Weather and Hypothermia- a Deadly Combination
The loss of three lives in the waters off the coast of Clearwater, Florida prompts the writing of an article that reviews boating safety and hypothermia. On February 28 four friends and fellow football players set out for a fishing trip in the Gulf of Mexico in a 21 foot boat. It appears the boat capsized in stormy seas as the men were raising the anchor. Two days later only one of them was found alive. Boating and fishing are fun activities in which Scouts and leaders participate all around the world. Tragedies like this one force us to review some safety issues we sometimes take for granted.
Make sure the boat is appropriate for the trip and the weather. A 21 foot boat may be great for local lake fishing or for calm days in the Gulf, but this is not a big vessel for bad weather on the open sea. If you take out a boat that is marginally appropriate for the environment, be extra careful about the weather.
Changing weather conditions can also cause problems. The temperature was in the mid 60’s on the morning of February 28 and climbed to the high 70’s by noon. From that point on the temperature fell and was consistently in the mid to upper 50’s. Winds that had been around 5 mph on the morning of the men’s departure had grown to nearly 20 mph by noon and sustained winds remained in the 15 to 22 mph range for the next two days. Wind gusts were consistently in the 25 to 30 mph range. When boating it is important to check the weather when departing on a trip but it is just as important to monitor ongoing changes in conditions. A front that is supposed to arrive after sunset can easily arrive several hours earlier. Always be aware of your surroundings.
Hypothermia is always a danger. Even though the temperature seems warm and the water temperature does not seem cold, hypothermia is a danger whenever you are in the water. The Coast Guard has a 50-50-50 Rule: there is a 50% chance of survival after being in 50 degree water for 50 minutes. Although the water temperature was in the 60’s, extended time in the water makes hypothermia a real possibility. Even though the man all had life jackets exposure became a problem. Normal body temperature is 98.6 degrees. When rescued, the lone survivor's body temperature was 89 degrees.
There are several stages of Hypothermia. At about 95 degrees a person begins to lose muscle coordination. He may not be able to touch his thumb and little finger. At 91 to 94 degrees shivering becomes violent and mild confusion sets in. Below 90 degrees speaking becomes difficult, thinking becomes irrational and amnesia may set in. It is reported that two of the victims took off their life jackets and drifted away from the boat. The third victim reportedly took off his life and began swimming toward a light.
Fishing and boating are great sports but always remember safety is a primary prerequisite for having fun. Know you equipment, understand your surroundings and be vigilant of changing conditions.
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