How to perform CPR on a drowned DSLR

Speaking from experience (several times), there’s a few things you can do to help save your treasured DSLR from an early death from drowning. I’m not guaranteeing resuscitation in all cases, because water in your camera’s body is a complete variable, I’m just passing on what I’ve learnt.

As with humans, time is of the essence when trying to save your drowned camera, especially if you are dealing with salt water. (In such an instance, corrosion starts almost immediately.) Primarily though, we are dealing with electronics so the aim of the game is to get the water out and dry your camera ASAP.

So, here’s some tips, in the order in which they should be done, if your DLSR gets seriously wet. Edit: I’ve changed the order of 1-3 to reflect comments from a techie who knows more about this than me.

1. Take the battery out AS FAST AS YOU CAN. Yes, it doesn’t take more than a nanosecond to turn the camera OFF (which is the least you should do), but even after doing so there are still volts inside going where ever the water goes. If the charge meets that moisture, your electronics will be fried. End of story.

2. Take the card out. Simple step, but in the panic immediately following the drowning it’s easily forgotten. I know I have.

3. Don’t stand there wiping the exterior of the camera body. You are wasting valuable time. You need to get to a heat source ASAP.

4. Did you drive to your shoot? Get to the car pronto. Now take the lens off and wipe as much water as you can from inside the camera with your lens cloth or an absorbent cloth if you have one, without damaging the mirror or sensor. Tissues are NOT recommended because they will separate and strands will be left inside the body. Even shaking the body while holding it downwards will help. Turn on your car’s engine, turn the car’s airconditioning on full-bore and HOT, and hold the body up to the vents. Keep it there as you drive home or to your hotel, or get your passenger to do it if you have one. (Drive safe but don’t dawdle.)

5. Think as you drive home. How much rice do you have? You’ll need a good 4kgs, so if necessary buy some on the way home, but don’t stop for a Big Mac or a pie. Get long grain, basmati, jasmine, whatever. Just get the damn rice, ok?

6. When you get home, grab a blow dryer and give the body’s interior a good going over. (The camera’s, not yours.) Full blast. Give it a good 15-30 minutes or at least until you can’t see any more water and your camera body is nice and warm.

7. Ideally, whilst you are doing the blow job, someone else is grabbing a pillow slip and putting all the rice in it. Now find an item of clothing. The thinner the fabric the better. The BEST item to grab is a thermal top or thermal pants or similar.

8. Insert the camera body into a sleeve (or pant). This is to prevent rice grains from getting inside the body. Don’t “wrap” the item of clothing around the body because you want as little as possible coming between the moisture-sucking rice and the body. Now immerse the body in the rice. If the body is in a sleeve, you can leave the rest of the item of clothing hanging out, just make sure the body is immersed in rice.

9. Put the bag on a table next to a fan. This will help keep moisture from hanging around.

10. Leave the body in the bag of rice for as long as possible. Note that I haven’t said you can turn the camera on. That is the hardest bit – resisting the temptation. Give it a week. Seriously.

11. When you finally can’t wait any more and turn the camera back on, do not leave it on. Turn it back off and put it back in the bag of rice even if the camera seems to be working. CPR by rice takes time.

As I said, no guarantees any of the above will save your drowned buddy, but hopefully you can give it at least your best chance to survive. Bear in mind that repairing a drowned DSLR, if possible, can end up costing nearly as much as getting a new one, if not more.

If anyone has other or better tips, please make them known! (Thanks to Biggzie for his technical input – see his comment below.)

For a full list of all my photography guides, tips, and tutorials, go here.

Cheers
Peter

Comments

  • HennaGoddess
    HennaGoddessalmost 3 years ago

    Storing this one away , fingers crossed I never need to use this. Thanks for sharing Peter :)

  • Karen E Camilleri
    Karen E Camillerialmost 3 years ago

    Same here, thanks Peter :))

  • Mel Brackstone
    Mel Brackstonealmost 3 years ago

    I must admit I didn’t know about the turning it off and leaving it off thing….luckily the wave only dropped from above, rather than me dropping the camera IN the water. Rice and Canon fixed it…(They only charged $275) however the second time it happened, it cost a little more….and this time they took photos of the insides…it aint pretty! It’s possible that a marine pack would be a good investment. ;)

  • That little, albeit crucial tip, came from my good buddy Tanya.

    – Peter Hill

  • Hans Kawitzki
    Hans Kawitzkialmost 3 years ago

    Great advise Peter,…………BUT……… if I ever drop my camera in the deep I will have a good excuse to convince my wife to get hold of a Canon 5D Mark III….:)

  • Oh I can just picture you now …. "Oh dear, I’ve “accidently” drowned my camera … oh well, I’ll just have to get a new one, I guess ……"

    – Peter Hill

  • vilaro Images
    vilaro Imagesalmost 3 years ago

    Thanks Peter, greta tips. But what i really want to know is did you manage to save the 5D MkII?

  • Nuh. After several weeks in the bag of rice I turned it back on. It spluttered back to life, but most of the settings can’t be, um, set and it shot once in MF before going back into a coma. I’l take it in for a quote but I’m not expecting much.

    – Peter Hill

  • Les Boucher
    Les Boucheralmost 3 years ago

    Thank’s Peter for sharing this tip. Many years ago (back in the days of having hair on my head) I worked for an importer of photographic equipment and the amount of cameras that were bought in for repair after “a little splash” was overwhelming. From genuine accidents,wher the camera was dropped in a creek or the sea, to people wading out into the surf to take a shot of Great Aunt Bertha splashing in the surf so that Green Peace could be notified, we had them all returned for repair by the tech. guys and girls. In some cases they could be saved..in many cases they couldn’t.
    One thing to be very aware of though is that “If you purchsed your camera overseas it may not be covered by warranty” If these things happen. The best advice that I could add is insure your equipment against accidents and theft. It only costs a few dollars a year when added to your home contents policy but well worth the expense.

  • Yep, good advice for me especially, in hindsight.

    – Peter Hill

  • terezadelpilar~ art & architecture
    terezadelpilar...almost 3 years ago

    fabulous Peter:)) thanks a lot:))

  • jules572
    jules572almost 3 years ago

    I’ve been told this works by another unfortunate soul who lost his camera over his boat. His wife said he was very lucky that he even found it when he dived into the water. I must agree with Les on the insurance, it does give peace of mind. This tutorial is a keeper and will carry it in my camera bag for insurance…Jules

  • My goodness, over the side of the boat. That really is a good dunking!

    Hail rice !! (whodathunk?)

    – Peter Hill

  • Evelina Kremsdorf
    Evelina Kremsdorfalmost 3 years ago

    Where were you a month ago when I needed all this info??? :)

  • Sorry Evelina, been meaning to write up this Journal ever since my 5D2 drowned, and was prompted into action by your recent mishap.

    – Peter Hill

  • Chris Brunton
    Chris Bruntonalmost 3 years ago

    Thanks Peter for the good advice.