Description & Symptoms
Hypothermia (below normal body temperature) is an insidious killer that is involved in perhaps as many as one-half of Minnesota’s boating deaths each year. Immersion in cold water (less than 70˚F) causes the body to lose heat faster than it can produce it, decreasing the body’s inner (core) temperature. This decrease can cause symptoms ranging from continual shivering, poor coordination, and numb hands and feet in moderate cases to hallucinations and eventual death in most extreme situations.
Cold water robs body heat 25 times faster than air of the same temperature, so if you capsize or fall out of your boat, immediately attempt to get back on board your craft. Most small boats if overturned, can be righted and bailed out. In fact, modern small craft have built-in flotation that will support the weight of the occupants, even after capsizing or swamping. If you can’t right the boat - climb on top and hang on. Wearing your personal flotation device (PFD) will help protect you from hypothermia in several ways. It decreases the amount of movement necessary to remain afloat, and it also helps to insulate you from heat loss. A PFD will also keep you afloat if you become unconscious due to hypothermia.