Survival Time in Antarctic Waters?

I just saw the news about the Antarctic sinking of a smll cruise ship-it sank after taking on water (from a collision with an iceberg). Anyway-they were luky-nobody was lost. How long would you last if you fell in?

Less then 15 minutes before unconsciousness.

I have been swimming off the coast of Maine during the height of summer with a water temperature of 52F. My legs went completely numb in about 7 minutes and I wished I was already dead but that was for a dare. Native Mainers seem to think the water is simply refreshing however.

The water around Antarctica is around 32F and maybe even a little colder. Time to unconsciousness is less that 15 minutes and death up to 45 minutes after that.

15 minutes is wildly optimistic.

I’ve been through sea survival (for helicopter crashes in near Arctic conditions) on several occasions. We’re taught that you have around 10 minutes before you die if you aren’t kitted out with specialist survival equipment. The best case scenario which involves thermally insulted dry suits, you’ve probably got an hour at best.

Hot under the collar?


The BBC did a show on ship accidents a few years ago and as part of the documentary they took some champion swimmers, wired them up to measure core temp and breathing and heart rate and whatnot, then had them tread water in a cold tank while wearing a speedo. Within a couple of minutes they were shivering uncontrollably and had to be lifted from the tank. Scary stuff.

I’ve always wondered how the “Polar Bear” club swimmers do it - you see them diving into water in freezing conditions and I can only recall hearing about one person dying. Do they just hop in and get out immediately?

On the show “Deadliest Catch” a guy fell overboard in his survival suit. They managed to pull him safely out of the water. The boat captain remarked that the last time they did that, the guy was dead before they got the boat back around to pick him up.

This was in the Bering sea on the opposite side of the globe, but basically it’s the same conditions, near freezing water.

The numbers they often quote on the show are 5 minutes without a survival suit and 30 minutes with a suit. After that, you’re doing a body recovery.

Longer if you’re Lynn Cox.

And dont forget to get all of the air out of the feet of your "Once only suit"or you’ll float upside down and drown long before you die of hypothermia,you get an interesting perspective of underwater life in the sea however.

If they’re smart, they’re in and out in less than a minute.

I’ve watched the polar bears in our area do their dip thing, and I don’t think I’ve seen any of them stay in longer than 60 seconds.

Perhaps Musicat will share his experiences in this area…


Survivors of such icy waters sometimes mention that they can feel their skeleton as their bodies get chilled.

Speaking of which, do women get a little longer because of their higher proportion of body fat?

The reading I’ve done suggests that the distribution of this fat is important. People like Lynn Cox or Diana Nyad who are conditioned have a different fat distribution than most women (and by “most” I mean “almost all”). But the notoriously chilly Channel swim is successfully performed more often by “slightly pudgy” women than by anyone else. There could be some edge there, a natural affinity that’s enhanced by training.