Hypothermia and Heat Emergencies

Sailors are often exposed to extreme conditions. During these cold winter days during Frostbite racing, or on hot sunny days with no wind, or rainy days with too much wind, or prolonged exposure to wind and spray… all of the things that make sailing challenging and fun can sneak up on you if you do not take care of yourself. Your best preparation is to anticipate the extremes. Bring plenty of warm and waterproof clothing if it might get cold and wet. Drink plenty of fluids all the time (even in winter) and wear a hat in hot, sunny weather. Hypothermia and heat emergencies can occur. Here are some signals and solutions.


– Shivering
– Impaired judgement
– Dizziness
– Numbness
– Change in level of consciousness
– Weakness
– Glassy stare
– Physical symptoms may vary since age, body size, and clothing will cause individual differences.

Medical assistance should be given to anyone with hypothermia. Until medical assistance arrives, these steps should be taken:
– Check breathing and pulse.
– Move the person to a warm place.
– Remove all wet clothing. Gradually warm the person by wrapping in blankets or putting on dry clothes. Do not warm a person too quickly, such as immersing in warm water. Rapid rewarming may cause dangerous heart rhythms. Hot water bottles and chemical heat packs may be used if first wrapped in a towel or blanket before applying.
– Give warm, nonalcoholic and non-caffeinated liquids to a conscious person only.

Heat Exhaustion

– Cool, moist, pale skin
– Heavy sweating
– Headache
– Dizziness
– Nausea
– Weakness, exhaustion

Without prompt care, heat exhaustion can advance to a more serious condition – heat stroke. First aid includes:
– Move person to cool environment.
– Remove clothing soaked with perspiration and loosen any tight clothing.
– Apply cool, wet towels or sheets.
– Fan the person.
– Give person a half glass (4 oz.) of cool water every 15 minutes.

Heat Stroke

– Red, hot, dry or moist skin.
– Very high temperature.
– Changes in level of consciousness.
– Vomiting.
– Rapid, weak pulse.
– Rapid, shallow breathing.

Heat stroke is life threatening. Anyone suffering from heat stroke needs to be cooled and an EMS technician should be contacted immediately. To care for heat stroke:
– Move person to cool environment.
– Apply cook, wet towels or sheets.
– If available, place ice or cold packs on the person’s wrists and ankles, groin, each armpit, and neck.
– If unconscious, check breathing and pulse.

For more safety information and emergency tips, purchase Basic Keelboat through our website. The lessons learned in Basic Keelboat will provide a strong foundation to help you build your skills for the future.