Divers looking through Ice into the Water

The 20:10:1 Rule for Surface Ice Rescue

Bob Shields
ERDI/SDI #24793

Ice Rescue Techniques

Ice rescue technicians are responsible for safely and efficiently rescuing persons who have broken through weak ice. Their approach to the victim can be complex and, if poorly performed, may result in the victim losing the only thing keeping them afloat, the ice shelf, and the rescuer plunging face-first into the frigid water. Using the 20:10:1 rule allows rescuers to safely approach the victim while maintaining the integrity of the ice shelf. 

During any ice rescue, the primary rescuer must be tethered via a rope attached to the front of the primary rescuer’s harness of the ice rescue suit via a locking carabiner. The carabiner needs to be connected through the fixed “O” or “D” ring and the harness clip. The backup rescuer needs to be tethered in the same manner on their rope.

The 20:10:1 Rule

The 20:10:1 rule is- 20 feet from the victim, crawl on hands and knees, 10 feet from the victim, lie prone on the ice, 1 body length away, and 1 body length to the side or rear spin and enter feet first. Here is the breakdown:

Once the rescuer is within 20 feet of the victim, they must crawl on their hands and knees. This will distribute their body weight. Once they are within 10 feet of the victim, they should advance fully prone/flat on their stomach. This further distributes their body weight. Using ice picks may aid the rescuer while in this position.

If the rescuer deems the ice too compromised to crawl on, they can alter their approach by becoming prone to a greater distance from the victim.

The final approach to the victim needs to be done at least one body length to the side or rear of the victim. This does two things; first, the rescuer will not break the ice supporting the victim directly in front of them. Second, it prevents the victim from grabbing the rescuer and pulling them into the water. 

At 1 body length away from the edge of the ice or the hole and 1 body length to the victim’s side or rear, the rescuer spins so they have a controlled feet-first entry into the water. As the rescuer’s feet touch the water, they should cover their mouths and nose with gloved hands. This prevents the inhalation of water from an involuntary gasp if the rescuer’s face is splashed or accidentally submerged. Rescuers should always be prepared to cover the mouth and nose during the approach if the ice gives way.

Once in the water, the rescuer should burp their suit before approaching the victim. This vents excessive air, accumulating in the upper torso and shoulder area. This can make a rescuer too buoyant and make the rescue more difficult. Now, the rescuer can use whatever technique or device they have chosen to make the rescue.

Ensuring Safety in Ice Rescues with Practice

As with any skill, it should be practiced and mastered during training evolutions. Using the 20:10:1 rule, each time a rescuer approaches a simulated victim builds muscle memory, so when it comes to an actual rescue, it will be second nature for the ice rescue technician.

Using the 20:10:1 rule of ice rescue can make a difficult task safer for both the victim and the rescuer. 

You can contact Bob Shields at:  robertshields@rocketmail.com for more information!

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