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How to Escape From a Sinking Car

If you've underestimated the depth of the flooded area, attempted to cross and find yourself in difficulty - don't panic!

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  • Assess - If the car is not sinking and the water is not rising, decide whether you are safer staying with the car or attempting to get to dry land.
    Always go for the option which poses the least risk and only attempt to leave the car if it is feasible and safe to do so (consider factors such as a current which may increase the danger).
  • Path Of Least Resistance - If you decide to leave the car, always get out on the side with least water resistance.
    Don't attempt to open a car door against the flow of moving water which could destabilise the vehicle.
  • Waiting - If you elect to remain with the car, stand on the roof and wait for the water to subside (bearing in mind that conditions may change and cars can become buoyant extremely quickly).
  • Head For Land - If you decide it is safe enough to try and reach dry land, use whatever materials you have available to help you move safely through the water.
    A pole or stick is good for added balance when wading, whilst a tow rope can be used as a safety line if there is someone on land to throw one end to.
  • Wading - Roll-up trousers - so that your legs offer less resistance. Consider taking them off and putting them in a plastic bag if they are not already wet so you have something dry to change into when you reach safety.
    Keep shoes on - they will give you better grip than bare feet as well as protecting you from potentially dangerous submerged obstacles and uneven surfaces.
    Turn your body - proceed at a slight angle with the current so that it helps you to move in the right direction.
    Small steps - do not take strides but shuffle using a pole or stick, if you have one, to test the water ahead and ensure there is a secure footing.
  • Go Back - Towards the point where your vehicle you entered the water if possible. You don't know what may lie ahead but heading back you will be on familiar ground.
  • Seeking Help - If you are in a remote location and help is not immediately at hand, consider the direction you've have just travelled from and whether you have passed somewhere that could aid you (a pub or petrol station for example). If you have not passed anything for miles, then it may be wiser to assume closer help lies ahead.
  • Providing Help If you see someone in danger, follow these steps:
    • ALWAYS call 999 first.
    • Keep yourself in a safe but helpful position.
    • If possible, talk to them throughout the situation - they will be scared/tired and possibly on shock.
    • If public rescue equipment is not available, throwing out an object, such as a branch, rope or belt (whatever floats or extends your reach) is the best help you can give. A 'reach' rescue from a safe position is preferable to having two or more people in the water.

Survival Tip

Assess the situation and decide which option poses the least risk.


Download the complete guide

Winter Survival Guide cover


Download the complete guide or read on for winter survival advice.