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Anna, Teacher, writer, biologist
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in a drowing victom how much difference does cold water (60

Resolved Question:

in a drowing victom how much difference does cold water (60 degrees) make in time body will float and does amount of clothing person has on make any difference?
Submitted: 4 years ago.
Category: General
Expert:  Anna replied 4 years ago.

I just want to let you know that I’m working on your answer and will post it as soon as I have it typed up. Please don’t respond to this post as that can lock me out of the question. I’ll be back shortly.

Thank you.

Expert:  Anna replied 4 years ago.
Thank you for waiting. There can be no standard numbers given in answer to your question because so many variables come into play. I can give you the general effects of water temperature and clothing on drowning. Cold water is slightly more dense than warm water. Objects (or humans) float when their density is less than or equal to that of the water. In theory, the colder water's higher density should make it easier to float, and enable a longer float time. In reality, the difference would be measures in tenth of seconds. It is insignificant. Other factors include the person's body fat content (fat people are less dense than muscular ones), how much struggling occurs, whether the dive reflex occurs, the person's overall health, etc.

As for clothing, heavy shoes or boots would of course tend to weigh the victim down. Other types of clothing can trap air near the body, at least for a little while, and that would increase the float time.

When someone dies in a cold water accident, it cna be from hypothermia or from drowning. Sometimes the shock of the cold water is so great, the person instantly suffers cardiac arrest and death. Shock itself can cause death in a few minutes, even in a person who stays afloat. Panic and struggling causes faster sinking. In some people, especially children, the dive reflex activates. The first reaction is to gasp for a deep breath. If that breath comes after they are in the water, the lungs will fill with water. If the dive reflex works tech way it si supposed to, it cna lead to increased survival time under water. we've all heard of children where this has happened. It can occur in adults, as well. However, the longer the person si under water, the more likely serious brain damage is to occur. You can read more about the dive reflex here:

If you have more questions, let me know by clicking on rEPLY.

Customer: replied 4 years ago.
I am familiar with the dive reflex but I have removed several floaters in summer and winter and yesterday was the first time I have seen one that supposaly has been in the water for 2 weeks. Not much sluffing of the skin that was showing,not much bloating or smell. Even a well intact identifying tatoo. I just wondered why this person would be so different than most. I would almost say he had not been in the water this whole time. I am a volunteer diver for a rescue squad, If this stuff seems odd to me it looks as though it would look odd to local law enforcement, He was wearing a hooding with 2 shirts under it. and light weight boots and blue jeans. Does that qualify as heavy clothing. Is the water worse on a body underwater or after it floats? We have had some 70degree and some 40degree weather since he went missing but I assume the water temp would stay about the same?
Expert:  Anna replied 4 years ago.
I didn't realize we were talking about a dead body. In cold water, it can take as long as 3 weeks for a body to float. However, at that time, you would expect to see some skin coming off, decomposition, and swelling of body tissues. This takes place under water, and when there is enough decomposition, the body floats. Here's a site where you can read more on this written by a doctor who is an expert on the forensics of death. You'll need to scroll to the bottom for the section on floaters:

As you already know, water has a stabilizing effect when it comes to temperature, so the varying air temperatures would have little effect on the water temperature when the variations are short term. The victim's clothing doesn't sound as if it was particularly heavy. I think it would be reasonable for you to share your suspicions with law enforcement. As I am a biologist, not a legal or forensics expert, I'm not able to advise you on what may have happened to the victim, but it does seem that your suspicions have a real basis.

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