Did you know that although you may live in a warm climate or tropical area you can still become a victim of hypothermia?
I often hear comments like: “I work in Northern Queensland waters, so hypothermia is not a problem for me!”
The truth is that it still is a problem and it’s even worse because many people continue to believe that in warm climates hypothermia is not a problem if you’re in the water.
In simple terms if the water you’re in or even air that has a lower temperature than your body you can suffer from hypothermia.
Consider your body temperature in normal conditions is around 37°C and you go overboard in water with a temperature of 23°C which is common in warmer climate zones.
Your body will immediately start to adjust to the external (water or air) temperature which means it’s going to drop significantly and…in a short time!
If you’re in the water for even a short time then hypothermia is going to start developing.
Knowing how to identify the symptoms of hypothermia is a vital part of survival at sea and in the preservation of life.
In water with a temperature of 21°C to 26°C the expected time before exhaustion or unconsciousness is between 3 to 12 hours depending on the individual. The expected time of survival is anywhere from 3 hours to indefinite.
If the water temperature is 10°C to 15°C the expected time before exhaustion or unconsciousness is between 1 to 2 hours with an expected survival time of between 1 to 6 hours!
So…as part of your survival you and all crew members need to know how to identify the symptoms of hypothermia because it may be your life that is saved.
We break up the symptoms into two categories…
- Mild hypothermia; and
- Moderate to severe hypothermia
Mild Hypothermia Symptoms
Symptoms for mild hypothermia include…
- Faster breathing
- Trouble speaking
- Slight confusion
- Increased heart rate
Moderate to Severe Hypothermia Symptoms
- Shivering, although as hypothermia worsens shivering stops
- Clumsiness or lack of coordination
- Slurred speech or mumbling
- Confusion and poor decision making such as trying to remove warm clothes
- Drowsiness or very low energy
- Lack of concern about one’s condition
- Weak pulse
- Slow, shallow breathing
What about hypothermia in children?
Charter and passenger vessels often have children onboard as passengers there anyone operating on these vessels should also be able to identify hypothermia in children. The symptoms include…
- Bright red, cold skin
- Very low energy
- A weak cry
If you don’t know the signs of hypothermia developing you may be witnessing death in the making because hypothermia can kill in 6 minutes!
My recommendation is to not only know but also understand the signs of hypothermia and how to deal with anyone suffering from it.
Remember hypothermia increases blood to the brain and alters your judgement so…be on guard at all times, even on hot summer days.
Hypothermia is not limited to being in the water, it can be an issue for those working in cold climates on deck or ashore. It can even impact people in freezer rooms if not wearing the appropriate PPE!
My best tip is to ensure you wear the right clothing and have the appropriate PPE for the conditions you are working in!