Beyond Cold Water Bootcamp


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know_technology_equipmentFor every cold water rescue, there are three important areas that contribute to the success of the rescue. Hone your skills in each area for the best possible result:

  1. KNOWLEDGE of the effects of cold water immersion on the victim.

  2. TECHNIQUE related to the safe retrieval, packaging, transport and transfer of the victim.
  3. EQUIPMENT that makes it easier to extract, transport and treat the victim.

Simply put, the more advanced your understanding, skills, and resources are, the more likely you’ll have a successful outcome. The first two of these have been covered extensively to this point. 

This section describes how the proper equipment can not only increase the victim’s survival chances, but also enhance the safety of the rescuers themselves.

Manufacturers have designed equipment for all three stages of rescue:


equip1 Extraction, if done improperly, can put a lot of strain on victims and rescuers alike. SLINGS provide a secure but  gentle hold on the victim.  Slings also allow responders to stand more erect equipment2and use secure handles for optimum hoisting performance while minimizing incidents of lower back strain and injuries.


 For low to mid-freeboard boats, RESCUE NETS or STRAPS can be used to parbuckle the victim into the boat maintaining their horizontal position. Should a proper rescue net not be available, dock lines can be used for parbuckling purposes.


The STOKES LITTER is an ideal piece of equipment as it serves the dual purpose of being both an equip_3extraction and transport mechanism. With the victim lying horizontally in the water, the litter can be positioned below the victim and hoisted on board. Once the victim is properly packaged and secured in place with laterally applied straps, it can be used for safe transfer to medical staff.


Packaging of a hypothermic victim is key to minimizing further loss of body heat.  As discussed in the principles of Extraction, packaging has both VAPOUR BARRIER and THERMAL PROTECTION components.

A simple plastic sheet makes an effective vapour barrier when wrapped next to the victim’s wet clothing. It prevents evaporative and convective heat loss and maintains the effectiveness of the thermal protective material by keeping it dry. If the victim’s wet clothing has been removed, the vapour barrier could be applied outside of the thermal layer to protect the insulation from getting wet from the elements.

Thermal protection can be provided by BLANKET(S) a SLEEPING BAG, or a commercial REWARMING COCOON.equip_5


From a transport perspective, related equipment is designed to maintain the victim’s horizontal position and keep them immobile to prevent further injury due to jostling.  The two most common pieces of equipment available to First Responders for this use are the STOKES LITTER (discussed above) and the BACKBOARD.


equip_6Backboards provide a rigid surface on which to place the victim, and in contrast to the Stokes Litter, they are completely flat. Victims must be secured to the backboard in multiple locations using laterally applied straps.  In addition, padded blocks should be used at either side of the victim’s head to limit movement and prevent neck injury. Multiple handholds are provided at the edges of the backboard along its length to facilitate multi-person carriage.

Should neither a Stokes Litter nor a Backboard be available, the edges of the plastic sheet or tarp can be rolled up to the sides of the victim to provide a handhold for rescue staff to lift and carry the victim.


Once the victim has been moved into a protected area, the clothing cut off and the victim dried by gently blotting the skin, rewarming becomes the top priority.  Active warming can be accomplished by the application of heat to the chest and underarm area. This can be done with HOT PACKS, A CHARCOAL HEATER, warm water bladders or even a warm human body.

rewarming_cocoon_copyRemember, heat should be applied to the chest (this is closest to the heart) and underarm areas (as the major arteries in this area are close to the skin and will more effectively carry the heat to the heart). 

charcoal_heaterFollow specific product instructions to place some insulating material between the heater and the skin. The Charcoal Heater consists of a combustion chamber that should be applied to the chest. Heat is also transferred through non-collapsible, but flexible, ducts which should be positioned over the shoulder and under the arms and back over the chest. 

NOTE: Care should be taken to NOT use a charcoal heater in the presence of 100% oxygen due to the risk of explosion.