Monday, June 26, 2017

Respect the Water-it can be your paradise- Water Safety Awareness should be every week-

"Life is filled with certain obligations and responsibilitites, but none more basic, primal or important that the responsibilities we have to ourselves and each other" 

Having respect and understanding for the water and our summer "swimming pool" where we all spend our days is vital for our safety. 
A swimming pool has rules, no jumping, no diving in the shallow end and no running poolside-all these rules are there for your safety-lifeguards are there to watch you. 

In the sea, rivers and lakes-most times you can be on your own or with a small group. 
So you need to imagine how each body of water, every time you swim also has rules-
though not all written they should be known for your safety.

I have lived my entire life near the sea-from a very young age-we were given RULES of where to swim and where not to go. 
Starting with Irish Water Safety Association from the age of 6 onwards to courses in survival and safety where we learned to undress and rescue in the sea-we learned to be able to tow each other to shore. What a skill to learn as a child. Adults should do drills with their children on how to manage an emergency at the beach or remote. 

As children we lived our lives on the beach from morning to night-we always always told where to swim and where not to swim, to stay in groups, to make sure someone watching-even though we were very young I remember knowing when and how the water acted and reacted. 

As a swimmer, I have been at the most dangerous risk areas in the sea. 
 I have experienced the sea at it's greatest, it's most powerful and it's most beautiful. 
Despite having taken on some of the greatest challenges in Open Water including the Round Ireland Relay and the Bering Strait Relay-I hold the greatest of respect for the sea. As a swimmer before you get into the water-we have a responsibility to ourselves and those we swim with and the crews and teams we work with to be the best we can be.

The Blasket Sound-the water here is the most confused water 
Coastal areas and my location, Dingle bay and surrounding beaches are mostly tidal, some face South and some face North. Some beaches like Coominole and Cloghar, I would never ever ever nor would I ever promote swimming off them or near them-the tidal flows are huge. I believe in old fisherman’s tales of power. 

We have beautiful beaches but also big big water. Ask around.  
As a child we were constantly reminded when the sand is on the surface of the water there is risk, watch the patterns of the waves, know if the tide is going in or out if the water/waves is not equal approaching the shore-think about it.  Because we are SW facing here-my swimming pool is the Atlantic-we grew up in awe of the power.

There are no two beaches alike and the one certainty is that water no matter which body it is has rules of engagement. This time of year, triathletes, open water swimmers many new to coastal swims are continuing their training on holidays which is fabulous to have people in the water. It is wonderful to see teenagers, local and visiting all excited to visit new areas and families-great to hear laughter again-Love each evening swimming and seeing teenagers talking and in the water. -Love it. We were educated growing up about the beaches-pass it on and feel no vulnerability in asking for advice.

Never take you eyes of children in the sea/lakes or rivers-

Water around the Islands of Ireland in the summer ave 12-14deg-Which in itself is quite cold.   When the air is warm the sea is warmer close to shore and when the air is cold, the rocks are cold, the sand is cold and then the water is cold. Swimming on the tides as it covers hot sand is warmer then cold sand. Swimming near to hot rocks is warmer than in the middle of deep water. 

Can the the water temperature change in the same area? 

The depth of the water and the speed of the water can cause a drop of a degree plus so a swimmer can be nice and toasty close to shore but when you swim and the depth increases in channels or bays the water drops and this can be uncomfortable and cause stress. 

What changes the conditions of the water?
Wind, Tides, Channels where boats travel, Rocks, coastal and Islands. 

If an area is tidal than you need to have a tide book-or a tide app on your phone. Each year I am reminded that many swimmers do not swim with tide books and many swimmers have never had the reason to understand that water outside an island, approaching a pier or the mouth of a bay or inside a body of rock can react and act so very differently to that inside a protected location like a shallow beach. 
For those swimmers I would say, imagine yourself tucked into the lee or the protection of the wind and then remind yourself what it feels like when you expose yourself to the force. Such is the power of the water. 

Lets look at the risks and the challenges to swimming in Open Water before you take that plunge to train or play in NEW water.

Swimming in Cold Water is not just about the distance you swim-it is about self managing the time it may take you to finish and knowing yourself as a swimmer. Know what you're capable of.

Tidal Influence can effect change on:
  • The distance you can swim 
  • The time you spend in the water
  • The effort is takes to swim the distance. 

If you are a swimmer who swims by time-for example if it takes you 20 mins to swim 1000m remind yourself that you may need 30 minutes to swim that distance in the sea. Also remind yourself that you may may swim by time and not distance if 20 mins is all that you have.
Match your route with your energy reserves and your ability. Be aware of engines and boats near you. 
Be responsible with visibility-if you are going into areas with boats. 
If you want to swim 2km and it normally takes you 40 mins-than an hour is a long time to spend if you don't have the reserves.

  • Can you keep a line of orientation when you don't have sight of the shore? 
  • Do you breathe away from the coast?
  • Can you breathe with waves hitting into your face if you only breathe one side ? 
  • Can you stay calm on the return leg of the swim if conditions change? 
  • Lot of variables on that level to think about. 

When you arrive at a new beach-before you get in... find out where you can get out of the water-I have seen swimmers jump off rocks BUT they do not have a plan to get out? 
Sometimes you can’t exit a cliff face. 

Do you know the currents and flows? 
Do you understand the power of Spring tides v. Neap tides? 
Neap tides are weaker and happen in between Full and New Moons-
Spring Tides are very powerful at certain points and these tides can carry you a distance or prevent you from crossing an area-these tides happen at 3 days give or take a Full or a New Moon. 
Impact of wind and tide or wind v. tides?
Do you know the direction you are facing and morning importantly can you breathe into the waves. 
When you swim out from a coast or a pier have you experience in deep water?
Are there boats in the area? Jet skis etc? 
Are you visible-have you a tow float. 
Are you wearing a bright colour hat.
Have you checked if you are in a working area where vessels can come in and out. 
Do you know the depths of the water? 
Temperatures can drop dramatically over deep patches of water. 
Can you exit the water safety possibly cold and tired?
Don't jump off a rock unless you have a clear exit. 
Can you walk out over the surface of rocks without shoes-? 
Can you exit the water in a cold state on a ladder? 
Can you swim in a confined space which allows you safety? if it means swimming over and back do so-rather than swimming out a 1000m and have to swim back
If you get tired and stress do you have a plan?

If you get into difficulty always keep the back of your head to the waves and protect your mouth and breathing. lean backwards into the water and protect your airways. Stop, breathe, think and act. If you can float stay with the swim and breathe. 

Fast moving, Rain, Speed, Reed, Weeds, Weirs, Entry point and Exit point, Depth and Bridges, Debris.

Rivers are a different animal. 
Do you have a secure entry and exit point? 
If you are swimming distance and time have you checked out IF or where you can get out of the water? 
Do you have a knowledge of flows in a river? 
If there is rain does the river increase it’s power and if caught have you done a visual plan of an exit point lower down than your planned exit?
Have you tried to exit the river at other locations in the unlikely event of an incident? . 
Can you return to your car via the shore if lower down than your planned exit point? 
Do you know how the river reacts after rain or a storm?
Can you be trapped under bushes and trees?

If you are a swimmer who swims by time-30 mins max-remind yourself that the 30 mins in a pool may not equal the same distance covered in the sea. make your route match your ability and the conditions. If it takes you 20 mins extra to cover 2km in tough conditions -have you the extra 20 mins in your reserve. 
Can you keep a line of sight when you don't have sight of the shore? 
Do you breathe away from the coast?
Can you breathe with waves?
When you arrive at a new beach-before you get in... find out where you can get out of the water-I have seen swimmers jump off rocks BUT they do not have a plan to get out? 
While you are thinking if you get into difficulty always keep the back of your head to the waves and protect your mouth and breathing. lean backwards into the water and protect your airways. Stop, breathe, think and act. 


Lakes are another body of water which really do require your attention. 
Lakes can be still bodies of water or they can have flows depending on rivers flowing into them. I am not a fan of lakes. 
  • Location is vital to understand- one of the major thoughts I would think is that regionally the names of lakes can differ from that of it's official names for rescue services -know where you are.  
  • If you plan an adventure -know the GPS co ordinates for the location in the unlikely event of conditions changing.
  • Do NOT swim into the centre of lakes in remote conditions -if you have fog likely to drop. Exiting the centre of a lake in foggy conditions is near impossible.  
  • Check if you have phone coverage. 
My suggestions to choosing a location-especially for a distance swim and if you are new-
  • Always the check weather forecast
  • Always understand the tides and the time of the tides. 
  • Every 2 weeks there are spring tides, these tides are fast and strong. 
  • Familiarise yourself to the location and-ask local knowledge always taking your own experience into account. -remember the lakes/beaches may not have names that are recognisable to others. 
  • Check if you have phone coverage at location-crucial 
  • if training in a remote location take a GPS coordinate 
  • If training alone-always phone a friend giving them your entry and exit time-
  • Remember to phone to confirm when you are out of the water. 
  • Swim parallel to the shore and ensure you have an exit plan. 
  • Swimming in cold water only requires you to be in water deep enough to stand up in-you do not need to challenge your capabilities beyond that.
  • Check if it is tidal, flows, currents and rips. 
  • Ensure you have shore visual at all times and your exit point in visual at all time. 
  • Have sugar in the car-fueling the recovery.
We are an island surrounded by water.. get out enjoy but remember to look after ourselves, look after each other and mostly keep in mind that the most predictable thing about the water is it's unpredictability. 

Saturday, April 8, 2017

Swim Failure/Cold Incapacitation - No matter who you are as a swimmer-The cold will take you at some point.

If a swimmer swims past their limits in cold water - The risks are very serious. 
The impact of the cold water will stop us as swimmers from rotating our arms or the swimmer will fail - Every swimmer has a limit in Cold Water-the cold will eventually incapacitate us all that is a certainty. Allowing a swimmer to get this point can be very dangerous so knowing the limits of each swimmer is vital for safety. 

One of the scariest moments I have ever experienced was when crewing for a cold water swim I realised that my swimmer was still moving their arms but was not actually lucid-they were swimming in 'automatic', when their eyes looked at me they were not focused and their ability to communicate was nil.  We were terrified. All I could think about was 'how am I going to get this swimmer back?' How are we going to get this swimmer out of the water? and mostly how did that happen? No one trained us for this moment-Understanding the challenge of each swim is vital -more to prevent a swimmer getting to this point-we were shocked as to how a swimmer could have over ran their own check system and how they continued to swim past their own signs of failure. How did the swimmer continue to swim when there was no cognitive responses?  

Swimming long distance in cold water (Distance is relative to temperature for this article) is a very challenging task both from a physical but also more importantly a cognitive level.
It is very possible for the swimmer to swim beyond their limits. 

How a swimmer responds depends on how cold the swimmer has become on the inside and how cold the environment is on the outside.  For a certain period of time the swimmer can produce adequate heat to stay warm -at very low temperatures the body will begin to cool down.
 The temperature of the muscles in the arms and legs starts to cool down first - That is our priority area for swim failure. In Ice and cold water this can occur rapidly -muscles can lose up to 3% of it's maximum power per 1 deg loss of muscle temperature according to Golden and Tipton (2006).  We see this loss of power so clearly defined and visible with swimmer's arms moving badly, and not able to maintain the full push or pull of the stroke.

As the swimmers become colder and colder -many will lose adequate power even to maintain the body position either to stay going and or in some cases to stay above the water.
It is at this point that the risk increases exponentially.
There will also come a point in some distance swims where the swimmer's ability to make safety decisions will be impacted. What I want you to think about is-because the body is functioning does it mean that it is in control?

 The question that I put is -
Should Ice and Cold Water Swimmers determine their own personal limits or their own ability to continue in the water-can they act in their own best interest or should the outcome of the swim depend more on the work of qualified teams? Sometimes do we need to intervene earlier?

Many wonder how a swimmer can swim a long distance at extremely low temperatures-With training and individual's ability, the human body without question has supreme survival capacity in extreme conditions. If we need it to push into 'negative' the body will keep functioning. Without question-we are born to survive. 
The survival mechanism exists in all of us and our responses to extreme are without doubt 'superhuman' at that moment for a specific length of time when required. 

It is also important to
understand the responses of the human body/mind to stress and mostly our capacity to continue through and past-or to override or ignore the signs and symptoms of failure. The body can keep moving. 
Teams and crews should understand that the swimmer or the athlete is not the person to decide how they feel-they are vested in the outcome-being a team member is a huge responsibility in Ice and Cold water swimming and it is the emerging of so many swims which once would have been 'expedition team rescue cover' to now a minimal rescue cover if any and sometimes little experience in the monitoring of the unit. For me we have to always manage the swim based on the risks to life.  

So How did we get to this accepted practice? 
Not so many years ago our perception of life and performance was different. Some people would leave a pub after drinking 10 pints of beer and get in the car and drive home-we believed them to be great drivers, amazing that they could control a car under the influence. 
Some people can drink a bottle of vodka and continue to function as 'perceived' normal, it takes a trained to eye to know the person is drunk when they are a 'functional' drunk. The fact that we have a term 'functional' alcoholic is testament. 
There are an amount of people who will try and convince you that they are perfect fit to function despite being exhausted. We schedule a person to work a 24 hr shift and make life and death decisions without sleep in the health service-  Adventure racers race for days without rest and solo expeditionaries function beyond all limits with a mere 10mins sleep an hour. But how?   Are we performing or are we surviving? I don't know I just know that the body works-but challenged the failure will be immediate. 

What I have seen during my life as an swimmer, as a crew member/team member and in other working areas is that the body and the mind can override the natural level of capability, 
it does not mean what we are doing is safe-it does not mean that the person is in control of their actions and it certainly does not mean that that swimmer can in any way be responsible for their recovery or outcome, and the moment they finish their swim they may not have enough reserves to recover. 

Information and experience now shows us that the swimmer can continue past the cognitive control.
Decision making processes at this point by us swimmers and these individuals is not only flawed and dangerous but in many cases it's justified and defended. 
“I was fine” is the often response and they were at that moment-but it doesn’t mean that it should be best practice, especially in events and sport. 
 So what does this have to do with swimming-open water or Ice swimming?  

When Cold water or Hypothermia becomes a leading influence on our body temperature -our teams need to train for the expected outcome-They have to know when to stop a swimmer or what to do when a swimmer stops or is stopped. If a swimmer collapses after a distance swim -there is a huge difference between normal fatigue at higher temperatures and fatigue influenced with hypothermia. 
It is the role of teams and swimmers to understand the risk, recovery, recognition and safety planning of the entire individual event-your job as a crew is to plan for the ‘unlikely event’ and all outcomes, not just to 'be there'. 
Being able to risk assess as the swim progresses is vital.  

If you never use your safety plan-that is not a problem.  
The cold/thermal impact on the body and the brain, of swimming distance in cold water shows us repeatedly that the cold water will eventually incapacitate all swimmers -
The amount of time before that ‘failure’ will take to impact the individual performance of the swimmer depends on so many variables. 

Ice Swimming and Cold water swimming has exploded in it’s popularity and so many swims have pushed boundaries both of physical and human endurance at temperatures lower than previously thought possible. Very few of these swims were 'random' they were managed and they had dedicated teams. My mind has been blown at what I have witnessed and experienced in the last 10 years -amazing swims but the positive outcomes of many of these 'Extreme' distance swims were only possible in my opinion, because of the support and recovery teams at that moment and more importantly the absolute focus on the swimmer.
I was present at the 2,400m@0 deg, 2,150m @ 0 deg 2km plus @ 0 deg and multiples 1,650m @ 0 deg all at up to - 30 deg air temperatures. I was also present for some very scary recoveries both in channel and Ice swimming.
I can say confidently that very few swimmers would have been able to manage their own recovery at the end of the swim - so many outcomes without doubt may not have been successful with a lesser qualified team.

I whole heartedly promote the activity of pioneering swims-The sport of Ice Swimming and marathon swims needs extreme swims to allow us to constantly re evaluate the potential for the human body and mind. But there needs to be more focus on the event and the expedition.

I have seen and crewed for swimmers who have zero recollection of their swim, a hazy recollection or at times have presented a completely different recollection of the final section of their swim to the actual events-Some have stood calmly in front of me wholly convinced their version of what happened was actual-the one constant is that these swimmers continued to physically rotate their arms-despite not being in ‘cognitive or physical control’ but once faced with a cognitive decision or the moment they stopped their failing was obvious, one actually sank in front of me the moment the moment the arms stopped and knowing how to manage airways was vital here. 
On a few occasions the swimmer post swim had no memory of being taken from the water-or leaving the water.  So again why do we need to know this?
Would I want swimmers to go to these limits again with the information I now have ? 

 How is it that the swimmer can then function albeit as ‘perceived normal’ to continue the swim?
I have no idea how the body can continue to function-I just know that it does.

If swimmers are functioning beyond a 'thinking' ability then teams need to be able to manage and recognise the step by step process both to intervene, stop or manage and also to equipped to recover/reheat the swimmer to a accepted standard-either at an event or remotely at your location. We have to prepare for all eventualities. Don't allow naivety to control your thinking. 

How far do we allow that swimmer to swim so as to ensure they are strong enough to make that recovery with the location you are in?

Let’s look at the ‘new’ norm in life-the new athlete. Extreme swims which were once remote locations and expedition in planning can now be experienced- the same distance and temperature in a 'perceived' mainstream environment like a pool. Swimmers can be naive to believe that there is safety in a confined space.

People are under more and more stress to succeed and there are greater ramification to the fear of failure, in many areas of our lives, not just sport-we have moved beyond the ability to stop maybe driven by the perception of opinion and external pressure.

The athlete is now taking on distance open water swims 'unsupported' in difficult conditions which previously would have been swims considered with the assistance of an expedition team/or a qualified boat crew.
Full teams are vital for safety-our first Ice Mile
attempt in 2011 

Why are we changing our model of preparation? Why are we assuming less risk?

Why is a swim that scared some very experienced swimmers a few years ago not ruffling a feather now?
Why were a full crew required to ensure the safety a swimmer a few years back now not required and  why are risks being absorbed in many swims as if these risks are no longer an issue?

Today is a different environment 
There is external and internal pressures to continue to function or more so to be seen to function. 
Motivational statements like “no one remembers a quitter” "I love to push my limits" etc are mantras that fill our ‘feed’ and there is an influence on our psyche.
Fear of failure-etc are all areas that we are driven into.
Finishing at all costs seems to be acceptable drive, but that is an easy statement when you don't know the cost both to yourself and the people who are left to manage the outcome.

There is a crucial difference difference between fighting and recovering from fatigue V. fighting and recovering from fatigue with hypothermia.

One of the obvious answers is when a body does a task over and over and over again..Repeat, repeat, repeat to the point that the body can work automated.  That accepted pain and that same swim route is not a challenge to the body when all things remain equal-it's like walking home drunk.

We train to tolerate the greatest of pain in swimming.  We can swim blind, we can sleep walk, we can over ride all risks when we are so familiar with the risks and with the journey.
Many people can now walk out of a mile at 3/4 deg as if there is not one challenge internally.
So for 40 mins at sub 5 deg, if the swimmer does this route over and over, once the swimmer understands the journey-we only have to complete the journey-or so it seems-the body keeps moving-it learns to manage the challenges.

But the moment all things change and the risk becomes greater is when the mechanics of the body fails.  When the body is challenged with decision making.. that’s the chink in the armour that is when the swimmer is exposed-the moment you interrupt their system, the moment you stop the automation of the arms moving, the moment the athlete is faced with a decision that focuses them to think- the weakness or semi conscious is exposed-on their own the swimmers act in a cocoon type, foetal like action where all work is being done on the inside. The risk here is huge for uninformed, inexperienced teams.

Many Ice swimming/cold water swimmer's ability to finish the distance results only to collapse in recovery.
Trying to work hard as a team member for a large event in recovery when you don't know the swimmer is an emotionally charged task. If you don't know the swimmer, you don't know the triggers and you don't know the limits and you don't know their ability to recover.

Many swimmers now appear to arrive at events without a safety plan-There should never exist that our personal responsibility to take on any swim of any distance of 450m onwards in any event without a safety /recovery plan.  

Why is passing that point in cold water swimming more dangerous than other mainstream sports like running?

The athlete’s response in cold water is measured by how cold the athlete is on the inside and the outside, a runner, cyclist can despite the cool temperatures can increase clothing and increase heat in a way that a swimmer cannot. -The runner can collapse over the finish line but the body is rarely in an acute hypothermic state. 
The runner who wants to stop/needs to stop and collapse at the side of the road they have an opportunity to get their breathing under control -they have a chance at survival but the swimmer who slows or continues to swim while being semi conscious can do untold damage to a heart-up to and including death.  As the runner is slowing down their slow up to the jog, to the walk, or stumble or even fall down.
When the swimmer slows down over a period of time and loses power to the cold muscles and the inability to use their arms and legs at the same function-the body position drops lower, the drag increases with legs falling, the swimmer can start to swallow water maybe even sink. The risks are much greater.  
A solid team is vital

Being able to recognise the signs of Swim Failure and Swim Incapacitation as it approaches are the basic tools to create the limits for our sport. So how do we do that?

The Marathon Swimming/Channel swimming has been responding to management of Swim Failure over the years mainly in the form of observers, their reports and teams, pilots and experienced crews.  
Management of the stroke rate is the most obvious tool we use and after that an experienced crew who can watch for signs and symptoms of failure. 

In the distance swims and marathons- cold incapacitation is a slow development-in low temperatures in the ice- this is a fast process and the margin for error is tiny-mistakes can be huge. 

When we see a swimmer's stroke count drop along with a body position change-when the legs collapse, when the angle of the body changes and the head is unable to turn adequate so as to not get enough oxygen - these issues can be life threatening. 

One of the biggest risks in cold water swims is the reduction in power of the swimmer. Cold slows us all down, the drop in stroke rate is not a problem-the reduction in power is the problem in the Ice. 
Cold water Incapacitation is real and under a certain temperature in the cold water it is a matter of time. 
There are some amazing exceptions to the rules, but one of the certainties of Ice water <5 deg is that there is a end ‘time in the water’ to the body. 

How is the swimmer physical output impacted by cold? 

Most of the research is done on muscles cooling and exercising in cold environments-and stationary research has shown that the temperature of the arms can drop below 27 deg in 20 mins in 12 deg water. 
The double side of the equation-if the arms are rotating and creating heat-and also if the Ice water then strips the heat away from the muscles 20 times faster than air-we have a really complex but inevitable conclusion. 

So what about 10-15 mins at 0 deg? 

There is no reason swimmers competing over 10-15 mins with adequate training would have any loss of power which would lead to swim failure but the experiences we have seen show us that past 20 mins @ 0 deg there begins a power drop for some swimmer and past 30 mins sub 5 deg shows some power reduction to potential risk to some swimmers. 

It does takes some time for the arms and legs to cool. The faster the swimmer the more heat generated, the slower the heat loss. The body type,the training, the individual etc all impact. 

The Major Risks are: 

When the swim is remote and off the side of a boat into very cold water -the risks are greater. 
Having the information and the ability to confidently to step in -knowing that once the cold water has reduced the power- swim failure cannot be reversed-your information can save lives and mostly avert a difficult experience for teams and maybe a life threatening experience for the swimmer. 

Now with the volume of swimmers entering events-many without the back up in training and experience it is so important that we push forward the ethos and culture of knowing your safety plan in advance of your swim. When you exist the water is no time to start organising your recovery.    

Recognising your limit will save lives. That's the Gold Standard-knowing when to pull and when to allow the swimmer to continue.

The survival instinct and the ability of the body to survive is not a mechanism that a swimmer should be using. It is not healthy to push continually beyond the controlled -the risks of systems failure are greater by the personal confidence "I am ok" until some day a 'curve ball' a 'variable' is thrown into the mix and the skill set cannot or is not able to process the change. 
Expedition swims cannot be confused to controlled swims- extreme cannot be confused with mainstream and reality will always be reality. 
If you have decided to take on a swim at a temperature that you have not prepared for, take on a distance that you have not trained for -preparing for the failure is responsible-not a negative. 

The main problem is when the swimmer exists the water-the team have to work hard to recover the swimmer-act responsibly.  
Take on swim distances and temperatures that you have trained for. 
If you have not trained for the distance or the temperature make sure you have your exit plan and your team know your limits. 

Know who and how you are going to be recovered-manage your exit from the water -you are not someone else's problem.
Don't arrive at an event and believe that it is ok to take on a distance without a full personal dedicated team. 

Always check out your own requirements and make sure you have your tools to recover. 

At some point when you are swimming distance at temperatures below a certain temperature.. the cold will stop you or you will stop or be stopped... 
Just because you can does not mean you are in control or you should. .. 

Monday, December 5, 2016

Circum Rescue Collapse - or After Drop Information necessary for Ice Swimmers.

All Organisations/Groups/Teams faced with a probability of treating hypothermia should be prepared to apply the best care available and not that which is merely available or assumed sufficient to prevent death. 

Over the last few years of dealing with acute hypothermia injuries -I am reminded over and over again that no one is immune.  

According to Giesbrecht, there are many examples of people being taken from cold water immersion in an apparently stable and conscious condition only to experience "a rewarming shock" or a "rewarming shock" with symptoms ranging from Ventricular fibrillation and cardiac arrest. 

Golden has noted that deaths can occur either before, during or after rescue-known as "Circum Rescue Collapse" It was long thought that the After drop with a potential drop of 4-5 deg could contribute to the collapse post cold water immersion but Golden discounted this and started to focus on a collapse in arterial pressure BP and inadequate coronary blood flow and the increased sensitivity of a cold heart. 

Getting out of the Ice water after spending 10-20 mins at 0-5 degree and walking to the recovery area to begin the recovery is some of the most challenging moments which exist for a swimmer and the team since 450m/1000m became a bigger event in Ice Swimming. The recovery is also the greatest risk area. 

Going back to 2012 in Ice Swimming and before that with Coast Guard and Rescue training- what I have experienced and loved learning in the last 4 years is not so much about the swimming but about the management of the swimmer and seeing what we can do to protect both the swim and the swimmer. 

When a swimmer exits the Ice water. 
it was not JUST a swim-
1.The swimmer has exposed their body  to extreme freezing water and the physiological make up of the body has changed completely.  
2. The work for the team and the recovery unit is challenging for many reasons of "laws of physical inevitable consequence"   
Collapsing and altered consciousness is something that I have seen many times in the last few years in the recovery area of Ice Swims. It has a lot of supporting evidence and I myself have witnessed and managed this area about 10-15 times in the last few seasons at Ice Events. 4 of these circumstances were of a serious nature. I felt we were lucky to have positive outcomes and for this reason i think it is important that we begin to start creating procedures and education in this area. 
Swimmers should not be allowed to assist in their own recovery.

Afterdrop or the area of Circum Rescue Collapse.  Both are vital to understand. In my experience Post Rescue Collapse has a greater role to play with the movement of the swimmer post swim.  

After drop is a process where the sequence of heat flows between an inner and an outer area-the core being warm and the peripheral being cold. it is the physical law of inevitable consequence of having your body immersed in cold water where the heat loss is greater than heat production and then reheating began. 

However the fact that losing consciousness on recovery, rescue and also removal from water can occur before the after drop begins-this then focused leading discussion and rescue services to address this area as a greater risk to life. 

The protocol for Coast Guard- removal and management of cold water extraction is horizontal positioning from Vertical removal. Holding the swimmer in a horizontal position has a greater recovery potential. If a swimmer becomes unconscious on removal it is vital to put them in a horizontal position

Watching the transport of swimmers in 2012 in Siberia when many distance swims were completed was exactly as we now understand. Many extreme swimmers were transferred to the sauna in complete horizontal position including Andrey Stoyev. 
In Murmansk 2013 when I completed my first 1000m at 0 degree, the distance from the poolside to the sauna involved a lot of steps so those who could stay in the heated area by the pool for a few minutes to steady and then transferred with assistance. This also existed in 2015. 

Many swimmers including myself had moments where we drifted in and out of consciousness on the walk to the sauna-but we were managed brilliantly once there. 
The procedures of recovery and removal are vital for sustaining life post an Ice Swim. Understanding the body is crucial. 

To truly understand the sport-you have to be there-you have to see the management of an Ice Swimmer on the edge. You have to understand why each move is calculated and understand the value of knowing this information.

Swimmer or casualty we all have the same physiology. It's the same injury. 
I have spent a lot of time talking to and working with Rescue services and medical personal on the issues around these physiological challenges post removal. I would love to see swims implement procedures. 
Some would say the speed of the swim can increases risks to the physiology of the body and outcome but I would also argue that the expected and managed time outcome, the proximity of the swimmer to the exit and the expectation of the swimmer to survive also acts as a positive for swimmer v casualty. 

The main difference between an Ice Swimmer and a Casualty in Ice water is that the Casualty is hoping for survival and the Swimmer is looking for Performance and survival. 
  • The body now contains a mixture of warm blood and very cold blood. . 
  • The heart has a decreased ability to speed up to meet swimming needs  as time passes 
  • The muscles fail to perform small tasks
  • The veins and nervous system are temporarily altered in such a way that has them on the edge very close to significant hearts malfunction 
  • Risks attached to the speed the swimmer approaching the finish 
I have seen and managed probably over 15 cases in the few events 1000m I have attended. 
Lifeboat services in Germany post war decades ago discovered that if they managed the casualties horizontal post swim and fewer died.

The good news is the best chance of Survival is water temperature under 5 degrees.

Where has the Circum Rescue Collapse thinking come from?
Over 15-20% of people who are taken from the water conscious as casualties, collapse and die post rescue. This is a very significant number.

This area of death post rescue is well documented with reports of entire ship crews picked up after the war and once removed conscious from the water, many died from no apparent injury with the exception of the immersion. 
Cold water  temperature played a significant part. 160 rescued from the water below 10 deg 17% died within 24 hrs of rescue. 
Of the 109 rescued from the water over 10 Deg none died after rescue. 

Matthew describes airman being in the water for a short period of time, once their rescue commenced and they assisted in their own rescue, some fell unconscious and died on removal from the water. 

 similar to standing up to quickly and feeling faint but the same thinking that could cause the swimmer to collapse on exiting the water. 

There is anecdotal evidence that 1985 a sailor who was washed overboard North Cape Sea Temp 5 deg-8 mins in the water, airlifted by helicopter on a vertical strap,(he assisted with the rescue on a few attempts)  he regained consciousness on the helicopter once he was put in a horizontal position in the helicopter. Golden et al-circum rescue collapse

Hypothermia in itself has proven that it is not a major risk at 1000m events-especially as majority of our swims are short and those which are longer as time and distance have a time limit of 25 mins for most events. 
The difference between 300m and 1000m is gargantuan. It was the difference between 6 mins in the ice and 20 minutes.  When the swimmer stands up to climb the ladder-swimming position from Horizontal to Vertical -and a drop in blood to the head. 
 It is now considered that it is a collapse in the Arterial pressure which contributes to collapse also the speed of the swimmer.  

  • Racing to the ladder horizontal at speed then quickly standing up gives a HUGE possibility that climbing up the ladder and the hydrostatic pressure of the body could collapse.
  • This change in body position could also stimulate Hypovolemic shock when the working rate of the heart collapses as the warm blood drops down and the workload of the heart needed to function could cause the swimmer to go unconscious. 
  • The movement of the swimmer’s arms and legs have to be kept to a minimum when moving and could rush and flush the cold blood into an already stressed working heart causing possibility Ventricular Fibrillation. 
  • The release of stress hormones at being removed from and being in a safer environment can cause the swimmer to relax and collapse. 
  • Incorrect rewarming or no treatment -Techniques are important if there is rewarming of the body incorrectly -such as rewarming of the hands and feet can send cold blood back to the core and this cold blood trigger the heart to collapse and arrhythmias. 

    Paradoxical Undressing -where the swimmer states that they are OK.. that the swimmer indicated that they do not need assistance.The swimmer indicates that they do not need any rewarming assistance-we treat everyone equal. 

Particular the post swim 30 minutes 

Recommendations : 

  • Responsibility of the swimmer is explained and understood. 
  • Experience at both temperature and distance is relevant to the temperatures of the event and distances 
  • Medical responses are final. 
  • The removal methods of the swimmer from the water understood by teams and discussed in advance
  • The risks of swimming at 0 degree and also - 40 degree Air temps are understood.  
  • The distances from pool to recovery is managed and challenges like steps etc are taken into consideration for the recovery. 
  • Understanding the risks of swimming Open water and also pool-rules are different. 
  • The steps to distance swimming is slow and organised with building physical understanding. . 
  • The treatment in the recovery area to rewarming is explained to the team and also the swimmer-this is the greatest risk. -do not rub, handle gently, and sow managed recovery. 
  • The understanding of the energy required post event-Blood sugar drop -shivering takes energy and this must be fuelled. 
  • Team training. 
  • The understanding of the physical response from Horizontal to Vertical and the risks attached. 
  • The responsibility of the swimmer to be healthy-and have understanding of the hypothermia impact on the body
  • The responsibility of the swimmer to be emotionally strong to fight the survival. .. such as the return down the mountain-in Murmansk 2015 I feel many swimmers experience 0 degree for the first time and the recovery as not easy. 
  • Maybe having 3 x 450m at 0 degree before 1000m at 0 degree or something like this. 
The future is so bright for Ice Swimming but understanding the best practice for removal and for the safety of events is vital for all. 

For more information I have published a manual 
An insight into the World of Ice Swimming. 
for interest please contact me on