Hyperthermia: Keep Your Cool

By Melanie Neale

Over-heating yourself in the mid-day sun is easy to do. But the results can be very serious.

Sitting in the shade

Warm weather is great for boating, but hyperthermia, when the body's temperature rises above the normal level of 98.6 degrees F, can pose a life-threatening risk. Hyperthermia most commonly affects: people over 50; those taking diuretics, sedatives, tranquilizers, and some heart and blood-pressure medications; people who are over- or underweight; or have a condition that causes dehydration. The condition can cause several illnesses:

Heat Syncope

Sudden dizziness and faintness. It can be treated by drinking water, putting your legs up, and resting in a cool place.

Heat Cramps

The muscles in your stomach, arms, or legs tighten due to hard work or exercise. Your body temperature usually remains normal, but your skin may feel moist and cold. You should rest in a cool place and hydrate.

Heat Edema

Swelling in your ankles and feet. Putting your legs up, along with rest and hydration, will usually help, but if this doesn't then check with your doctor.

Heat Exhaustion

Your body is telling you that it can no longer keep cool. Signs are: thirst, weakness, nausea, poor coordination, excessive sweating, and a racing pulse. This can be a precursor to heat stroke. Rest in a cool place and hydrate.

Heat Stroke

A medical emergency that can be life-threatening. Seek medical attention immediately if you experience fainting, a body temperature of more than 104 degrees F, behavior changes (confusion, anger, staggering), dry or flushed skin, or if you stop sweating at all. People suffering from heat stroke may have a strong rapid pulse or a slow weak one. Seek medical attention.

Ways To Minimize Your Risk

  • Limit your consumption of beverages containing alcohol and/or caffeine, which are dehydrating.
  • Invest in a Bimini or structure on your boat to provide shade.
  • If you're working in the boatyard or doing maintenance on your boat, take regular breaks to hydrate, and rest in the shade or in an air-conditioned building.
  • Freeze wet towels or wash rags overnight and keep them in your cooler. Use them to wipe down when you're feeling overheated.
  • Wear loose, light-colored, lightweight clothing. Wear a broad-rimmed hat, or a hat with flaps that covers your neck.
  • Take a mid-day break from the sun.
  • Keep a spray bottle of fresh water handy, and spritz often. If you're on the water with your kids, make a game of staying cool with water pistols and spray bottles.
  • Circulate the air inside your cabin with fans or a wind scoop.
  • Pay close attention to your body. Immediately call 911 or the Coast Guard if you or someone else is experiencing the symptoms of heat stroke. 

— Published: August/September 2016


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