck, or when a plane crashes into the water. While these are both extremely terrifying things that could happen, it can help to have the right knowledge and information to help you in such a situation.

We are going to tell you everything that you need to know about surviving in water in this article, so you would know exactly what to expect if the worst were to occur. Preparation is key in any survival situation, which is why we are going to give you all the facts and information that we possibly can about surviving in water. 

How Long Can a Human Survive in Water?

A human would be able to survive in water for a couple of weeks, providing that the other elements don’t get to you first. Conditions like hypothermia are really common when a person is submerged in water with no escape, and you can get cold enough to get hypothermia pretty quickly.

If the water happens to be warm enough that you don’t die of hypothermia, then there are also other problems that can occur. When the human body is submerged in water for a long time, the skin will start to break down after a few days. Your skin is one of your biggest enemies in this situation as it will develop into open sores that are likely to get fungal and bacterial infections from the spores on your skin, even in sterile water.

Another issue in this situation would be the pressure of the water as after a while, it would start to reduce the circulation to your extremities which is a big problem. The water pressure can also make it much more difficult to breathe, especially if you are panicking. 

As well as all of this, you will need some form of water to stay alive, and the average human will only survive for around 3 days without it. Saltwater is not safe for drinking, so while this may seem like the obvious option, it can kill you just as easily and cause things like kidney failure. Even if you have a source of water, you are going to need to eat as well, and the average person can go anywhere between 8 and 21 days without food. 

How to Stay Afloat in Open Water

The best way to float in open water is by using a life jacket or finding the best way to stay afloat while keeping warm. Thankfully, you should have a life jacket in most water-based situations. For example, if you are going on a boat journey, are on a cruise, or an aeroplane that is going over water, these places will all be stocked with life jackets. 

So, in the unfortunate event that you are going to end up in open water, make sure to fasten your life jacket as it will help you to survive. Life jackets should always be properly inflated and secured to the body. You should never take off your life jacket when you are in the water.

You should also try to keep your head as warm as possible as this is where 50% of heat loss comes from in the body. You should try to keep your head above the water as much as you can to help with this. You should also float your body in either a vertical or horizontal position.

If you are with other survivors, then you should always remain close by to them. Not only is this a good idea to stop anyone floating off on their own, but it can also help to increase motivation when in a dire situation. The most important reason that you should stick together is so you can reduce heat loss as much as possible by huddling together. 

How Long Does it Take for a Person to Drown?

It can take seconds for a person to drown if they panic, but if a person is submerged underwater after breathing in water for around 4 to 6 minutes without resuscitation, then this will lead to brain damage and death through drowning. 

Drowning is a horrible death that is a form of suffocation, and it happens after the lungs take in water, as the water will stop you from being able to breathe. The lungs will become heavy, and oxygen will no longer be taken to the heart, which will lead to a total shutdown in the body.

Interestingly, the average person is able to hold their breath for around 30 seconds, but for children, this amount of time is much shorter. For those with great health and emergency training, they will typically be able to hold their breath for around two minutes.

What Does it Feel Like to Drown?

When a person is drowning, the first thing that they do is enter a fight or flight state when panic sets in. During this stage, they will struggle to breathe and fight the urge to gasp for air underwater. The airway will start to close to prevent the person from taking in any more water, and this will make them hold their breath involuntary. This process can take place for up to two minutes before the person loses consciousness.

Now that the person is unconscious, their breathing will stop and the heart will start to slow. During this stage is when the best chances of resuscitation are, and the person can be revived with a high chance of recovery. This stage will typically last for a few minutes. 

Next, the body will enter a phase that is called hypoxic convulsion which often looks like a seizure. Without a source of oxygen to allow the person to breathe the body will start to turn blue and may even jerk around erratically.

The final stage of drowning is when the brain, heart, and lungs get to the point where they can no longer be revived, and this is called hypoxia. After this, the person will be dead.