It can be truly terrifying to fall through ice on a frozen lake, but if you remain calm, it can save your life. Most people don’t realize that you have more time than you think, according to experts. This is due to the concept of thermoregulation and how your body deals with the shocking cold that immediately encompasses the body.
As you first hit the freezing water, you will almost immediately gasp and start hyperventilating. It is important that you remember to get control of your breath and do not thrash around. It can help to remember something called the “1-10-1 principle.” This means that it takes about one minute to gain control of your breathing, and then you have 10 minutes to move before you get too cold. The final one is to remind you that it will take one hour before you become unconscious. Again:
- 1 minute to control your breath
- 10 minutes of meaningful movement
- 1 hour before unconsciousness sets in
Take that initial minute and fully focus on your breathing. Slow it down, and then look around to see if you can locate the thickest area of ice. Typically, this is in the direction of the way you were coming from, as the ice was thick enough, at least for a time, to hold your body weight. When you locate the ice, stretch your arms over the surface, and then begin to flutter-kick until your body becomes horizontal with the surface. Kick hard and use your arms and hands to pull yourself onto the ice. As soon as you are able, begin to roll away from the hole, and then crawl upon the ice until you can safely stand up. To learn more about this, and to see it in action, there are videos online that demonstrate this technique.
Keep in mind that once your body temperature falls below 95 degrees Fahrenheit, officially you are hypothermic. When it falls below 86 degrees, it is likely that you will be unconscious, but not actually lifeless. In fact, people have been revived from body temperatures as low as 56.7 degrees, which is when the body will show the clinical signs of death, such as not breathing and not having a pulse.
It is possible that you can live for several hours after passing out if you can get out of the frigid water. This, however, does require some planning. You only have about 10 minutes after falling in before your muscles and nerves become too cold to work. If you feel too weak to go on and you cannot get out, place your arms over the surface of the ice and just remain still. The point is to encourage your coat to freeze to the ice, so that if you lose consciousness, you will keep your head above water. Additionally, you will remain visible for rescue, even if you pass out.
Robert Siciliano personal security and identity theft expert and speaker is the author of 99 Things You Wish You Knew Before Your Identity Was Stolen. See him knock’em dead in this identity theft prevention video.