How to Spot Hypothermia

November 2018 Multimedia Shannon Stockwell

Believe it or not, hypothermia doesn’t occur during freezing temperatures only. According to, more people have died from hypothermia during summer months than in the winter. It can creep up on a person, so it’s important that when you’re out on your houseboating excursion, you and your crew are aware of all of the physical condition of everyone aboard.

Here’s how hypothermia sets in. As tissues cool, the cells don’t work well. Your brain and nerves work more slowly, it is more difficult for muscles to contract but they cramp easier, and the heart may be prone to irregular beats. As the body temperature drops, it will divert warm blood into the core (head and trunk), which means your extremities will become colder. Cold, wet weather can of course be a catalyst for the onset of hypothermia, but again, this condition is not limited to cold months.

Prevention of hypothermia includes keeping dry in cold weather though. Make sure clothing is dry. If you’re out in the colder months, be sure to dress appropriately to stave off this condition.

The milder symptoms include shivering, fatigue, stumbling, poor speech, disorientation, and a careless attitude. Forgetfulness, hallucinations, and decreased attention can also be signs. Blue extremities, numbness, tingling and blotchy skin are symptoms to pay close attention to as well.

Severe symptoms include decreased coordination, a core temperature below 33.5 degrees Celsius or 92 degrees Fahrenheit. Muscles become rigid, breathing slows, pulse is irregular.  Your heart rate can be irregular below 32 degrees Celsius and 90 degrees Fahrenheit. When the body temperature is lower than 28 degrees Celsius and 82 degrees Fahrenheit, the heart rate decreases by 50 percent. The condition can progress to dilated and fixed pupils, loss of reflexes, and cardiac arrest and death below 25 degrees Celsius and 77 degrees Fahrenheit.

Should you suspect hypothermia, make sure the victim is dry and sheltered from wind and water, cover with blankets. Give heat to neck, underarms and groin. Begin heating the trunk first to avoid loss of core temperature after-drop. Re-warming the extremities first results in the blood re-entering the circulation and temporarily worsens the condition. Victim should stay in a horizontal position, and warm fluids should be given only after he stops shivering. Loss of the shivering reflex means significant hypothermia.

Try not to move the victim suddenly. This can cause abnormal heart rhythm. If CPR is necessary, resuscitation should not be stopped until the victim’s body temperature is at least 95 degrees Fahrenheit or 35 degrees Celsius. Don’t give up. There have actually been reports of victims recovering in the morgue.

A good thing to remember is that if you are out boating and decide to take a hike ashore, don’t go alone. If you are in poor condition or run into bad weather conditions, you may be susceptible to hypothermia and don’t want to be out without help. It’s always best to have a buddy with you on or off the boat. You’ll also want to make sure you are properly hydrated when out boating, whatever time of year. Loss of hydration can contribute to this condition. It is of course better to prevent hypothermia than to have to treat it, so be sure to be prepared for all weather conditions when you’re out on the water. Keep those houseboat trips memorable because of all the fun times you and your family can have.

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