Float first is a lifeline for anyone who gets into difficulty in the water. Based on the RNLI’s Float to Live Campaign and research by the University of Portsmouth 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.
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.
The dangers of cold water shock
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
2. Control your breathing
3. Call for help
4. Swim to safety
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)
Online Learning Module for teaching children to float
Learning to float
Online learning module for adults learning to float
SPLASH Holiday Programme
One day holiday programme for 8-15 year olds to develop water competency
Adult Water Competency
Free sessions for adults to test and develop their water competency
Barwood, M. J., Burrows, H., Cessford, J., & Goodall, S. (2016). “Float first and kick for your life”: Psychophysiological basis for safety behaviour on accidental short-term cold water immersion. Physiology & behavior, 154, 83-89.
RNLI. (2023, July 3). Float to Live. https://rnli.org/safety/float
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