What To Do If Your Gun Gets Submerged In Water

Will A Gun Shoot After It Has Been Submerged In Water?

Are Guns Waterproof?

All types of firearms exist. Some are made to be more durable than others. And while the term “durable” may be relative, most people would agree it sounds like a far stretch to be able to drop a gun in water and still be able to fire it. This beckons questions such as “Can a gun still fire after it has gotten wet?”, “Is my gun waterproof?”, and “What happens to a gun under water?”. Obviously there are a ton of other questions too, but they all can be answered by analyzing what happens to a firearm underwater and how well does a gun function after it has been waterlogged. There is also the topic of foreign objects which may be present in certain bodies of water. 

As previously mentioned, all guns are different. This means there is a wide range of susceptibility and durability when it comes to how badly water can damage a firearm and/or its ability to shoot. Some guns are on the worse end of the scale: they will not function at all when wet (even being a hazard if fired under water). Other guns are on the better end of the spectrum, actually having been made to sustain underwater shooting. Breaking down what happens to a gun under water can help interpret that gun’s response to getting waterlogged, as well as whether or not it would still function properly.

What To Do After Your Gun Gets Wet

Some light moisture can be okay for many guns. For example, hunters often experience very wet conditions, including both rain and snow. The guns just need to be properly cared for. If there is an anticipation of a wet environment, doing a little preparatory work can go a long way. Whether it has begun to rain or not, however, it is wise to bring a rust prevention oil and wipe rag. Most hunters suggest oiling the gun once a night during a hunt, and paying special attention to any of the areas more likely to develop a collection of moisture. Since these parts are more likely to attract moisture, it only makes sense they receive oil more frequently. Usually these types of parts are not coated (no finish). Although all materials are different, for some guns, leaving even a light amount of condensation on a gun for a day or so can create a bit of rust.1

Some guns do a lot better after they have been wet. If it was only dropped in the water, but quickly retrieved, it is even reasonable to suggest many guns would work after they are shaken off and dried out. Though, it is mostly important the ammunition is sealed tightly. If the ammo is sealed, the powder will not be wet and its functionality will maintain its firing integrity. Newer guns and ammunition will function far better after being submerged than older firearms or bullets.

If the waterlogged event, or point at which the firearm got wet was in an actual body of water in the wild, it is more likely foreign debris can become an issue. In fact, is very common for lakes, rivers, swamps, and streams to contribute to foreign debris being trapped in the barrel. In the event a gun has been submerged, the barrel needs to be thoroughly cleaned. Some hunters like to cover the muzzle with a piece of tape (electrical tape reportedly works best) in order to prevent debris from entering the barrel. This also prevents moisture from forming in the barrel. Most people do not realize that it is completely fine to shoot through the tape, and that it does not affect the bullet’s velocity or flight path.2,3

Will A Gun Fire Underwater?

Depending upon the firearm, it is possible it will still fire when being submerged underwater. That said, however, there are still many factors to consider in determining how effective a gun will be underwater. There are some pretty common things that happen to guns underwater. Handguns will jam more frequently, failing to properly eject spent shells. It is common for handguns to jam underwater after the first shot. Striker-based guns (striker fired handguns) will sometimes fail to function at all due to the increased resistance that the water creates. And muzzle-loading firearms will not fire underwater, obviously.

Gas-operated rifles are most likely to function properly underwater. As the water moves throughout the system, it is even possible to speed up the ejection of spent shells. Gas-operated rifles are almost always likely to be able to cycle cartridges with the gun’s overall function remaining in tact.

Warning: Shotguns are never to be fired underwater, or with the barrel even partially submerged. The barrel is highly likely to explode in what many describe as “bananaing.” It is dangerous and will destroy the shotgun. This can even happen with birdshot shells.

A Few Words About How Bullets Function Underwater

The functioning characteristics of ballistics also changes drastically underwater. This of course being if, and only if, the ammunition was tightly sealed and not waterlogged itself. If the ammo has not remained dry, it will no longer function underwater (or out of the water). Given the ammo has remained dry (inside of the shell), the water pressure will still alter the way the bullet functions as it exits the muzzle. And depending upon the exact gun, cases may bulge. It is also worth reiterating again: the newer the gun, the more likely it will function properly underwater.

How To Fix Waterlogged Firearms

Unfortunately, some guns will simply not fire properly (or at all) after being submerged in water. Some guns have much worse luck if the gun happened to be submerged in saltwater, which is particularly destructive on some internal parts.4If a firearm has been submerged in any water for a long time, rust may already have begun to set in. Rust can occur even in the tightest, tiniest crevices. This can make it very difficult to detect in some cases. Rust can also affect a firearm’s function, even preventing it from working altogether.

Obviously retrieving the gun from the water as soon as possible is the first step. Next is to completely breakdown the firearm, including all parts, grips, side plates, and anything else that can be removed. After breaking the gun down, all of the parts need to be dried entirely (use a hair dryer, cleaning rag, or an old gun trick is to throw the parts in bags of rice). If there is already rust present, it needs to be removed. Rust can be removed with a light alcohol spray and steel wool (#0000 grit is great for many finishes). Some people prefer to use oil instead of alcohol. Only light pressure is required to remove rust. In fact, too much pressure can remove the finish. Although the job is technically done, most enthusiasts and gun experts agree it is best to wait a few days before reassembling the firearm. It is also suggested to inspect the firearm each day to ensure no new rust has developed. In the event more rust forms, the gun needs to be cleaned and rust removed again. If after a few days no new rust has formed, it is safe to reassemble the firearm and oil the weapon.

In the event a gun is submerged in saltwater, using warm, soapy water will ensure the salt buildups are easily removed. The gun still needs to be thoroughly broken down and cleaned afterwards, followed by an oiling. This practice is even helpful for guns which have been exposed to a lot of sweat.

Wood stocks and wooden parts will absorb a lot of water if left submerged. They are highly likely to warp, split, or otherwise crack after being exposed to a lot of water. This is hardly preventable and the most reasonable action may be to replace the affected wooden part. In the event the wooden part is going to be salvaged, it should still be kept away from all metal parts for a week or longer (until it is fully dried); Otherwise the moisture in the wood will still create rust problems with the metal.

Expert Tip: WD-40 offers water displacement and helps prevent rust. It is very commonly used in the cleaning/recovery process and to prepare a weapon for adverse environments.

Final Notes On Getting Guns Wet

Some people like to prepare their firearms for wet environments with more specialized coatings and protectants. Molybdenum disulfide coating is very popular for some hunting enthusiasts who take their firearms into rather adverse environments. An old hunter’s trick for some high-rust environments is to press gun grease or chapstick into the screw heads in order to prevent rust from forming in these types of tighter spaces where moisture is harder to remove. Always check the barrel for obstruction if the gun has gotten wet in recent time (including checking it for rust).

Where submerged guns are discussed, a word should always be said about the Glock. Although they are either loved or hated, Glocks are excellent firearms for wet environments. This is because they are polymer-based, and thus, more impervious to rust. Many people talk about having dropped their Glock in water and it still perform completely fine. The AK-47 is also known to be an extremely durable weapon for wet environments. Many soldiers end up dropping their AK in the mud and it still functions as normal.

In the event the firearm does not have to be fired right away, there are many practical options for keeping it dry in a wet environment. For example, there are a number of companies which make devices (mostly watertight boxes) which can hold firearms while moving through water. Cedar Mill, Otterbox, Plano, and a variety of other manufacturers sell excellent waterproof gun cases.

Disclaimer: Always take your gun to a professional gunsmith if your firearm has been waterlogged. This will prevent something potentially dangerous from happening if it is not properly checked and/or repaired. And never fire a gun underwater (unless it were specifically designed for such tactical application).

Citations:

1Finishing. How Quickly Can Steel Rust? Retrieved from: https://www.finishing.com/203/57.shtml

2Rok Slide. Electrical Tape On Muzzle. Retrieved from:https://www.rokslide.com/forums/threads/electrical-tape-on-muzzle.75967/

3AR15. Electrical Tape As Muzzle Protector. Retrieved from:https://www.ar15.com/forums/ar-15/Electrical_Tape_as_Muzzle_Protector/118-302599/

4The Firearms Forum. Carrying In A Salt Water Environment. Retrieved from: https://www.thefirearmsforum.com/threads/carrying-in-a-salt-water-environment-need-suggestions.60365/

About the Author:

Mark Doberman, The Proprietary Gun Smith

The Proprietary Gun Smith is a marksman, expert gun handler, ammunition specialist, survival guru, and lifetime gun enthusiast. He owns (or has owned) nearly every legal firearm and ballistic available, has fired nearly every gun, and regularly consults professionally in the firearm world. He has studied firearms and similar tactical lifestyle for more than 40 years. In addition to writing for ArmoryBay.com, TheProprietaryGunSmith has guest written for more than a dozen other sites and/or magazines in the industry.

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