Hypothermia

Safety Guides & Info

Hypothermia - Cooling of the body's core temperature

In arctic and temperate regions, this is the greatest danger. In fact, hypothermia is a leading cause of death related to outdoor activities and therefore demands serious study by anyone interested in any form of outdoor recreation.

Paddling in wind and rain or wet rough water without adequate clothing can lead to hypothermia, but the greatest danger is from total immersion in chilling water as the result of a capsize. It is imperative to get a capsize victim out of the water as soon as possible and then to add clothing and watch closely for signs of hypothermia. The victim may not recognize the symptoms in himself and if hypothermic, the victim may even become belligerent.

The symptoms of hypothermia: (in order of severity)

  • Sensation of cold 
  • Shivering and shuddering (core temperature 98 to 91 degrees. Rapid breathing and rapid pulse) 
  • Vague, slurred speech 
  • Memory lapses 
  • Lack of coordination (fumbling hands or erratic paddling and inability to stay on course) 
  • Indifference (even to discomfort) 
  • Blurred vision and drowsiness 
  • Ashen face and hands 
  • Muscle rigidity and loss of manual dexterity replaces shivering (core temperature 93 to 86 degrees. The situation is now extremely critical. Breathing and pulse very slow and shallow 
  • Exhaustion 
  • Incoherence and collapse 
  • Unconsciousness (core temperature about 86 degrees. Chances of survival less than even.) 
  • Death (if not from drowning when unconscious then due to heart failure at a core temperature of approximately 80 degrees) 


Hypothermia In Water

Hypothermia is defined as a body core temperature less than 35 degrees Celsius. Decreased consciousness occurs when the core temperature falls to approximately 32 to 30 degrees.

  • Get on top of an over-turned boat or any wreckage!
  • Heart failure is the usual cause of death when the core temperature cools to below 30 degrees. The body loses heat to the water about 30 times faster than in air.
  • The positions HELP and HUDDLE are designed to reduce body heat loss in water.
  • Arms close to sides of the chest, legs crossed & pulled up closing the groin area.
  • In the huddle position, keep close together and still - to keep colder water out. The huddle helps small children survive longer !
  • Help Search and Rescue crews find you!
  • Keep calm and make yourself visible 
  • Carry a real paddler's WHISTLE with you!

To swim or not to swim?

Swimming is an option but this leads to faster heat loss and exhaustion, even a strong swimmer would not be able to swim more than one kilometer in calm water. Cramp and hypothermia develop more quickly, usually a victim becomes semiconscious and is likely to drown.

Swimming increases heat loss (increase by 35-50%) and is not recommended if you are more than one kilometer away from shore, adopt a heat conserving strategy (help or huddle) instead. Consider your circumstances carefully before deciding to swim, is there a favorable current to assist you etc..

Drown proofing and treading water also lead to rapid heat loss, avoid if possible, wear a PFD! Do not remove clothing or shoes, they provide insulation (a jacket can trap air and assists floating).

Hypothermia on Land

  • Get victim into dry clothes and keep in a horizontal recovery position. If conscious give a warm drink - NO coffee or tea - and NEVER ALCOHOL!
  • If in doubt, treat as severe hypothermia, remember to handle the victim very gently.
  • Get help, attract attention.
  • Carry a really good WHISTLE with you! 
  • Assist Search and Rescue crews to find you on the ground.
  • Keep calm and make yourself visible.
  • Assist Search and Rescue crews spot you from the air.

If you find yourself in a survival situation, the first thing to do is prevent further heat loss. For information and everything you need for safety, contact us!