When Cameras Get Wet; Things To Do After A Dousing

Water. Even a small amount can turn your favorite camera into a worthless, grisly paperweight.

If your camera gear gets in the drink, there's only a slim chance you can save it. But you can improve your odds if you follow these tips.

Act Fast
If your camera gets wet, it's important to act quickly. If you're outdoors when the disaster happens, get to your vehicle as quickly as you safely can. For digital cameras, remove the batteries and memory card, otherwise you run the risk of losing them as well. For film cameras, remove the battery, then carefully and slowly rewind and remove the film. If it's a motorized rewind unload with a changing bag. Can the images be salvaged? Possibly. But there's no guarantee.

Dry the outside of the camera with a paper towel or an absorbent cloth. Hold the camera directly in the jet stream of your vehicle's air conditioning vent for at least 15 minutes. This is dehydrated air and is your best bet. Second choice is a hair dryer (set on low or no heat) or the wall-mounted hand dryer found in public restrooms.

Back at home, seal the camera in a large plastic bag that contains a small dish filled with silica gel desiccant (a drying agent available at some larger hardware stores) and leave it for at least 24 hours. Don't allow the chemical to touch the camera, or dust could infiltrate the camera through a seam in the plastic. Silica gel is sometimes available in vented canisters or permeable bags that make it very easy to use without directly exposing the chemical.

Contrary to urban legend, baking a wet camera in the oven is not recommended.

Does it still work? You're not out of the woods yet. Many times when camera equipment has been resuscitated from near drowning, it works for a while--maybe even a few weeks--and then dies. Corrosion caused by the moisture slowly grows until it crosses a solder trace or otherwise causes a short circuit. Rivers, ponds, and sometimes even tap water are alive with all sorts of microbes that can take up residence in your camera or lens. Cloth shutters absorb these critters and slowly mold. Some lenses grow lovely flora patterns that resemble delicate window frost--just before the aperture blades seize and the lens becomes inoperative.

Next step: send it to the manufacturer for analysis and professional service. If you were able to obtain silica gel in permeable paper bags, include a generous supply along with your shipment. The box may sit a couple of days before being opened--the silica gel will continue to work on your behalf.

The camera manufacturer's warranty never covers damage caused by water damage--but some after-market "extended warranties" do. If you have one, read the fine print before deciding where the item should be sent.

An Ounce Of Prevention
Although some cases and bags claim water-resistant properties, it's not wise to rely solely on your gadget bag to protect your gear. Even if it could withstand an Amazon downpour, it's likely you'd transfer some of the water from the outside to the equipment inside. Besides, camera equipment sitting inside a big, wet bag is like you sitting inside a big, wet overcoat.

Pack Your Bags
A plastic garbage bag can save the day. If you're caught outside when the clouds begin to burst, place the camera in the bag and the bag in your innermost pocket. Even a small sandwich bag will help, provided it's large enough to be sealed with the camera inside. Some professionals carry bags big enough to enclose their entire gadget bags. The lesson here? Pack your bags.

Underwater Housing
If you participate in wet sports--canoeing or kayaking, for example--you're going to get wet, so look into an underwater housing for your camera. They're expensive, but cheaper than replacing your camera. They allow full operation of every camera function, and are terrific for snorkeling and skiing. Some can be used underwater as deep as 100 ft.

Gisele Adams's picture

Thanks for sharing this post. Let me share something about silica gel. It has many uses. It can be used for keeping food fresh. There is silica gel that is filled with silicon dioxide globules that work as a desiccant, avoiding moisture destruction. It is also used in cameras. They're the small white paper packages covered with “Do Not Eat” caution messages, the ones we see inside the box when we buy new shoes. It is a must to observe precautionary measures in using silica gel especially when there are children around.