Thursday, May 03, 2012

Cold Water Boot Camp

This evening I read the updated story about a paddler that died on April 1st in a lake in Washington state. In the article, one of the people interviewed mentioned a "Cold Water Boot Camp" video that they make their paddling students watch. A little googling brought me to Wow, what a great website. Watch the video contained in the download section (for me, it worked best to download a high quality version and watch it offline), it's a 10 minute program that delivers the message. There is also a 30 minute version on DVD which I am considering ordering.

The video program features Winnipeg professor, Dr. Gordon Giesbrecht, aka "Dr. Popsicle." Dr. Giesbrecht has been informing outdoors people like me on the dangers of cold water for quite a number of years. I've seen several of his videos on YouTube and even on the Rick Mercer Report (this video is hilarious). However, this is the first time I've seen his Cold Water Boot Camp program.

Be sure to also watch some of the individual videos under the Boot Campers section. They are very informative. There are a number of things I took away from those individual videos and interviews - for one thing, the messages coming directly from the individuals really hits home. Another thing I noticed, is just how much effort it takes the rescuers to get the swimmers out of the water. Watch as they pull the swimmers in and imagine how it would be for another boater (canoe, kayak, motorboat - take your pick) to assist you if you were in the water. And in this case it was trained rescuers pulling a swimmer up onto a very stable boat with a low, smooth rounded gunwale. Doing the same thing into a canoe, or a fishing boat - good luck. Also, when the swimmers are pulled from the water and interviewed on the boat, note how bloody cold they are, and how they actually get colder than they were in the water.

There are a couple of important take home messages that I'll be better incorporating into my own paddling lessons after watching this video, some of it I knew already and all of it has been reinforced:
  1. It's not hypothermia you need to worry about, it's cold shock, then incapacitation.
  2. You will never live long enough for hypothermia to be a concern without a life jacket or PFD on.
  3. It's ALWAYS cold water season in this part of the world.
  4. Swimming in cold water is very, very hard.
To summarise the effects of cold water and the time you have to deal with the situation, Geisbrecht coined the phrase "1-10-1"
1 - 10 - 1
1-10-1 is a simple way to remember the first three phases of cold water immersion and the approximate time each phase takes.
1 - Cold Shock. An initial deep and sudden Gasp followed by hyperventilation that can be as much as 600-1000% greater than normal breathing. You must keep your airway clear or run the risk of drowning. Cold Shock will pass in about 1 minute. During that time concentrate on avoiding panic and getting control of your breathing. Wearing a lifejacket during this phase is critically important to keep you afloat and breathing. 
10 - Cold Incapacitation. Over approximately the next 10 minutes you will lose the effective use of your fingers, arms and legs for any meaningful movement. Concentrate on self rescue initially, and if that isn’t possible, prepare to have a way to keep your airway clear to wait for rescue. Swim failure will occur within these critical minutes and if you are in the water without a lifejacket, drowning will likely occur. 
1 - HYPOTHERMIA. Even in ice water it could take approximately 1 hour before becoming unconscious due to hypothermia. If you understand the aspects of hypothermia, techniques of how to delay it, self rescue and calling for help, your chances of survival and rescue will be dramatically increased. 

For more on my own experimentation with cold water, see my post from last month.