Hypothermia, a condition where your body’s core temperature drops to dangerous levels, is a common threat especially in the often-cold waters off of the Washington coast. Hypothermia’s symptoms start with shivering, teeth chattering, numbness, and mental confusion. Moderate hypothermia symptoms include trouble with muscle movement, a warm sensation, trouble seeing, and fatigue. Severe hypothermia can lead to low blood pressure, low heart rate, and low respiratory rate. Even moderate hypothermia requires hospital treatment. Even water that is not very cold (50 degrees) can lead to a hypothermia death in as little as an hour.
Hypothermia is treated with rapid rewarming and IV fluids.
The best action you can take to prevent hypothermia while boating is to wear appropriate clothing. The kayakers involved in last week’s boating accident were not wearing wetsuits, which are designed to protect against cold water situations. Life jackets can also significantly reduce the threat of hypothermia as long as exposure times are limited. Drinking alcohol before entering the water speeds up the hypothermia process.
Perhaps the best way to avoid hypothermia is to understand all aspects of boat safety and avoid a capsizing incident. In addition telling a friend or family member where you are going and when you should be home will help rescuers find you quickly and efficiently in the case of a boat accident.