Five Tips for Avoiding Maritime Hypothermia

When most people think about the dangers of being at sea, they think of sunburn, lack of fresh water, or sharks.  In this article titled “Five Tips for Avoiding Maritime Hypothermia”, we want to discuss one of the threats that is more common than any of those.  Maritime hypothermia is considered one of the biggest threats to maritime workers.  Read on to learn more about maritime hypothermia and our five tips for staying safe in the maritime industry.

What is Maritime Hypothermia?

Hypothermia occurs when there is a severe drop in body temperature, such as falling into cold water, or working in inclement weather conditions.  You don’t have to work in the Arctic in order to be susceptible to hypothermia, either.  In fact, hypothermia can occur in any situation where your body temperature lowers from the normal 95 degrees to just under 89 degrees.

For maritime workers, falling into the water is one of the biggest threats for hypothermia.  If the water is colder than you are, you are susceptible to hypothermia because water conducts heat away from the human body faster than air.  That means that even in the warmer waters of the Gulf of Mexico, you could still become hypothermic without taking proper safety measures.

When you become hypothermic, your body will experience a range of symptoms.  A breakdown of these symptoms based on core body temperature may resemble the following:

  • 96-98 degrees – Uncontrollable shivering and diminished motor skills. You will be able to walk and speak without difficulty at this stage.
  • 93-96 degrees – Walking and speaking becomes difficult, emotions are heightened, and you may feel aggressive or violent.
  • 86-93 degrees – Blood begins to move toward the internal organs to preserve heat. Shivering is inconsistent, and it may be difficult for you to stay awake.  At this stage, it is critical to get medical treatment immediately.

Five Tips for Avoiding Maritime Hypothermia

While you may not be able to prevent a maritime accident that lands you in the water, there are some helpful tips you should remember that could save your life.  Consider the following:

  1. Be Prepared for Immersion – Any time your body is submerged into water colder than your body temperature, there is a shock of immersion that occurs. Think about jumping into a cold swimming pool or running out of hot water in the shower.  In most cases, you will involuntarily gasp when the cold water hits your skin.  If you work in the maritime industry, it is important to remember that this shock occurs and try to avoid inhaling water into your lungs.
  2. Find a Way Out – One of the best ways to prevent the onset of hypothermia is to get out of the water as soon as possible. The longer your body is exposed to colder water, the faster your core body temperature will fall.  If you don’t have access to a lifeboat, try to find a piece of floating debris, or anything you can use to get as much of your body out of the water as possible.  Even if you feel colder, remember that your body loses heat faster in the water than in the open air.
  3. Stay Still – This may be one of the more difficult tips to remember, but it is important to preventing hypothermia.  The more you move in the water, the faster your body loses heat and your core temperature falls.  Swimming can cause your body to lose heat as much as 50 percent faster than staying still.  Unless you are certain that shore, a boat, or someplace out of the water is less than a kilometer away, your best bet might be keeping as still as possible until help arrives.
  4. Get in Position – The Heat Escape Lessening Position (HELP) is one of the movements you should make when in the water. To assume the HELP position, cross your legs and bring your knees to your chest.  Cross your arms over your chest also, so as much of your body is touching as is possible.  If you are in a group with others in the water, bundle up together as close as you can to preserve body heat.
  5. Stay Clothed – In some cases, maritime workers have immersion suits to protect them if they fall into the water. In other cases, you may find yourself weighed down by your clothing and be tempted to take it off.  It is always advised to keep your clothes on, even if they are wet and heavy.  The more protection you have between your skin and the water, the better your chances of regulating your core body temperature.

Important Safety and Treatment Information

If you or someone with you becomes hypothermic, it can be difficult to make sense of the situation and figure out what to do.  Here are some additional safety and treatment tips that could help save yours, or someone else’s life, during a maritime hypothermia situation:

  • Once safety is reached, never apply heat directly to the individual’s arms or legs, as this can force blood back to the brain and heart too quickly resulting in damage or death.
  • Apply indirect heat (hot water bottles, warm towels, heating pads, or body heat) to areas of the body like the neck, chest, head, and groin.
  • Keep the hypothermic person laying on their back. If possible, lay down with them and cover you both with blankets, as your body heat will transfer to them.
  • If the person is conscious, give them warm liquid to drink.
  • Never give a hypothermic person alcohol or caffeine if possible.
  • Call for help as soon as possible, and never leave someone who is hypothermic alone.

Workers in the maritime industry may not be able to prevent exposure to water or the elements, but with proper safety, training, and these helpful tips, the risk of developing hypothermia because of an accident may be a little less. Learn more about maritime attorneys. Fill out our contact form to explore your legal rights and to get answers any questions you may have.