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Immersion suits will delay the effects of hypothermia in cold water.

Immersion in water speeds the loss of body heat and can lead to hypothermia. Hypothermia is the abnormal lowering of internal body temperature. If your boat capsizes it will likely float on or just below the surface. Outboard powered vessels built after 1978 are designed to support you even if full of water or capsized. To reduce the effects of hypothermia get in or on the boat. Try to get as much of your body out of the water as possible. If you can't get in the boat a PFD will enable you to keep your head out of the water. This is very important because about 50% of body heat loss is from the head.

It may be possible to revive a drowning victim who has been under water for considerable time and shows no signs of life. Numerous documented cases exist where victims have been resuscitated with no apparent harmful effects after long immersions. Start CPR immediately and get the victim to a hospital as quickly as possible.

Chart of the water temperature and duration of immersionThe Danger Zone indicates where safety precautions and appropriate behavior can increase your chances of survival when immersed in cold water.

Many people think hypothermia occurs only in an extreme arctic environment. This is a false idea and has lead to the death of many. With a combination of wet clothing and a breeze people are prime targets for hypothermia. Many deaths happen at temperatures of 40° or 50° F.

The following highlights symptoms for both mild and severe hypothermia, treatment and prevention.


Mild Hypothermia - Core Temperature above 90°
  • Uncontrollable shivering
  • Slurred Speech
  • Impaired judgement
  • Slowed reflexes, loss of coordination
Severe Hypothermia - Core Temperature below 90°
  • Decreased shivering, victim feels warmer
  • Muscular rigidity
  • Pale or blue skin
  • Weak, slow and irregular pulse
  • Confusion, memory loss


The key to successful treatment of hypothermia is early detection. If you're in a group, watch each other for the symptoms of hypothermia. Remember, it only takes minutes to slip into hypothermia, and less than two hours to die from it. There are several steps to follow when treating a hypothermia victim.

Mild Hypothermia - Core Temperature above 90°
  • Shelter from wind and cold
  • Build a fire or produce heat (use candles or other chemical heat source, or huddle together with other warm bodies.)
  • Remove wet clothing
  • Drink warm fluids
  • Exercise
  • Eat food - Start with simple carbohydrates such as candy and work up to more complex foods.
Severe Hypothermia - Core Temperature below 90°
  • Core temperatures below 90° produce cardiac irritability. Under these conditions any sudden movement can cause a lethal heart rhythm. Great care must be taken to be gentle with these victims. It is important to understand that when the core temperature drops below 90°, the body can no longer warm itself. Applied heat is the only way to re-warm. Skin to skin contact is the best for successful heat transfer. If the victim is conscious, warm liquids are in order.
  • The Unconscious Victim - special care must be taken when treating the unconscious victim. At this point the cardiac and respiratory systems are very delicate. Any sudden movement may cause ventricular fibrillation of the heart, which quickly leads to death. The victim must be warmed slowly and at a controlled rate. The introduction of too much heat may cause serious danger. Never give food or drink to an unconscious person. The best immediate treatment is to prevent additional heat loss, keep the airway open, and arrange for immediate transportation to a medical facility.


Best method of prevention is to be prepared for the worst conditions. Anticipate every problem which may arise and be prepared for it. The best defense against hypothermia is to understand it. The next best defense is to use a layering system.

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