Dr. Giesbrecht operates the Laboratory for Exercise and Environmental Medicine, where he studies human responses to exercise and work in extreme environments. He has conducted hundreds of cold water immersion studies that have provided valuable information about cold stress physiology and pre-hospital care for human hypothermia. Dr. Giesbrecht has studied drowning physiology and prevention as well as prevention of vehicle submersion deaths.  Other research interests include human physical and mental performance in other stresses such as altitude (hypoxia) and diving (hypobaria).

Research Areas:


    • Exercise Physiology (KPER 3470)
    • Advanced Exercise Physiology (KIN 4470)
    • Physiology of Exercise in Extreme Environments (KIN 4370)
    • Quantitative Methods and Research Design (KPER 7004)
    • Principles of Thermoregulation (PHED 7160)
    • Current Research in Physical Activity, Health and Leisure: Physical Aspects (PERS 7004)
    • Foundations of Physical Education and Kinesiology (PERS 1500)


  • 2010 B.Th., Horizon College & Seminary
  • 1991 Postdoctoral Fellow, University of Calgary
  • 1990 PhD, University of Manitoba, Dept. of Medicine
  • 1986 MPE, University of Manitoba
  • 1985 BPE, University of Manitoba

Vehicle Submersion: Prevent, Escape, Survive

Operation ALIVE: 4 steps to escape a sinking vehicle

Operation ALIVE (Automobile submersion: Lessons In Vehicle Escape) was created to address this poorly understood problem.  In North America, approximately 400 individuals per year die in submersed vehicles, accounting for between five and eleven percent of all drownings. Dr. Giesbrecht has conducted multiple experiments questioning the widely held belief that individuals should stay in their car until it fills with water before attempting to exit. His findings led to the development of a new 4-step protocol (SWOC) designed to save lives.

A sinking vehicle may float on the water surface for up to 3 minutes, but you only have 1 minute to exit the vehicle safely. 

If your vehicle is in water, do not panic, do not touch your cell phone and remember SWOC.:

  • WINDOWS open or broken
  • OUT immediately
  • CHILDREN first (oldest to youngest)



Is it possible to have access to your instructional videos for educational purposes?

Yes. The videos listed here are free to use for educational purposes only:

  • Cold Water Survival – Strategies for survival if you fall through the ice (High Res - 150 MB)
  • You're Out, Now What? How to survive a night in the forest after losing your snowmobile through the ice (High Res - 136 MB)
  • Getting That Sinking Feeling - The importance of proper outerwear to keep you afloat and alive when snowmobiling (High Res - 123 MB)
  • You can free access to a 6-unit educational course from “Baby It’s Cold Outside” at
  • You can also access several videos from Baby It’s Cold Outside” at

Do you have any written material on cold water physiology, safety etc.

Note to unit: Please review and update these links if necessary.

Yes. You can download several short papers from our web page (scroll to bottom)

You may also be interested in our recent book Hypothermia, Frostbite and Other Cold Injuries.

Have you published any scientific work in the area of cold water physiology and safety?

Yes. You can view a PDF listing of selected references here.

What should I do if I am in a vehicle sinking in water?

A vehicle crash into water has the highest mortality rate of any type of single-vehicle accident. Five to eleven per cent of all drownings in North America occur in vehicles.

We have completed more than 80 vehicle submersion tests with people in them. If you are in a sinking vehicle there is usually time to survive but you must act quickly and correctly.

What not to do: DO NOT TOUCH YOUR CELL PHONE. If you touch your cell phone you will probably die! You have about one minute to exit through your window before water pressure prevents opening the windows. All your cell phone call will do is waste valuable time. Rescue personnel cannot get to you within one minute.

What you should do:

If your vehicle ends up in water, REMEMBER: DO NOT PANIC and

  1. Seatbelts – Get your seatbelts off immediately, NO DELAY
  2. Windows – Lower or break your window
  3. Children – Get your small children in the front seat with you
  4. Out – Get out through the window. Push your children out first!

Note: You may need a centre punch to break your side windows – see below for purchase information.

How long will a sinking vehicle "float"?

Although a sinking vehicle may be visible for a few minutes, you can only escape during the first minute or so. We consider that the vehicle is FLOATING only until the water reaches the bottom of the side windows (about 1 minute). At this point you can still roll down the windows.

After that, the vehicle is SINKING. Water pressure will press the window against the door frame, making it impossible to open. It does not matter how long this period is. Even though the vehicle is visible, windows and doors cannot be opened.

Finally, the vehicle is SUBMERGED. Even though it is under water, all the air will not have escaped yet and you will still not be able to open the doors or windows. You would have to wait for the vehicle to fill completely with water before the pressure equalizes and the door can be opened, but unfortunately by this point many individuals will have drowned.

Use the window, not the door. Because the water level is higher outside than inside, the pressure makes it VERY DIFFICULT, IF NOT IMPOSSIBLE, to open the door. If you can get the door open, water will rush in and the vehicle will plummet to the bottom. You may be caught in the door, which will then slam shut, and you will certainly trap anyone else who is still in the vehicle.

Where can I get a centre punch for exiting my sinking vehicle?

This device can be found at many Safety Supply retailers.

In Winnipeg this device can be purchased from:
1) Reliant Safety Equipment Inc.
1708 St. James St., Winnipeg
Tel. (204) 582-0734


2) ABC Fire and Safety Equipment Ltd.
9-846 Marion St., Winnipeg
Tel (204) 233-6083

Please note that I do not have any commercial interests in the Res-Q-Me manufacturers or the retailers listed. I recommend it because it is small, effective and can be hung in an obvious, accessible location without being unsightly.

Where can I get a copy of the State of Alaska Cold Injuries Guidelines?

In 2002, I was part of a panel of experts convened in Sitka, Alaska to review and revise the "State of Alaska Cold Injuries Guidelines". This revision was approved by the State Legislature and published in 2003. Download a PDF version here.

Other State of Alaska Emergency Medical Services Unit Downloads can be accessed here.

Where can I get a copy of the findings from your Cold Water Boot Camp?

A free download of my Cold Water Boot Camp presentation PFD is available here for educational use.


Visit Gord Giesbrecht's Google Scholar profile for a complete listing.

Gord Giesbrecht's profile