Cold Water: The 1 – 10 – 1 Rule

Monday, October 21, 2013

I attended a presentation at an USCG Auxiliary National Training meeting called Cold Water Boot Camp, which works in cooperation with many life saving organizations, including the US Coast Guard.   I saw a good friend and fellow member of Team Coast Guard – Mario Vittone, USCG Marine Safety Specialist and former Helicopter Rescue Swimmer Instructor – featured in the video.  This is what we learned from Mario Vittone.  Fall in cold water?  Take 1 minute to stop the panic – you’ve 10 minutes of physical ability to save yourself – and 1 hour of consciousness left.  Here’s why.

Reprinted Article by Auxiliarist Vincent Pica, East Moriches, LI, NY

1 – The first phase of cold water immersion is called the cold water shock.  Data shows that roughly 20 percent die in the first minute.  They breath in ice cold water in that first uncontrolled gasp, panic and drown, plain and simple.  In some, the cold shock triggers a heart attack.  Surviving this stage requires you to stay calm and get your breathing under control.

10 – The second phase is cold water 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.  Swim failure will occur within these critical minutes and if you are in the water without a life jacket, drowning will likely occur.

To quote Mario Vittone directly:

“It is impossible to get hypothermic in cold water unless you are wearing flotation, because without flotation – you won’t live long enough to become hypothermic.”

1 – Even in ice water it could take approximately 1 hour before becoming unconscious due to hypothermia.  The result can vary with time, water temperature and physical condition.  The symptoms can include confusion, poor judgement and unconsciousness leading to death.

The presentation showed rescuers keeping the victim horizontal – not vertical, ever – while getting them into the boat.  This is because of what is called post-rescue collapse. If a victim has hypothermia when pulled from the water, he has an 80 percent chance of surviving. About 20 percent of immersion deaths occur within hours of the rescue. When pulled from the water, the heart has to work hard as the cold blood from the arms and legs moves back into the warmer core of the body. Rescuers will try to lessen the effect by handling the body as gently as possible.

Quoting Mario Vittone again:

“Until everything is warmed back up – out of the water, warm and dry is good enough – mobility comes later.”

Tags: , , , ,



  1. Ben harstad says:

    hello my name is Ben Harstad im the Public affairs offlicer for the auxiliary in Duluth MN i would like to know how i can get a copy of the video call cold water boot camp i do a tv show here in duluth call the boater safety and i would like to use the cold water boot camp video in my tv show that im doing can you please let me know how i can get a copy of this video and the right to it you can email me at

Leave a Comment

Click here to cancel reply.

We welcome your comments on postings at all Coast Guard sites/journals. These are sponsored by the U.S. Coast Guard to provide a forum to talk about our work providing maritime safety, security and stewardship for the American people to secure the homeland, save lives and property, protect the environment, and promote economic prosperity.

The information provided is for public information only and is not a distress communication channel. People in an emergency and in need of Coast Guard assistance should use VHF-FM Channel 16 (156.8 MHz), dial 911, or call their nearest Coast Guard unit.

All comments submitted are moderated. The Coast Guard retains the discretion to determine which comments it will post and which it will not. We expect all contributors to be respectful. We will not post comments that contain personal attacks of any kind; refer to Coast Guard or other employees by name; contain offensive terms that target specific ethnic or racial groups, or contain vulgar language. We will also not post comments that are spam, are clearly off topic, or that promote services or products.

The U.S. Coast Guard disclaims any liability for any loss or damage resulting from any comments posted on this page. This forum may not be used for the submission of any claim, demand, informal or formal complaint, or any other form of legal and/or administrative notice or process, or for the exhaustion of any legal and/or administrative remedy.

If you have specific questions regarding a U.S. Coast Guard program that involves details you do not wish to share publicly please contact the program point of contact listed at

The U.S. Coast Guard will not collect or retain Personally Identifiable Information unless you voluntarily provide it to us. To view the U.S. Coast Guards Privacy Policy, please visit:

Please note: Anonymous comments have been disabled for this journal. It is preferred that you use your real name when posting a comment. WE WILL POST THE NAME YOU ENTER WHEN YOU SUBMIT YOUR COMMENT. Also, you are welcome to use Open ID or other user technologies that may be available.