Hypothermia and the dangers of cold water: Stay informed to stay safe

Topics: Water Safety
November 14, 2013

Hypothermia and the dangers of cold water: Stay informed to stay safe

The Canadian Red Cross is one of the largest charity organizations in the country. It's global reach allows it to offer humanitarian aid to people in need around the world. But that doesn't mean that the Canadian Red Cross doesn't work to ensure the day-to-day safety of Canadians. And basic weather and water safety is important all year long.

As a northern nation, Canada is prone to very cold temperatures. This doesn't stop people from enjoying the great outdoors, however - nor should it. There's a lot of skiing, ice skating, snowmobiling, sledding, fishing and snowshoeing to be done. But folks need to make sure that they're safe and taking precautions as they enjoy their favorite winter outdoor activities.

Keeping track of outdoor temperatures and wind chill are both advisable, but the most important advice for Canadians is to be careful around water. Even if the temperature has yet to drop below freezing, cold water can present a very particular danger - the risk of hypothermia.

What is hypothermia?
Hypothermia occurs when the skin and blood temperature in your body - especially your extremities - drops rapidly. Hypothermia leads to intense shivering, trouble breathing, numb hands and feet, slurred speech, dilated pupils and other signs and symptoms. As the temperature of internal organs slowly drops, individuals may lose consciousness - mixed with water, this can lead to drowning. If body temperature drops too low, the heart may fail altogether.

Quick reaction can save lives in cases of hypothermia. Someone should call emergency services immediately in cases of severe hypothermia. The individual should be moved out of the cold and taken out of their cold and wet clothing, then dried. They should be kept warm in blankets or dry clothing. Their head and neck should be covered and warmed as well.

Preparedness can help
The best way to avoid hypothermia around cold water is to remain smart, prepared and vigilant. You can start by wearing multiple layers of dry clothing and a wind and waterproof outer layer, especially if there's the chance you'll get splashed with cold water. When in boats, life jackets or Canadian-approved personal flotation devices are also important. In some situations, wet suits or exposure coveralls may be called for.

Other useful preparedness tips include wearing a whistle, which can be used to signal for help in emergencies; carry waterproof matches; always tell a responsible individual where you are going outdoors and when you plan to be back; know your boat well before steering it into cold water; avoid drinking alcohol, as it won't warm you up and will just impair judgment; and, of course, always check the local weather before heading out. Make smart decisions based on temperature lows or incoming inclement weather.

Want to help get the message out about smart tips for water safety in winter? Donate to the Canadian Red Cross today!