Information from the Canadian Red Cross
Hypothermia and Cold Water
In cold weather you should wear multiple layers of dry clothing, a wind or waterproof outer layer and a PFD or lifejacket.
- Wet suit
- Dry suit
- Immersion suit
- Survival suit
- Exposure coveralls
- Your skin and blood temperature in your arms and legs drop quickly
- You start shivering
- You may have trouble breathing and be unable to use your hands
- The temperature of your heart, brain, and other organs drops gradually
- You may become unconscious, and if you are in the water, you may drown
- If your body temperature drops further, you can die of heart failure
What are the signs?
- Continual shivering
- Poor coordination of movements
- Slowing down and falling behind
- Numb hands and feet leading to stumbling and clumsiness
- Dazed, confused, careless or forgetful behavior
- Slowed or slurred speech; slow response to questions
- Dilated pupils
- Decreased attention span
Increasing your odds
- Try to get your body out of the water. Climb onto the boat. Haul yourself onto a log or dock. Grab onto a floating object. Cold water depletes body heat faster than air.
- If you are alone and if you are wearing a Canadian-approved Personal Flotation Device (PFD), slow down body heat loss through the Heat Escape Lessening Position (HELP). The HELP position can increase your survival time by 50%.
- Cross your arms tightly against your chest and draw your knees up. Remain calm and still. Do not try to swim. Unnecessary movement will use energy that your body requires to survive. Practice the HELP position with a friend in warm water!
- If you are with other people wearing PFDs, everyone should ‘HUDDLE’. You may increase your group’s survival time by 50%.
- HUDDLE with everyone’s chests and sides close together. Intertwine legs and extend your arms around the people next to you.
How do I prepare?
- Wear a Canadian-approved Personal Flotation Device (PFD).
- Some PFDs provide insulation against cold water.
- Wear a whistle on your PFD or clothing. A whistle can be used to signal for help.
- In cool weather, wear rain gear over and/or wool clothes under your PFD. Wool insulates even when wet. Wear layers of clothing and a hat. As much as 60% of body heat loss occurs from the head.
- Carry matches in a waterproof container. A fire can help you warm up after exposure to cold or can help you signal for assistance.
- Bring high-energy food (e.g. chocolate bar) containing sugar.
- Check with your local weather office before you head out. Be alert to changes in the weather that could influence your safety.
- Be prepared. Don’t go out alone. Tell a responsible person where you are going and when you plan to return.
- It is always a good idea to leave a trip plan before going out on the water. Always tell someone where you are going and when you expect to return. A trip plan can be left with your local Coast Guard, a marina, friend or relative. Do not deviate from your filed trip plan.
- Know your craft and how to handle it in both calm and rough conditions. Do not overload.
- Avoid the use of alcohol. It doesn’t warm you up and will interfere with your ability to make critical judgments.