Escaping a submerged vehicle

In Brief to save yourself and your family

Don’t panic or use your mobile phone

Seatbelts – OFF OR CUT


Children out first and adults last

Don’t use your phone until you are in a place of refuge like the top of the car (shallow water) or other safe place.


ALIVE Truck Proof

ALIVE Car Submersion


Rescue in Car Accidents in the Aquatic Environment

Every year, thousands of vehicles worldwide end up in the water, by accident or on purpose. About 15% of them are fatal. A studies over many years, in which different kinds of passenger vehicles were driven in several ways into the water, led to the following observations and to the establishment of realistic lifesaving techniques through immediate action.

Floating phase
The actual duration of the floating phase is different for every case/car, in function of:

  • The kind of car (open/closed, large/small, minivan etc.)
  • The way of landing in the water (on 4 wheels, on the roof, sideways etc)
  • The kind of damage (with a crushed rooftop, broken windows, the condition of the body work)
  • The kind and localisation of the load
  • The localisation of the motor

Depending on the above-mentioned facts, the vehicle will normally sink heavy end first i.e. frontward, but sometimes  backwards while the remaining air that keeps it floating escapes.

Positioning on the bottom
In decreasing order of quantity, the vehicles are recovered on the wheels, on the roof, on the side or nose down stuck in the mud.

Air Bubble
During the floating phase, there is an air bubble that decreases as the vehicle sinks to the bottom. While the escape is prepared there is still air present, breathing remains possible.

In modern cars, equipped with a flatter rooftop they are recovered on their 4 wheels in more than 2.5m depth of water, an air bubble or only approx. 2 cm just under the rooftop may be detected.

In cases where the rooftop was covered with maximum 50 cm water, slightly more air was detected (up to 5cm). This remaining air is very difficult to detect, due to the sagging of the rooftop's wet soft furnishing.

Only with the knowledge of certain techniques, can this remaining air bubble be used for breathing. With vehicles that were detected in different positioning, more of less no air remaines inside.

Electrically-operated windows and doors
They will sooner or later no longer function, but this will not necessarily immediately follow the immersion, considering that the concerned equipment is well protected against water. Opening the doors or breaking the windows with a "rescue or glass hammer" or with the bottom of a fire extinguisher or heavy implement is difficult but still possible.


  • Stay Safe - Stay Calm
  • The lifesaving escape has to be planned and prepared, while breathing in the avaiable air bubble
  • Avoid panic by remaining calm and giving clear instructions
  • Remove the safety belts and of the children in the baby seats 
  • Arrange the small children to move with those who will leave the vehicle first

Abandon the vehicle AS QUICKLY AS POSSIBLE. Survival chances decrease as the car sinks deeper


  • Release your seatbelts and open the windows - be aware that the seatbelts might not retract; take care not to get tangled in them
  • In case this doesn't work, break the  windows with a " glass or rescue hammer", the UNDERSIDE of the fire extinguisher, headrest or any available heavy implement. As long as the vehicle floats, this will succeed.
  • If your head restraints are removable, pull them out when you release your seatbelt to enable easy passage for rear passengers - you can also use the head restraints to smash the side windows if necessary

  • Using the fire extinguisher or heavy implement is very difficult under water. The average person will only break the windscreen with a glass hammer because it is made out of layers of glass. Beware of the rear windows, as they can sometimes only be opened half way (child protection), which makes escaping through them very difficult, if not impossible. In case escape through the side windows or windscreen does NOT succeed, the doors are also an escape possibility. Open the lock. Push very powerfully with shoulder and arm against the door till it opens. Because of the counter pressure of the water this will not be easy. Even with all air gone from the car, a lot of power is needed to succeed in this. In case the vehicle is still floating, the water will now strongly flow inside, thus shortening the floating time drastically.
  • The strongest swimmers abandon the car first. They should hold on to the roof edge with both hands. They should exit backwards, head first, face up; they pull themselves out, holding on to the car
  • Subsequently the other passengers are pulled out of the vehicle, if they are unable to exit themdelves in the same way
  • In anticipation of getting everybody out of the car, the vulnerable can be put on the roof of the car if it is still floating or has sunk in shallow water
  • Then lead the vulnerable one by one to the shore. 
  • It may seem obvious - but don't try to save anything except lives. Computers, phones, purses, jewellery, etc. can be replaced - you can't!
    When it is only possible to leave the vehicle under water (sinking or sunk), it is essential to keep contact with the car if remaining passengers in the car are to be rescued. Breathing in air at the surface and then diving back is only possible in shallow water.

    What to do when I come upon a casualty in the water

    Always consider your own personal safety,  never dive in without completing a risk assessment. If possible grab a ringbuoy

    In as much as you can you assess the following:

    The degree of urgency
    The numbers in danger
    The observer’s own abilities
    The condition of the subject(s)
    The aids or assistance available
    The weather and water conditions e.g. river current or rip currents
    The distance of the subject(s) from shore


    Call 112 or 999 and ask for Marine Rescue, brief them on the situation, i.e. location, number of casualties, colour of car. 
    Immediate help can only be given by going into the water.
    • Because a floating vehicle behaves similar to a boat, one can try to pull it closer or mainatin its position to the shore with some kind of rope or a human chain, or use a ringbuoy and rope if available
    • In case the passengers do not open either door or window, a side window has to be broken with any available heavy implement e.g. a rock or a door has to be opened by supporting both feet on the framework and pulling the door handle very hard
    • Further actions depend on the physical condition and the aquatic experience of the lifesavers

    Following the above-mentioned directives gives passengers of vehicles that get into the water real survival chances.
  • VOICE!
    Seek assistance – Shout for HELP

    Instruct another to dial 999 or 112 and ask for Marine Rescue

    Use your voice to calm the casualties and give clear, confident instructions and encouragement to assist them to a place of safety. There may be no rescue equipment available, so if possible improvise.

    If this fails then use a coat, branch of a tree, brush handle or other available rescue aid to complete a reaching rescue.

    When available always use Public Rescue Equipment i.e. a ringbuoy, WADEIf the location allows conduct a wading rescue with care and only if you are a trained lifesaver.

  • A swimming rescue should only be attempted if you are an in-date trained lifesaver.

  • Glass Hammers and centr punchs can be purchased in Motor Factors or online 

  • Irish Water Safety,  The Long Walk,  Galway,  Ireland.
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