Float first is a lifeline for anyone who gets into difficulty in the water. Based on international research (Barwood et al. (2016), floating in the first two minutes of cold water immersion has proven to save lives around the world and is recognised as an essential water competency. Unintended immersion in cold water can result in life threatening cold shock response. Floating for one-to-two minutes provides the body time to recover from the shock and would then be able to coordinate breathing and body movements.

If we can teach everyone to Float first, we can give them a chance to live.

Float first Learning Resources


Learning resources and activities for children under the age of 5 years old.


Junior Primary

Learning resources and activities for junior primary school aged children.


Senior Primary / Intermediate

Learning resources and activities for students at senior primary or intermediate school level.


Youth and Adults

Learning resources and activities for youth and adults of all ages.


Float First

The dangers of cold water shock
Anyone can experience cold water shock when falling into water at 15°c or under, leading to an immediate risk of drowning or cardiac arrest. This is the average winter temperature of our oceans and inland waters like lakes, rivers and waterfalls can be much colder.

When plunged into cold water our first instinct is to gasp for air with an uncontrollable ‘gasp reflex’. Taking on one large breath of water is enough to prove fatal. Our natural response is to swim hard and fight against the shock. This causes people to lose control of their movements and rapidly increases their heart rate, lowering the chances of survival. All this happens in under 2 minutes.

Can everyone float?

Whatever the age or aquatic experience, learning and thinking about floating as a first response is something we should all learn. The good news is that anyone can float*.

Floating is integral to all DPA educational programmes and is backed by international water competency research (Stallman et al., 2017) as one of the 15 water competencies needed for drowning prevention.

*During a trial of 85 people of different ages shapes, sizes, genders and swimming abilities, the University of Portsmouth research revealed that everyone truly can float, either on their own or with gentle sculling.

Float first survival steps

1. Float on your back

Keep your airways (mouth and nose) out of the water and fight your instinct to swim. Tilt your head back and use gentle arm movements. Keeping your airways clear will stop you from breathing in water.

2. Control your breathing

Get your breathing under control and conserve energy. Your breathing and heart rate will slow down as the cold water shock passes. This takes around 60-90 seconds.

3. Call for help

Call out or signal with your arm to let someone know you are there. If you can phone ring 111.

4. Swim to safety

Look for an exit and only swim if it is safe to do so. If you are unable to get out of the water, look for items that can provide additional buoyancy, take steps to keep warm and continue to float until help arrives. Staying still will preserve body heat.
Download the Float first Survival Steps Facebook post in English, Te Reo Māori, Hindi, Tongan, Samoan and Mandarin.


Water competencies for drowning prevention

Floating is just one of the fifteen research backed water competencies that integrate the skills, knowledge, attitudes and behaviours needed to prevent drowning. Check out the research behind Float first by reading about the floating water competency.

Learn to float (online or in person)

Teaching floating

Water safety e-learning courses

Online Learning Module for teaching children to float

Learning to float

Water safety e-learning courses

Online learning module for adults learning to float

SPLASH Holiday Programme

Community water safety education programmes
One day holiday programme for 8-15 year olds to develop water competency

Adult Water Competency

Community water safety education programmes
Free sessions for adults to test and develop their water competency

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