Cold Water Boot Camp Ted Rankine
Ted Rankine
Past Chair
Canadian Safe Boating Council


Darcy was one of nine Canadians who volunteered for a very special mission. It wasn’t going to be classified or covert, but rather it was a mission that would be publicized to millions of Canadians. The mission was to swim the cold waters of Lake Simcoe in late April, just after the ice melted.

The project name - Cold Water Boot Camp.

At the center of Cold Water Boot Camp was Dr. Gordon Giesbrecht, (aka Professor Popsicle), Doctor of Thermophysiology at the University of Manitoba. Dr. Giesbrecht is a world renowned expert in cold water immersion and provided valuable information and insights into the effects of cold water as the boot campers experienced it first hand.

Cold Water Boot Camp was developed to help educate the public about the risks of cold water immersion. To provide a real life perspective, Darcy and the 8 other tough individuals volunteered to be immersed in cold water to see how they would react to it. The water temperature for Cold Water Boot Camp was a balmy 7 degrees Celsius and over two days, the Boot Campers got wet and cold as they demonstrated what happens to smart, fit individuals if they find themselves in cold water.

Hypothermia Graph

Contrary to the popular belief that you can become hypothermic within minutes in ice cold water, the boot campers learned that the first few seconds can be the most critical to survival. This is when the initial cold shock occurs and when many people drown from the combination of the surprise of an accidental immersion and the physiological effects of cold on their body.

The core of the experience and education was Dr. Giesbrecht’s 1-10-1 Principle, which categorizes exactly what happens when someone is immersed in cold water.

1 Cold Shock: In the 1st minute of immersion, a person will gasp and if their head is under can inhale more than a litre of water. For the next minute or so, hyperventilation will cause the breathing to be 6 to 10 times above normal. Do not panic, it will pass. Concentrate on getting your breathing under control before you do anything else. A life jacket will help keep your head out of the water and help you to float.
10 Cold Incapacitation: A person will have approximately 10 minutes of meaningful movement before the muscles and nerves in their limbs become so cold that they will be unable to self rescue or even call for help. Without a life jacket, swim failure can lead to drowning.
1 Even in ice cold water, it will be approximately one hour before a person would become unconscious from hypothermia and about one additional hour before they would die due to cardiac arrest because of the cold. This applies only if they can keep their head above water, maintain an open airway and continue to breath. A life jacket is critically important.

Cold Water Jump

The boot campers learned that no matter how smart, fit or how well one can swim, everyone experiences cold water immersion in much the same way and the common denominator if you want to increase your chances of survival in an accidental cold water immersion is to wear a life jacket.

What the boot campers experienced is similar to what can happen to anyone who uses a boat to fish, hunt or sightsee if they have an accidental cold water immersion. As tourist outfitters, encourage your guests to wear their life jackets when aboard your boats. It will also help if you provide them with comfortable, ‘wearable’ life jackets. And to further protect your guests, outfit your boats with a method to re-board if a guest accidentally ends up in the water. These could include a re-boarding ladder that hooks over the side of the boat or something as simple as a rope tied into the boat with a loop at the end in the water to put your foot in. These simple steps will go a long way to helping your guests have both a great and safe time with you this coming season. 

Cold Water Boot Camp was produced through the National Search and Rescue Secretariat’s New Initiative Fund in partnership with Transport Canada and the Canadian Safe Boating Council. To see what actually happens during cold water immersion visit

This article was taken from pages 9 & 10 of NOTO's "The Outfitter" publication, Winter 2008 Issue


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