Despite warm weather, it is essential to remember that the water can be frigid in many areas. Being immersed in cold water poses the greatest risk of hypothermia.
The risk of death for boaters and passengers increases significantly when the water temperature is colder in case of a capsize or a fall overboard. While water temperatures can vary depending on location and time of year, hypothermia does not require frigid water to manifest its effects. Even water reaching 77 degrees Fahrenheit may trigger an initial cold-water immersion reaction. As a result, boat operators must be fully aware of the impact of cold water immersion on the human body and prepared to respond accordingly.
There are four distinct physiological stages during which an individual reacts to being immersed in cold water and may become unconscious and die (Golden and Harvey 1981). Boaters familiar with the physiology of cold water immersion are better prepared to respond to an immersion emergency.
The effects of cold water immersion happen in four stages:
A comprehensive description of hypothermia and the four stages of cold water immersion can be found at www.watersafetycongress.org under the Cold Water Boot Camp.
Medical intervention must be performed to treat hypothermia. When medical intervention is unavailable, the most promising approach is gradually restoring the body’s normal temperature.
Studies revealed that up to 20% of survivors die shortly after the rescue.
During an unexpected plunge into cold water or when it is necessary to enter cold water, the following guidelines can help improve the chances of survival:
Using a Personal Flotation Device is essential for survival in the water. A personal flotation device (PFD) allows you to remain afloat with minimal energy expenditure while assuming HELP.
The Heat Escape Lessening Posture (HELP) is a reliable survival technique for people who cannot immediately escape cold water or may not be rescued immediately. In the HELP posture, a submerged individual draws his knees to his chest and wraps his arms around his chest, hugging his life jacket tightly. By using this strategy, major parts of the body are protected from heat loss.