"Float First:" Trapped air between clothing layers significantly improves buoyancy after immersion

Martin Barwood, Victoria Bates, Geoffrey Long, Michael Tipton

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Approximately 450,000 people drown annually worldwide. The capacity of immersed adults and children to float in clothing is less well understood, but it is possible that air trapped between clothing layers increases buoyancy. These studies aimed to quantify buoyancy and the practical implications thereof. Study 1 (n= 24) quantified this buoyancy and the consequence of any buoyancy by measurement of airway freeboard (mouth to water level distance). Study 2 examined the capability of children (n = 29) to float with freeboard used as the outcome measure and is expressed as a percentage of occasions that freeboard was achieved. Buoyancy (measured in newtons; N) was provided for winter clothing as 105(± 12)N, for autumn/spring clothing as 87(± 13)N, and for summer clothing as 68(± 11)N. In all cases, buoyancy was greater than for the control condition of 61(± 11)N. Aver­age freeboard was 63(± 2) % for winter clothing, 62(± 2) % for autumn/spring clothing, 66(± 2)% for summer clothing, and 15(± 1)% for the control condition. Children were more buoyant, 95(± 17)% freeboard, irrespective of gender, than adults. "Float first" is advocated as a primary survival mechanism.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)147-163
JournalInternational Journal of Aquatic Research and Education
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - May 2011


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