Skip to main content

Rhode Island

Freshwater Fishing

Hypothermia

Hypothermia is a condition in which the body loses heat faster than it can be produced. This causes a dangerous reduction of the body’s inner temperature. Hypothermia results from exposure to wind and wetness. A victim of hypothermia may become blue-gray in color. Violent shivering develops which may give way to muscle spasms and even loss of the use of arms and legs. Confusion and drunken-like behavior also indicate that a person may be hypothermic. To protect yourself, avoid the conditions that cause hypothermia. Dress warm and stay dry. Know the effects the wind has on cold weather. It may be 40 F (7 C) outside with the sun shining, but a 10 mph wind lowers the wind-chill temperature to 28 F (-2 C). Refer to the Hypothermia Table to see the general effects cold water temperatures have on the body. When a person falls into cold water, there are ways to increase the chances of survival. Don’t discard clothing; it helps trap the body’s heat. Minimize movement; thrashing around in cold water only leads to exhaustion, and swirling water takes heat from the body more rapidly than still water. Wear a personal flotation device (PFD) which will help for two reasons: it lessens the need to move around in the water and it helps to insulate against heat loss. When wearing a PFD, a person should draw their knees into a position known as HELP (Heat Escape Lessening Posture). If there are several people in the water, huddling together with arms around each other’s shoulders is the best survival technique. Treatment for hypothermia involves getting heat back into the body and raising the inner temperature. Skin-to-skin contact and mouth-to-mouth resuscitation (even when the victim is conscious) are excellent ways to transfer heat. Do not give alcohol or massage a person vigorously to treat hypothermia; a hot bath is fine for mild cases but never if the victim is unconscious. For further information, contact your local Red Cross Chapter.

If the water

temperature (F) is...

Exhaustion or

unconsciousness

occurs within...

Expected survival time is...

less than 32.5 less than 15 minutes less than 45 minutes
32.5-40.0 15-40 minutes 30-90 minutes
40-50 30-60 minutes 1-3 hours
50-60 1-2 hours 1-6 hours
60-70 2-7 hours 2-40 hours
70-80 3-12 hours 3-indefinitely
over 80 indefinitely indefinitely