Cold water kills – QUICKLY

This past weekend a passenger of the dinner cruise NORTHERN SPIRIT fell into Lake Ontario when he was leaning over the railing.  The individual involved in this casualty was a trained lifeguard and expert swimmer. According to press reports, the police estimated that the water was approximately 9o C (48o F). Witnesses were watching him – until they could not see him.

Most people immediately think of hypothermia in cases such as this – but there are dangers that can occur far more quickly than hypothermia.

According to RADM Alan Steinman (USCG Ret) the cold shock response of the human body includes:

  • Gasp Reflex
  • Hyperventilation
  • Difficulty holding your breath
  • Tachycardia
  • Hypertension (elevated blood pressure)

Quick response is vital in situations such as this.  Dr. Steinman’s summary of cold water risks indicates the following parameters for risks in cold water:

  • Cold shock – (0-2 minutes)
  • Functional disability (2-30 minutes)
  • Hypothermia (greater than 30 minutes)

Dr. Steinman’s presentation on Hypothermia, Drowning, and Cold-water survival is at this link.

A more detailed article from CTV NEWS Toronto titled ‘I blinked and he was gone’: Lifeguard missing after falling overboard is at this link.

The Transportation Safety Board of Canada has announced (see link) they are deploying a team to gather information and assess the situation.

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