Know How to Spot and Treat Hypothermia on the Water

We’re heading into the autumn and winter, and all around the country, temperatures are dropping. That doesn’t mean that you should stay out of the waters altogether, but those who boat should take the proper precautions by securing boat insurance and staying aware of what hypothermia entails.

Falling into extremely low-temperature waters can be very dangerous. Your body may react to the cold water or sustained immersion in cold water, in uncontrollable ways. Failure to recognize these characteristics can lead to hypothermia, a serious condition which is the abnormal lowering of internal body temperature that should be treated only by specially trained individuals.

Before setting out on your first winter expedition, take a little time to familiarize yourself with the symptoms of hypothermia and what to do in the event that someone on your boat is exhibiting them.

Cold Shock & Fatigue 

Falling into cold water provokes an immediate gasp reflex. If your head is underwater, you’d inhale water and it is unlikely you’ll stay afloat if you’re not wearing a life jacket. The initial shock can cause panic, hyperventilation, and the increased heart rate could even lead to a heart attack. This stage lasts 3-5 minutes and at this point, the primary focus should be staying afloat with your head above water.

Within 30 minutes, the body will experience exhaustion and swimming failure. Due to loss of muscle coordination, swimming becomes a struggle and the body tends to go more vertical in the water making any forward movement increasingly difficult. That’s why we must avoid swimming for help. Remain with the boat or something else that floats while keeping your head above water. 

As a boat owner, always make sure that you have life jackets and life preservers on board, and insist that all of your passengers wear them, regardless of their swimming ability.

Awareness & Symptoms 

True hypothermia sets in after about 30 minutes. Most victims never make it to this stage,  as the earlier stages of cold water immersion are commonly fatal. Regardless of your body type, size, insulation of clothing, acclimatization and other factors, your body’s core temperature becomes dangerously low and survival chances are greatly lessened. Victims are usually unconscious in this stage.

Moderate hypothermia symptoms include reduced body temperature with shivering decreased or stopped. The victim may seem irrational with deteriorating coordination. Keep victims lying down with torso, thighs, head, and neck covered with dry clothes, coats, or blankets to stop further heat loss. Seek medical attention immediately.

Severe hypothermia symptoms show shivering probably stopped; victim resists help or may be semi-conscious to unconscious. The victim must be kept prone, on their back, and immobilized. Cover torso, head, neck, and thighs with dry covers. Never stimulate arms and legs as cold blood returning to the body core could cause cardiac arrest. Again, we cannot stress enough, get medical help immediately.

Hypothermia Treatment

A rescued victim must be handled very carefully. When a person is removed from cold water, the body will react to the surrounding air and the body position. Blood pressure often drops, inhaled water can damage the lungs, and heart problems can develop as cold blood from the extremities is released into the body core. Proper medical attention is essential to re-warm the body safely.

Initially, sometimes victims appear dead (no breathing or pulse apparent and body is rigid) but assume that the victim can be revived. Apply dry clothing or covers to boost body temperature. Continue to check for signs of pulse or breathing during the first two minutes. If pulse or breathing is found, even in trace amounts, do not start CPR as it can cause cardiac arrest. If you can’t find a pulse or signs of breathing, a qualified individual should begin CPR. Rush the victim to the nearest medical facility by the safest means possible. Once rescued, victims should be moved to a warm place and avoid any sugar or caffeine intake for at least several hours. 

About Mariners Insurance

Mariners General Insurance Group was founded in 1959 to protect boat owners and marine business clients. We are marine insurance experts and insure boats worldwide – in every ocean on the planet. Marine insurance is critical if you own a boat or nautical business. Trust the professionals with all of your Boat Insurance needs – trust Mariners Insurance. Call us at (800) 992-4443 any time you have questions or concerns about insurance for your vessel or marine business.