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Have you heard of H.E.L.P?

published: 05-23-2011 Journal entry icon

Men and women in the military who operate in and around open water need protection against drowning and immersion syndrome. Quick response to cold-water immersion is important because of its immediate impact on the body. Immersion syndrome could cause cessation of breathing and/or cardiac arrest in certain people. Cold water causes a loss of heat much faster than cold air does and can quickly cause performance impairments such as not being able to fasten a life jacket or other safety equipment. Making an effort to tread water or swim only increases the body’s heat loss and hastens the onset of hypothermia.

A person alone can extend survival time by using body posture that covers areas especially vulnerable to heat loss. Those in the water should avoid movement and use the “heat-escape lessening posture” (H.E.L.P.). This posture minimizes the exposure to cold water of the individual’s groin and chest because the arms are folded across the chest and pressed to the sides and the knees are drawn up with the legs crossed at the ankles, creating a fetus-like position (see figure 13-6 in the article linked above for an illustration). Note that this technique does require the use of a personal floatation device that allows the knees to be drawn up.

If more than one person is involved, the “huddle position” should be used to reduce heat loss. In this position, individuals should press together their chests, abdomens, and groins. In addition to conserving each individual’s body heat, the huddle position helps prevent the swimmers from becoming separated before they are rescued, provides a larger rescue discovery target, improves morale, reduces shock and panic, and may reestablish a chain of command.

These survival techniques require practice and the use of personal flotation devices. Treading water in the H.E.L.P. position in heavy seas is a major challenge, and the huddle position requires that all participants be able to tread water, so being fit and prepared is essential.