Updated 25 February 2014

Lost surfer: 6 greatest dangers

When Cape Town surfer Brett Archibald spent 28 hours in the waters off Indonesia before being rescued, he faced these six major dangers.

Susan Erasmus is a freelance writer for Health24.

When Cape Town surfer Brett Archibald spent 28 hours lost at sea, he faced several major health threats, many of which could have killed him.

The most obvious would have been drowning. Even good swimmers can only keep going for so long, and in rough seas anyone can drown. If someone is unconscious when hitting the water, chances of drowning are extremely high.

After a short while, hypothermia becomes a problem. It is not possible for someone in the water to maintain their body temperature for any length of time – especially if they are not wearing a wetsuit. In very cold seawater (between 0.3 and  4.4 degrees Celsius) hypothermia can set in within minutes 30 minutes and expected time of survival is between 30 and 90 minutes. Indonesia's oceans are warmer, so Archibald could keep going. In relatively warm water (up to 21 degrees Celsius) survival time is anything from 2 – 40 hours.

Then, of course there is always the possibility of a shark attack. Indonesia's waters teem with both sharks and rays, and in a recent survey, 20 new species have been discovered in this area. Although humans are not at the top of sharks' list of preferences, sharks will investigate anything out of the ordinary – such as a human splashing on the surface of the water.

Dehydration is a major problem to people caught in ocean water. Obviously salt water is not for drinking as its concentration of salts is up to 220 times that of fresh water. Drinking of sea water will hasten the process of dehydration considerably.

Sunburn can be deadly, but usually it takes a day or two for this to become a real problem to someone in a situation such as this. Excessive sunburn can lead to further dehydration.

Starvation is a real threat

(Sources:; expeditionfleetblog, Health24;


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