Cold incapacitation

From Openwaterpedia

noun - Cold incapacitation is a physical condition where an individual becomes physically helpless in cold water because they can no longer control their arms, legs, hands and feet. When this happens, drowning is very likely. When muscles and nerves get cold enough, they simply stop working. This loss of muscle strength and control can happen very quickly. When cold water cools the muscles and nerves, the individual becomes progressively weaker and becomes exhausted more rapidly and are unable to self-rescue or assist other people.


Over approximately the first 10 minutes after the initial cold shock, swimmers in cold water canl lose the effective use of their fingers, arms and legs for any meaningful movement.


1-10-1 is a simple way to remember the first three phases of cold water immersion and the approximate time each phase takes. 1-10-1 was coined by Dr. Gordon Geisbrecht to describe the three critical phases of cold water immersion.

1 - Cold shock. An initial deep and sudden gasp followed by hyperventilation that can be as much as 600-1000% greater than normal breathing. Individuals must keep their airway clear or run the risk of drowning. Cold shock will pass in about 1 minute. During that time, individuals should concentrate on avoiding panic and getting control of their breathing. Wearing a life jacket during this phase is critically important to keep afloat and breathing.

10 - Cold incapacitation. Over approximately the next 10 minutes, individuals will lose the effective use of their fingers, arms and legs for any meaningful movement. They should concentrate on self rescue initially, and if that isn’t possible, prepare to have a way to keep their airway clear to wait for rescue. Swim failure will occur within these critical minutes and if an individual is 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.

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