Boat safely this winter: tips for avoiding, treating hypothermia

Feb. 07, 2013 @ 02:14 AM


The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Kerr Lake (Buggs Island), is reminding boaters that warm weather does not always equate to warm water.

Cold water can cool down the body 25 times faster than cold air. Water below 70 degrees is considered to be cold water, which effects the body in several stages.

Sudden entry into cold water can trigger a reflexive “gasp” (cold shock), possibly causing instantaneous drowning. Regardless, hypothermia can result in a loss of dexterity, loss of consciousness, and eventually loss of life. Staying afloat even after only a few minutes of exposure is difficult. Body size and body fat greatly affects survival time — the lesser the value, the less time one can survive. And even when pulled out of the water, a victim is not out of danger. Blood pressure may drop from the heart’s inability to pump cold blood effectively; lung damage due to water inhalation, internal injuries, or head and neck may have occurred that are not immediately detectable; and fatal bleeding from injuries may occur once the body warms up and blood flow increases.

While still in the water, avoid swimming (which lowers body temperature) unless land or floating objects are within reach. If possible, keep as much of the body out of the water, particularly one’s head. Limit body movement as much as possible. Those wearing life jackets or personal flotation devices should draw their knees up to their chest, either holding their upper arms at their sides and folding their forearms across their chests or hugging themselves while tucking their hands under their armpits.

To treat hypothermia, body temperature must be restored gradually. Wet clothing should be removed and the person’s body should be covered with a sleeping bag or blanket. Warm moist towels may be applied to the neck, sides of chest and groin. Avoid massaging extremities: this will push cold blood from the body’s surface into the core, actually causing a further drop in temperature. For the same reason, also avoid alcohol and stimulants (coffee or tea).