Icy water, what cold does to our bodies and the 1/10/1 rule
In November I posted some information on cold-water safety training, courtesy of the Canadian Safe Boating Council. In that post, Ian Gilson, on the board of directors, explained that the shock of hitting water below 15 C could cause a person to take a forceful involuntary breath. That means you can inhale up to a litre of water, he says.
It is called the "immediate gasp response" and until last week it was fairly high up on the things that scare me the most about landing in cold water.
But we may have a new blue-ribbon winner.
During the two mornings I spent with the Toronto Police Marine Unit, I was able to sit in on a few hours of class time.
That is where Const. Gavin Bloom shared the 1/10/1 rule.
The police are equipped to rescue you, or your friends could toss you something to drag you to safety. But what happens if you fall in and no one is around?
Bloom teaches the 1/10/1 rule, a simple set of guidelines that could save your life if you take a dunk in icy (the icy part is key) cold water.
1: If you fall in, you have one minute to regulate your breath and during that time try to scramble out onto safe ice, “get back to your footprints and hold on to that ice," says Bloom.
10: Then you have 10 minutes of meaningful muscle movement. That is a nice way of way of saying you have about 10 minutes, likely less, before your arms and legs become almost useless.
In icy cold water, moving quickly will actually whisk heat away from your body faster than if you remain somewhat still. So thrashing around to keep warm, like you would on land, is not a good idea. If you can, try to get into a ball-type shape to keep heat in your core.
1: Then you have about one hour before hypothermia kicks in. That is about the time when you will likely lose consciousness, says Bloom.
“When you start to weaken…get to the most secure ice you can and try to keep your arms and head up,” he said.
Here is where the truly disturbing part comes in.
You could freeze your arms to the ice, which if you go unconscious will stop you from sinking.
Bloom admits it is “gruesome,” but the decision to get stuck could be what saves your life.
The police were taught the rule by cold water expert Dr. Gordon Giesbrecht, from the University of Manitoba. Giesbrecht, or "Dr. Popsicle," basically knows everything there is to know about how cold water effects the body, in part because he uses himself to test out various theories. He is also fond of dunking media personalities in cold water. (Something new to put on the to-do list!)
To be totally honest, I love getting dressed up in safety suits and would gladly spend a few more days falling through the ice, and getting dunked and dragged out of the icy water.
But I have no plans to go anywhere near unfamiliar ice any time soon.