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Transcript for Cold Water Boot Camp USA

Ted Rankine: Eight volunteers, 45-degree water—this is Cold Water Boot Camp USA.

On screen: Cold Water Boot Camp USA

On screen: U.S. Coast Guard Station Fairport Harbor. Fairport, Ohio

We have selected eight very hardy volunteers from across the country to subject them to icy cold water and teach them how to survive an accidental cold water immersion.

On screen: Dr. Gordon Giesbrecht is the instructor for Cold Water Boot Camp and a Professor of Thermophysiology at the University of Manitoba. “Professor Popsicle” is one of the world’s leading authorities on “freezing to death” and has conducted and participated in dozens of experiments on the effects of Cold Water Immersion on the human body.

Gordon Giesbrecht: Boot campers, welcome. The best way to learn about cold water immersion is to jump right in. You've got your gear. Go on and get suited up, and then you're all going to go for a swim. OK? Let’s go.

Ted Rankine: We're going to show you why people die in cold water. Why year after year, so many lives are lost to cold water. You see, most people don't understand the effects of cold water immersion, and some end up paying the ultimate price. So, pay attention—this program could save your life. As our boot campers head to the water, here are a few cold, hard facts.

On screen:USCG Drowning Report (2007) slide—Drowning statistics

The 2007 study of recreational boating accidents by the United States Coast Guard found that water temperatures made a difference. In water between 70 and 79 degrees, only 8% of the accidents were fatal, while accidents in water with a temperature of under 59 degrees, more than 40% were fatal. That means your risk of dying in cold water under 59 degrees is five times as great.

On screen: Lifesaving Society Study (2007) slide—Drowning statistics

Drowning statistics studied by the Lifesaving Society revealed that when it came to boaters, 60% drowned in water under 50 degrees. And 34% drowned in water between 50 and 68 degrees. What makes it even more chilling is the fact that 43% were less than six feet from safety, and the majority, about 90%, were not wearing a life jacket.

On screen: CSBC/Smart Risk Study (2005) slide—Reasons why people don’t wear life jackets

So why don't people wear life jackets? Research revealed that many said they don't need them if they’re close to shore. Some felt that they could put their life jackets on in the water. And most—well, most said they didn't need one, because they can swim.

Well, as our boot campers are about to find out that in this 45-degree water, none of those reasons are valid.

Swimmer: Ooh! Oh, that's cold! Oh! Oh! Oh!

Gordon Giesbrecht: The folks who failed quickly were very interesting because they would have drowned if they didn’t have somebody to rescue them. But they weren’t, again, medically hypothermic or cold. So all they had was cold muscle tissue, which didn't work. And as you get weaker, you'll fail, and then you'll drown.

Hey, how's everybody doing?

Audience: Good.

Gordon Giesbrecht: Well, you had an interesting experience this morning. And I'm just going to ask you one question. If you fell into ice water, how long until you became hypothermic—not dead from hypothermia, just hypothermic? And you can see here that it's pretty interesting.

On screen: Cold Water Immersion bar graph

50% of the people said five minutes or less. And if you go on here, like, if you add that, 70% of the people who responded said 10 minutes or less. And the reality is, as we're going to talk about, the answer is actually 30 minutes or more, only if you have a life jacket on.

So we're going to describe cold water immersion. The first one is the cold shock response. Then there's cold incapacitation, which kind of happens within 5 to 15 minutes. And then hypothermia will only set in 30 minutes or longer.

So in parallel, we're going to talk about this “1-10-1” principle that we developed. It goes like this—1 minute to get your breathing under control. You have 10 minutes of meaningful movement. And you have one hour before you become unconscious due to hypothermia.

On screen: Lifesaving Message slide—1-10-1 Principle

So let's review these three effects—the first one, the cold shock response. We tell people that lasts about a minute. Now, gasping, we don't need to speak to that. You get a cold blast of anything, you go [GASPS] and you gasp. And you can imagine that that's not a great idea. And the other thing about uncontrolled breathing is—and I don't think most people think about this—but when we're running or playing games or swimming, we usually entrain our physical movements with our breathing pattern. But now, if you have uncontrolled breathing, that makes it very difficult to control your swimming, as we saw a few cases earlier on.

Second effect, cold incapacitation—we saw that a bit earlier. And we're going to see that quite a bit later on in our next set of swimming. And it's all about just the effect of cold on muscle and nerve cells.

Muscle cells do the action. Nerve cells send the signal. You make either of those cold, and you’re not going to be able to perform. The physiology is complicated, but the principle is simple. So in water that's near-freezing, incapacitation can occur within 2 to 10 minutes.

So the third effect is hypothermia. This is what everybody associates with cold water immersion. So the realities are, even in ice water, it’ll take one hour before you become unconscious due to hypothermia—only if you have a life jacket on, because there's no way without a life jacket that you can keep your head above water long enough. So a life jacket really increases your chance of survival, as we all know.

And remember, you're trying to increase your survival time. And then, even if you can increase it 10 minutes or an hour, that could make the difference between living and dying.

Ted Rankine: Today, the campers were tasked with some specific incapacitation tests. Four volunteers headed just offshore to go for another swim, but this one was a little different from the one before. Chuck and Jonah and Ashantae and Rachel were each asked to take a swim in pairs, one with a life jacket and one without.

Gordon Giesbrecht: Good job, Ashantae.

Rachel: Ashantae, keep going.

Gordon Giesbrecht: Rachel was doing very well with her PFD. In fact, I just asked her, and she actually said she was OK to keep swimming. She's getting very cold. But obviously, she swam a lot further than she or Ashantae would have been able to do without a life jacket.

Oh, man, these guys haven't learned their lesson yet. So as you can see, Chuck is having a very difficult time. He can keep his head above water. But with the waves and the cold water, basically, all he's doing is staying afloat. He's not making any headway.

Participant: Oh, what the hell are we thinking?

Gordon Giesbrecht: Take it easy.

Participant: Oh, man.

Ted Rankine: The remaining four campers stayed closer to shore and were tasked to perform several tests. Their jobs were simple ones, like tuning and calling on a VHF radio, deploying a signal flare, and trying to reboard a vessel. But as time went on, those tasks became less simple. And after a short time in the water, you can clearly see that they became slower and more belabored.

Gordon Giesbrecht: That's going a little slower.

Mark: Yeah, a little bit.

Ted Rankine: Tim and Victor were removed from the water, but Mario and Mark stayed in longer—much longer—to take them into mild hypothermia. Along the way, their core temperatures were measured. And interestingly, both experienced an increase in the beginning before the cold water started to cause their temperatures to drop.

Gordon Giesbrecht: So in 20 minutes, you’ve gone from 100.5 to 99.2. You dropped a degree, 1.2. And then you dropped another degree in the last 10 minutes.

Mark: If I didn’t have a life jacket, I don’t know that I’d have made it much past that 5- or 6-minute mark. Certainly, I would have drowned. I certainly wouldn’t have made it 30 minutes.

You’re not going to be thinking about how much that thing costs. You’re just going to be glad you have it.

Gordon Giesbrecht: This is a very interesting weekend because even in water at 45 to 47 degrees Fahrenheit, we were able to see all three phases of cold water immersion. Just about everybody had a cold shock response, lots of gasping and hyperventilation, which in a couple of cases made it very difficult to swim.

Pretty well all of them, on one day or the other, had cold incapacitation and were not able to swim. So they went to swim failure. We even took a couple of guys to hypothermia, although that took quite a while in that water. And that just proves the point—the life jacket is absolutely necessary to get past those first two phases and survive long enough to be rescued.

Ted Rankine: When it comes to cold water, preparation and prevention are the keys. Try to prevent yourself from falling in cold water, and prepare, in case you do, with simple things, like having a plan of how to rescue yourself or how to call for help. Knowing what to do in those first few critical minutes can make the difference between you becoming a statistic or a survivor. And regardless of your age, fitness level, or ability to swim, the best way to stay safe on the water—any water—is to simply wear your life jacket.

"Cold Water Boot Camp USA: 10-Minute Program" is used with permission from the National Water Safety Congress.
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