If you see yourself about to fall in, if possible, cover your face with your hands. This may sound strange, but quickly becoming immersed in icy water can cause “Torso Reflex,” or a sudden involuntary intake of breath. Covering your mouth is an attempt to avoid gulping water into your lungs when this happens.
Try to hold onto something that floats.
If you are wearing a life preserver, great. If there are more floating in the water, grab those too to use as floats. Even decoys can be used, one under each arm, to keep you floating. Try to hold onto your boat, or even right the boat and climb inside (some boats are inherently buoyant and float even when filled with water). The idea is to get as much of your body out of the water as possible, so there is less area that can lose heat.
Conserve what heat you can.
Tighten up your jacket, vest, shoes, whatever you are wearing. Try and keep your legs together, and your arms close to your body. Most importantly, try to keep your head dry and try to always wear a hat. You will lose over half of your body heat through your head. Even a mesh ball cap will help retain body heat. The water trapped inside your layers of clothes will warm up from your body heat and act as a wetsuit. Do not remove clothing!
Do not try to swim.
unless it is to reach a nearby boat, another person, or a floating object on which you can climb or use for floatation. Swimming pumps out the warm water trapped between your skin and your clothes and brings in colder water. Swimming can also cause debilitating cramps. Furthermore, the movement pumps warm blood to your extremities, where it cools quickly. Swimming can reduce your survival time by almost 50%.
Stay as still as possible.
No matter how painful. Intense shivering and severe pain in cold water are natural reflexes that will not kill you, but cold water can. Getting into the “H.E.L.P.” position (explained below) may help you keep your cold arms and legs still.