Hypothermia is not just a winter danger. It's a summertime danger, too. With air temperatures well into the 80s, hardly anyone gives a thought to hypothermia while cruising the back bays 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 because 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 boating in our area, it’s an entirely different story. In water temperatures from 70 to 80 degrees, exhaustion or unconsciousness can set in within three to 12 hours; at 60 to 70 degrees, two to seven hours; and in water from 50 to 60 degrees, you could be unconscious in one to two hours.
Once your core body temperature drops from the 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 U.S. 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.
Want to help promote boating safety? The auxiliary is actively seeking volunteers interested in serving their country and their community. For anyone looking for a meaningful volunteer position, you may find a perfect fit in the auxiliary. Retired or have some spare time? Consider volunteering in the auxiliary.
Brigantine Flotilla 85 is celebrating its 45th anniversary and welcomes new members. Meetings are held 6:45 p.m. the third Tuesday of every month at the Brigantine Beach Community Center, 265 42nd St. Come join us at our next meeting, Aug. 15, and see what the auxiliary is all about. For more information email email@example.com and visit us at uscgaux-brigantine-nj.org.