WASHINGTON – Hypothermia is not just a winter danger…it’s a summertime danger, too. With air temperatures climbing well into the 80s and 90s in many parts of the country, hardly anyone gives a thought to hypothermia while cruising down a river, spending hours fishing on their favorite lake, or heading out on a day-trip to the deeper waters of the Atlantic.
But the fact is water temperatures could be well below the air temperature and an unexpected dunking as a result of a boating accident could have disastrous results…particularly if you are alone.
For example, if you are boating in Miami’s Biscayne Bay in mid-July, the water temperature will be in the mid-to-high 80s…and you can spend many hours immersed before the symptoms of hypothermia set in – plenty of time for a rescue.
But if you are boating on an inland lake or river, or off the coast of Long Island or New England, it’s an entirely different story. In water temperatures from 70-80 degrees, exhaustion or unconsciousness can set in within 3-12 hours; 60-70 degrees, 2-7 hours, and in water from 50-60 degrees, you could be unconscious in 1-2 hours.
Once your core body temperature drops from normal 98.6 degrees to 95 degrees, your extremities are numbed to the point of uselessness – trying to fasten the straps of a life jacket or cling to an overturned boat becomes nearly impossible. Panic and shock set in, and total disorientation can occur. Cold water robs the body of heat considerably faster than cold air.
To guard against the potential for succumbing to hypothermia as a result of a summertime boating accident, the Coast Guard Auxiliary suggests:
1. Know the weather conditions before you set out…don’t leave your port or dock if the weather may turn rough.
2. File a float plan to tell your friends and family where you are going and when you plan to return.
3. Always wear a life jacket while boating.
4. If you wind up in the water, try not to panic as it can increase heat loss from your body and shorten your survival time…remain in a curled up, heat-retaining position.
5. Stick with your capsized boat and try to get as much of your body out of the water as possible.
6. Avoid consuming alcoholic beverages while boating…they allow heat to escape from the body more quickly because alcohol dilates blood vessels.