Thursday, May 1

The Shocker

I’ve been taught the best time to appreciate warm weather is when it’s cold out. A sense of gratitude. It seems that many of us have been looking forward to warmer weather for a long, long time. When Chicago finally receives its balmy summer weather, let’s all keep in mind the potential for hypothermia and cold water drowning in the still frigid waters of Lake Michigan, surrounding lakes, and tributaries is still shockingly a factor.

While I imagine the shock that would come from being submerged in 40 degree water, I’m equally as shocked by how many boaters I see departing for their summer homes going up the river not wearing life jackets. Cold water immersion is no joke. It doesn’t matter how strong you are or how close to shore or safety you are. With water this cold, danger is moments away.

The Mayo Clinic defines hypothermia as, “A medical emergency that occurs when your body loses heat faster than it can produce heat, causing a dangerously low body temperature. Normal body temperature is around 98.6 F (37 C). Hypothermia (hi-po-THUR-me-uh) occurs as your body temperature passes below 95 F (35 C).

When your body temperature drops, your heart, nervous system and other organs can't work correctly. Left untreated, hypothermia can eventually lead to complete failure of your heart and respiratory system and to death.

Hypothermia is most often caused by exposure to cold weather or immersion in a cold body of water. Primary treatments for hypothermia are methods to warm the body back to a normal temperature.” 

I don’t know about you, but the words that stand out to me are medical emergency, dangerously, complete failure, and death. If you’re a regular reader you’ll recognize that I like to use a bit of shock factor to catch your attention. This article isn’t about shock factor. It’s about safety.

Check out some facts from the website

  • In 2004, 410 people drowned in Canada (read = cold water almost year round), 130 were boating.
  • 60% drowned in water under 50 degrees Fahrenheit
  • 34% drowned in water between 50 and 68 degrees Fahrenheit
  • Only 12% were properly wearing a lifejacket
  • 2% were improperly wearing a lifejacket
  • 43% were less than 6.56 feet from shore/safety (metric conversion - 2m)
  • 66% were less than 49.21 feet from shore/safety (metric conversion - 15m)
  • 26% fell or were thrown overboard
  • 48% were in a boat that capsized or was swamped
  • 10% of victims were strong swimmers

Do I have your attention? I hope so. What really has my attention in this list is 34% of victims drowned in waters up to 68 degrees and were within just a few feet of a shore, dock, boat, etc. What’s not surprising or shocking is so many incidents could have been prevented if they were wearing one simple piece of safety equipment, a life jacket.

I hope to see more and more of you wearing life jackets this spring and early summer. Consider tethers and jacklines if sailing short handed. Give a friend or family member a sail plan. Being safe doesn’t mean you can’t have fun. In fact being safe means having fun for years to come. If you have questions on how to properly wear a life jacket or any other safety related question, come visit us in the Ship’s Store the next time you’re in the yard or shoot us a call or quick email. – 773.221.9990

Still not convinced? Here are the symptoms of hypothermia according to the Mayo Clinic:
  • Shivering
  • Clumsiness or lack of coordination
  • Slurred speech or mumbling
  • Stumbling
  • Confusion or difficulty thinking
  • Poor decision making, such as trying to remove warm clothes
  • Drowsiness or very low energy
  • Apathy or lack of concern about one's condition
  • Progressive loss of consciousness
  • Weak pulse
  • Slow, shallow breathing
That doesn’t sound like fun to me. Granted, these symptoms may remind some of how they feel after over consuming on a "fun" night out. Or so I've been told.

Many of these symptoms can occur way before actual hypothermia sets in. Now the question is what we do if an accident does happen.

From the Mayo Clinic:

“Seek immediate medical attention for anyone who appears to have hypothermia. Until medical help is available, follow these hypothermia treatment guidelines.

First-aid care

Be gentle. When you're helping a person with hypothermia, handle him or her gently. Limit movements to only those that are necessary. Don't massage or rub the person. Excessive, vigorous or jarring movements may trigger cardiac arrest.

Move the person out of the cold. Move the person to a warm, dry location if possible. If you're unable to move the person out of the cold, shield him or her from the cold and wind as much as possible.

Remove wet clothing. If the person is wearing wet clothing, remove it. Cut away clothing if necessary to avoid excessive movement.

Cover the person with blankets. Use layers of dry blankets or coats to warm the person. Cover the person's head, leaving only the face exposed.

Insulate the person's body from the cold ground. If you're outside, lay the person on his or her back on a blanket or other warm surface.

Monitor breathing. A person with severe hypothermia may appear unconscious, with no apparent signs of a pulse or breathing. If the person's breathing has stopped or appears dangerously low or shallow, begin cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) immediately if you're trained.

Share body heat. To warm the person's body, remove your clothing and lie next to the person, making skin-to-skin contact. Then cover both of your bodies with blankets.

Provide warm beverages. If the affected person is alert and able to swallow, provide a warm, non-alcoholic, non-caffeinated beverage to help warm the body.

Use warm, dry compresses. Use a first-aid warm compress (a plastic fluid-filled bag that warms up when squeezed), or a makeshift compress of warm water in a plastic bottle or a dryer-warmed towel. Apply a compress only to the neck, chest wall or groin. Don't apply a warm compress to the arms or legs. Heat applied to the arms and legs forces cold blood back toward the heart, lungs and brain, causing the core body temperature to drop. This can be fatal.

Don't apply direct heat. Don't use hot water, a heating pad or a heating lamp to warm the person. The extreme heat can damage the skin or even worse, cause irregular heartbeats so severe that they can cause the heart to stop.”

With common sense, patience, and a bit of safety conscious thinking, we can all have a great, fun, and happy sailing season. I know I’m thinking safety as I depart the docks at Crowley’s at 5pm this evening only to likely arrive at night in below 50 degree air temps. My crew and I will be wearing life jackets.

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