Control Your Jib Sheets

Summer is here!  Our typical summer wind patterns are filling in, with their associated positive and negative sides.  To the positive, the sailing has been phenomenal!  If you haven’t gotten out on the water, GO!

Here is a big negative.  In the past month we have needed to replace five clear plastic dodger window panels!  The cause is simple.  Not controlling jib sheets during tacking, crew overboard practice, reefing, and furling operations.  High winds and luffing jibs cause sheets to flail wildly.  When this happens, bad things result.  I personally have seen a broken nose, black eyes, split lips, lost eye glasses, and a number of broken dodger windows.  Here’s how to avoid all of these problems.

*Note from Matt: Don’t forget the missing dorade covers that disappear off the decks for the same reason! It’s also been the cause of bent/broken deck hatches in the past – the lazy sheet can get caught under the lip of a hatch and ends up getting lifted with all of the force of the wind int he jib on the next tack.

While tacking, take the jib sheet out of the winch cleat, but do not release the wraps immediately.  Start the tack and wait until the jib begins to back-wind slightly before releasing it.  Trim immediately on the opposite side and the sheet will not have a chance to flail.

When reefing or furling in high winds, DO NOT try to furl while on a close haul or close reach.  Instead, bear away to a deep broad reach.  Ease the main and allow it to blanket the jib.  The process of rolling the jib up will now be easier and won’t involve any flailing sheets.

*Note from Matt: This should be S.O.P.! Practice it every time you furl a sail. You know that point on a run when you are steering down wind and it’s hard to keep the jib full of wind because you turned downwind just a little too far? That’s the main blocking the wind – and it’s the perfect time to furl the jib. There’s almost no wind in it, it’s not flogging, it should roll up easily and neatly with minimal effort!

If you are doing crew overboard practice, furl the jib first (while on a broad reach,) and practice on main alone.  No flailing jib sheets!

As an added benefit, luffing jibs and flailing sheets are very noisy.  Loud noises on a sailboat result in uncomfortable and/or fearful crew.  Control those sheets and your crew is going to have a much better time.

Posted in General, Skipper's Tip | Leave a comment

Sound Signals

With VHF radios as common as they are, you don’t hear sound signals on boats very much anymore.  When you do hear one, it always seems to come as a shock, and sadly, it’s far to easy to have no clue as to what the boat issuing the signal is trying to say.  For example, you are sailing along the San Francisco city front, approaching the Bay Bridge, and you hear a vessel sound a single prolonged blast (four to six seconds) followed by three short blasts (one second) what is going on?  Easy … the single prolonged blast in this case means “I’m leaving the dock.”  Three short blasts means using astern propulsion.  In other words, the boat, most likely a ferry, is backing away from the dock.  Where would you be if you hear a prolonged blast followed by a single short blast?  Probably in the vicinity of a draw bridge (yes, there are still a few on the bay … next to ATT Park is an example).  One prolonged followed by one short is the official request to open the bridge.

Here are a few more examples taken from the Inland Waters sections of the Navigation Rules.  Yes, I know that in international waters the meaning might be a bit different, however, we are generally in the bay which is considered inland waters, so lets go with those signals for now.

  • A single short blast means “I plan to leave you on my port side” (only applies when both vessels are power-driven).  This signal should be responded to with the same signal if in agreement or five short blasts if not in agreement.
  • Two short blasts means “I plan to leave you on my starboard side” (only applies when both vessels are power-driven).  This signal should be responded to with the same signal if in agreement or five short blasts if not in agreement.
  • Three short blasts means “I am operating astern propulsion.”  This doesn’t necessarily mean backing up, it could mean using reverse to bring the vessel to a stop.
  • Five or more short (or rapid) blasts indicates disagreement or danger.  It means “I don’t understand your intentions or actions!”
  • Once in awhile you might hear a single blast that never seems to end.  It’s not a recognized sound signal, however the meaning pretty much comes through.  Please don’t use it, but if you hear it, it means “If you don’t get out of the way you are going to get run down by a very big boat!”
  • In good visibility, a single prolonged blast means either … leaving the dock, or rounding a bend in a channel or fairway where visibility is obscured.
  • In limited visibility, a single prolonged blast repeated at intervals of no more than two minutes is the signal made by a power-driven vessel making way.  A sailing vessel, a vessel restricted in her ability to maneuver, a fishing vessel, a vessel not under command, or a vessel towing (or pushing) will sound the same signal, followed by two short blasts, at the same interval.
  • The same signal might have a different meaning when used in different context.  Remember that prolonged blast followed by three short blasts.  In restricted visibility it’s the signal made by a vessel being towed, and should be made soon after the towing vessel signals with a prolonged and two shorts.

While on the topic of sound signals, here is another “pet peeve.”  You know the pump up sound signals on all of Tradewinds boats?  They are totally useless unless the air bottle (signal) and the pump are together … at all times!!!

One last thing.  VHF radios have pretty much replaced the use of sound signals in most circumstances.  On the bay, channel 13 is reserved for radio traffic from one ship’s bridge to another.  It doesn’t happen often however, occasionally I will hail large vessel traffic in a narrow channel to let them know my intentions before they get nervous.  If you decide to do so, remember that you are on a “recorded line.” Follow radio etiquette and be professional.

Posted in General, Skipper's Tip | Leave a comment

Reef Early … Reef Often … Reef Deep

Summer is here!!  I know, the first day of summer is officially June 21, and we aren’t there yet, however, this week the San Francisco summer weather pattern seems to have established itself over the bay.  Here are few tips to help you enjoy your summer time sailing.

Watch the water.  When you begin to see white caps, consider putting in a reef.  At this point the wind speed is probably 12 to 15 knots.  You may not need a reef, however, it’s easy to put in.  Another 5 knots of wind speed and it’s not so easily done.  I have never regretted the decision to reef.  I have regretted deciding not to on more than one occasion.  I like to roll my jib up about a third when I put the first reef in the main.

Feel the helm.  If you notice the boat wanting to force itself up into the wind (heading up), you either have the sails over trimmed or you have too much sail and need a reef.  If you have a reef in and the boat still wants to head up it’s time for a second reef.  Definitely consider rolling the jib in another third when the second reef goes in.

Sail to the comfort level of the least comfortable person an board.  Reefing early, often, and deep is a great way to keep the boat “flat.”  If you are looking for an enjoyable day sail, “flat” is typically what you want.  If you have any non-sailors or what I call “heeling timid sailors” on board, they will not enjoy seeing the rail in the water and waves crashing over the bow!  My wife used to be that way.  Anything more than about 15 degrees of heel and my wife’s heel alarm would go off … “Don! That’s enough of that!”  Over time she has gotten much more comfortable.  The last time we went out, we had a great close reach to San Francisco followed by a outstanding beam reach all the way back.  The toe rail was buried in the water the entire way and she had a great time.  All because we took it easy when she was first learning to enjoy this great sport.

It’s cold out there.  Speaking of comfort.  The wind San Francisco Bay is famous for comes straight off the cold waters of the Pacific.  It gets very cold, especially when the wind is accompanied by fog or the marine layer.  Dress in layers.  Wool “watch caps” and warm gloves help a lot.  Bring blankets.

Stop and smell the roses.  I’m talking about the rose in the centerpiece of the cockpit table.  Try this sometime.  Find a spot where you are sheltered from the wind, out of the traffic channels, with lot’s of room to leeward.  Then heave to or put out an anchor.  Bring out the rose centerpiece, wine, cheese, salami, and crackers and enjoy the fellowship of good friends in one of the most beautiful places in the world!  Some quick notes about heaving to.  You are still legally underway.  If you heave to on a starboard tack you retain right of way.  If you are going to heave to for more than a minute or two, douse the mainsail.  Leaving it up is noisy and the luffing isn’t good for it.

One final tip … go sailing … often!

Posted in General, Skipper's Tip | 1 Comment

Stay Safe on Deck – Part Deux

I’ve never had an opportunity to re-visit a topic this quickly, however I think a second visit might be needed in this case!  In the last one week, two different people I know have ended up in the water.  One at a dock and one at a mooring ball!  Fortunately, the only injuries incurred were to the pride of those involved.  Sadly, in both cases taking basic safety precautions would have prevented a cold, wet experience.

Case number 1 … while docking at Sam’s, the bow line handler got a little too enthusiastic in pulling the bow to the dock, pulling the stern line handler into the water between the boat and the dock.

Lesson 1 … you can not stop a moving 15,000 pound boat by hand.  You need some help in the form of friction.  Get a line around both sides of a cleat and you can stop the boat with two fingers.

Case number 2 … while picking up a mooring ball at Ayala Cove, the crew member attempting to get a line through the mooring ring leaned too far out, got off balance and fell in.

Lesson 2 … Even in calm water, a boat rocks, rolls, and in general moves a lot.  Do not lean out!  Trying to save a less than good maneuver often ends badly.

Lesson 3 … Kneel instead of standing.  It’s much more stable.

I personally believe all crew should remain inside the cockpit until two dock lines are secured.  As the skipper of a vessel, I enforce that rule unless conditions absolutely require otherwise, which is very rare.  The helmsperson should bring the crewmember to the cleat.  Crew should not need to go to the cleat.  Crew should always kneel while handling lines … especially during those rare occasions that require crew outside of the cockpit.  Finally, never forget – one hand for yourself and one hand for the boat!

All of these techniques are covered in the Advanced Docking (ASA 118) class.  I highly recommend taking the class.  If you have already taken it, take it again.

Posted in General, Skipper's Tip | Leave a comment

Overnight on San Francisco Bay

Summer is just around the corner and one of my favorite pastimes is coming up fast.  Late sunsets, mild overnight winds, and early sunrises seem to beg for an overnight stay on the bay.  I love to get off work at 5:00, hop on my boat, and sail somewhere for dinner and an overnight at anchor.  Here are a couple of my (and some friends) favorite spots.

Paradise Cove – located on the North East shore of Tiburon, Paradise Cove can accommodate a lot of boats.

Richardson Bay

McNear’s Beach/China Camp

Clipper Cove

China Basin/McCovey Cove

If you need some tips about overnights in our cruising area, give us a call or ask us in the clubhouse when we are near a chart!

Posted in General | Leave a comment

Why Knot?

I have been accused of being the resident Tradewinds knot geek, and sadly, I think it’s probably true, however, that doesn’t lessen the importance of being able to tie certain knots.  As a sailor, being able to tie certain knots is critical, possibly even life saving.

Here’s a little basic terminology for you.  Knots fall into three general categories.

  1. Hitches are knots that attach a line to something else.  For example, a cleat hitch attaches a line to a cleat.
  2. Bends attach lines to other lines.  A great example is a sheet bend that joins two lines end to end.
  3. Knots (I know, this is a little weird … one of the categories of knots is knots).  Knots are pretty much anything else, typically loops, binding knots, and knobs, the most common example being a reef knot, which joins the two ends of the same line together to “bind” something (like the sail to the boom) in place.

So, what knots do you really need to know as a sailor?   This is just one sailor talking, however, here is my opinion, listed pretty much in the order of the frequency I use them.  There are six knots that are “must knows” and a couple of other nice to knows.

  1. Cleat Hitch.  It’s a rare sail that I don’t tie at least one cleat hitch.  Even at Tradewinds docks where we leave dock lines at the dock for most of the boats, I find myself using cleat hitches.  I use them at other docks, at the pump out station, and on the boat to secure spring lines during docking.
  2. Figure Eight Knot.  This is one of those “knobs” I mentioned earlier.  It puts a knob in the end of the line to act as a stopper.  I’m always amazed when I get on a boat how many of the sheets and lines that need a stopper don’t have them.
  3. Bowline.  Another knot, this in the form of a temporary loop.  Practice this one a lot, because you should be able to tie it in the dark, using only one hand, while hanging upside down in a locker.  You should be able to tie small loops and loops that are 10 feet in diameter (There is an easy trick to it.  If you  are in the office and want to know how, just ask me).
  4. Round Turn with Two Half Hitches.  The two half hitches are the actual knot.  The round turn part just means you wrap the line around whatever you are attaching it to one and a half times.  This knot is invaluable for attaching fenders and hanging coils of line.
  5. Sheet Bend.  It doesn’t happen often, but there are times when you need to join two lines together.  This is the best knot to use.  You can also use the same knot to join the bitter end of a line to a loop in the end of another line.  In this case it’s called a becket bend, however, it’s the same knot.
  6. Rolling Hitch.  I love this one.  Don’t need it often, but when you do it might save some money.  Use it to attach the end of a line to the middle of another line and grab hold so you can pull.  The first time I used it, the boat’s skipper was opening a knife to cut a jib sheet that was “hopelessly” overwrapped on a winch.  The rolling hitch allowed me to get enough slack to undo the overwrap.  At more than a dollar a foot for line, cutting a jib sheet can get expensive.  I also works great for attaching a snubber to an anchor rode.

That’s it for my “must know” knots.  Some “nice to know’s” are the clove hitch, the truckers hitch, and the heaving knot.  And then there are the “cool to know” knots like the Running Turks Head, Monkey Fist, Solomon’s Bar and Constrictor Knot.

If you are interested in learning, re-learning, or practicing any of these knots, stop by.

 

Posted in General | Leave a comment

Stay Safe on Deck!

Those of you that have been in class with me know how paranoid I am regarding being safe on deck.  Some examples are; always kneel instead of standing, always stay put until the boat is done with whatever maneuver is in process, always hang on.  A friend recently had an experience at the dock that points out some of the reasons I am as paranoid around the dock as I am.  Here is the story, in his own words.
*********************

Hi Don,

Here is the write-up of this very scary incident from our otherwise very enjoyable day sail yesterday.   You are welcome to use this note in any way you feel will benefit the Club.   And you are also welcome to edit the note as you see fit.

Regards, Gene

I had a VERY CLOSE CALL yesterday.   It is very easy to be lulled into assuming that just because your boat is securely tied-up in your slip, that all is SAFE.

After returning from a most invigorating sail, and with my boat securely tied-up in my slip, my friend, in an attempt to be helpful, decided to wash-down the boat (before we ate lunch).   I called him off so we could enjoy our picnic in a dry boat.   As he was getting back aboard he slipped and fell into the water between the boat and the dock!   I was below when it happened and I heard this horrible “thud.”   I called out to see what had happened and apparently none of my other 3 guest saw him go down.   It took several seconds to ascertain that someone had gone overboard. Fortunately, he was not physically injured. But were it not his LUCKY DAY, he could just as easily have hit his head on the dock, or broken an arm or leg, or, had the wind not been steady, crushed between the dock and the boat as the boat shifted in the slip.

So here is a bit of analysis of what happened.   The hull was wet from the wash down. And there were 4 people aboard, moving around getting things ready for a picnic lunch.   My friend told me he was NOT holding onto the handrail as he boarded, but rather, had intended to grab the handrail atop the dodger.   As he stepped off the stair onto the boat, reaching out for the dodger grab rail, the boat shifted, he missed, slipped, lost his balance and fell backwards.

After thinking about this very close call I have identified some lessons I hope you will be able to use…

  1. As at any time underway, the old adage “One Hand for the Boat: One Hand for You,” should apply equally when anyone boards or departs your vessel.
  2. There is an easy, secure and safe way of getting on and off my boat.   I will forevermore show EVERYONE that method before anyone gets on the boat. The key is that one should be holding onto a secure hand-hold on the boat when transitioning from the dock to the boat or back to the dock.
  3. There should be NO HURRY in removing your life vest, even after your boat is secure in your berth.
  4. No wash-down until everyone is off the boat – the very LAST step in securing the boat!
Posted in General | Leave a comment

I Love Classes That Make You Think! Part II

We left the previous installment of I Love Classes That Make You Think! wondering how long one needs to run the motor in order to recharge batteries that have been in use while at anchor.  That actually brings up a whole other topic.  Calculating electrical consumption, battery capacities, and battery charging.  Sadly, I’m not enough of an expert to turn this into a true technical discussion, so this tip includes a few assumptions and is more of a layperson’s guide to battery usage and charging while at anchor and on charter.

Personally, I believe the first things you need to know are how many batteries, what are their sizes, and how is the system set up.  The only way to get this information on a charter is to ask the charter company.  Then, double check what you have been told.  In Part I, we ended the tip while on a 42′ Catalina during a two week charter in the Sea of Cortez.  Let’s continue that discussion and see if we can approximate how long per day to run the motor in order to charge batteries back to a usable state.

A pretty common set up on this boat is three batteries.  Two set up as two separate house banks, and one as the starter and windlass bank.  Because the starter/windlass battery isn’t used much and should charge back up pretty quickly we won’t worry about it.  The house bank(s) on the other hand are well used while at anchor.  Every boat potentially has different batteries.  In this case lets assume there are two Group 8D AGM batteries rated at 225 amp hours, giving a total of 450 amps of capacity.  Unfortunately, you should never go below 50% of maximum charge, so you have about 225 amp available to you.  We have a starting point.  Now for consumption.

Here are some common devices and their consumption requirements while at anchor for 24 hours:

  • Anchor light … 0.8 Amps … 12 hours per day … 9.6 Daily amp-hours
  • Cabin Fan (two of them) … 0.2 Amps each … 6 hours each per day … 2.4 amp-hours
  • Cabin Light (three) … 2.1 Amps each … 4 hours each per day … 25.2 amp hours
  • Fresh water pump … 6 Amps … 5 min per day … .5 amp-hours
  • Refrigerator … 5 Amps … 12 hours per day … 60 amp-hours
  • Music player … 1 Amp … 6 hours per day … 6 amp-hours
  • Monitoring a SSB … 2.5 Amps … 1 hour per day … 2.5 amp-hours

This a pretty much a bare minimum while sitting at anchor, and so far we are at 106.2 amp-hours.  Let’s assume you do some sailing during the day.  You only run the motor for a few minutes to get out of the anchorage and back, sailing for 6 hours.

  • Depth sounder … 0.2 Amps … 6 hours per day … 1.2 Daily amp-hours
  • GPS … 0.5 Amps … 6 hours per day … 3 Daily amp-hours
  • Chart Plotter … 1 Amps … 6 hours per day … 6 Daily amp-hours
  • Radar … 4 Amps … 6 hours per day … 24 Daily amp-hours
  • Speed sensor … 0.1 Amps … 6 hours per day … 0.6 Daily amp-hours
  • Wind indicator … 0.8 Amps … 6 hours per day … 4.8 Daily amp-hours

This is another 39.6 amp-hours, making our total so far 145.8.

Now let’s add in a few luxury items.

  • TV … 3.5 Amps … 2 hours per day … 7 Daily amp-hours
  • Electric Head … 40 Amps … .3 hours per day … 12 Daily amp-hours
  • Microwave … 100 Amps … 6 minutes per day … 10 Daily amp-hours
  • Cell Phone … 2 Amps … 4 hours per day … 8 Daily amp-hours

Another 37 amp-hours, for a total of 182.8 amp-hours consumed over a 24 hour period.  This is well within our usable 225 Amp battery capacity!

Now all we have to do is charge the battery back up.  Based on our scenario, you are at about a little over 50% charge.  If you have an alternator rated at 120 Amp, that is the most output you are going to get.  With an alternator the maximum output is only achieved when the alternator is turning about 4,000 to 6,000 PPM.  If you are idling the motor at 700 RPM, the alternator is probably turning about 1,400 RPM, so you aren’t getting the full 120 amps.  At idle you might only be getting 40 to 80 Amps output from the alternator.  Let’s assume 60 amps.  You will get that output until the battery is about 75% charged.  After using 182.0 Amps of 450 total, it you will need to “add” back about 70 Amps to get to 75%.  Charging at 60 Amps, 70 minutes will get you there.  Now for the challenge.  At 75% capacity, the regulator is going to choke back the flow to the battery to the point it will take about 3 more hours to reach a full charge.  I think we have an answer.  To replace the 182 Amps used over 24 hours is going to require about 4 hours of charging.

Looking back to Part I.  Remember to add 4 hours of engine time to your fuel calculations.  At .55 GPH, that’s 2.2 gallons of fuel per day.

Posted in General | Leave a comment

I Love Classes That Make You Think! Part I

Today is Thursday and I have a bareboat class going as I write this. Class started Sunday and will continue next Saturday and Sunday. Last night I received an email from one of the students with a list of questions she had come to mind over the past few days. Each and every question was really good. Some were easy and are already in the lesson plan for the next two class days.  Others made me think.  The two questions that made me think the most are “What is the fuel burn rate to operation for the boat we will be taking?” and “How do you figure the estimated amps used vs. battery capacity and charging.”  My answers in the email; as to the first question, 3/4 to 1 gallon per hour; with the second question I tried a delaying action by saying “This answer is too long for an email.  We can talk about it in class.”  For 9 out of 10 people, these answers would have been good enough.  Not this time.  I was quite impressed when I got the next email asking for more in-depth information.  That’s how “a captain” approaches things.  So, for you captains out there, here is a more complete explanation.

Fuel Burn Rate:  Unless you happen to be in Death Valley, running out a gas in a car isn’t much more than inconvenient.  Running out of fuel in a boat puts the boat and everyone on board at risk.  Unfortunately, without an accurate fuel flow meter (not something most boats have) how much fuel you are using is a question that is always going to be a best guess.

In looking at the engine manual for a 50 horsepower motor found in many Catalina 42’s, fuel consumption rates are listed as varying from .55 to 1.3 gallons per hour.  A number of variables enter into the calculation.  Propeller pitch, revolutions per minute, wind, current, and waves are all factors.  Even the condition of the bottom is a major factor, meaning the same boat in the same relative conditions may consume more fuel per hour if the bottom hasn’t been cleaned in three months.  Over time, experience with a specific boat is going to give you a good idea of the normal fuel consumption for that boat.  For example, I crewed on a trip from Cabo San Lucas to San Francisco on a Catalina 42.  We found that we averaged .75 gallons per hour (GPH).  In that case, we were motor sailing close hauled at approximately 2700 RPM.  This was moving us nicely along at about 7 knots.  2700 PRM is a good cruising speed for that particular motor, so I would keep that part of the equation.  If you are not motor sailing, then add some consumption … how much I am not sure, however I would think .25 GPH might be a reasonable overestimation.  On that trip, we had some great conditions.  If things were a little “bumpier” maybe add another .25 GPH.  At this point, we are up to about 1.25 GPH, and I would be comfortable using that figure for most conditions on that specific boat.  Now, lets use that figure in something practical.  That same Catalina had a 48 gallon tank.  Always leave a reserve … in this case lets say 1/4 tank, or 12 gallons, giving us 36 gallons of usable fuel.  At 1.25 GPH, that allows motoring for 28.8 hours, at 7 knots a range of about 200 miles.

That works great if you are motoring straight through.  How about when you motor for a day, then sit at an anchorage for 3 or 4 days.  During the time in the anchorage you run the motor to charge batteries.  Maybe that’s where the .55 GPH comes in.  If so, don’t forget to count that time when figuring range.  So let’s say you anchor 8 days over a two week bareboat charter, running the motor 3 hours a day to charge your batteries (whether or not that’s enough is the topic of “Part II.”)  You just lost about 13 gallons of your 36 available gallons, meaning you only have about 23 gallons available to use.  A range of approximately 130 miles.

How does all this work in real life?  I love Mexico.  Chartering out of La Paz is outstanding.  A great plan is to go as far north as Agua Verde, about 100 miles away.  I hope you have good wind, because if not, given the above numbers you are going to be pretty much out of fuel about 70 miles short coming home.  I know, I know, that extra 12 gallons of reserve will get you 67 of those miles.  Close but no cigar.  You are still out of fuel.  And you are taking a chance on sucking all sorts of nasty stuff (like algae and water) off the bottom of the tank, clogging the fuel filters and possibly the injectors, meaning a sizable repair bill.

Even on a day sail all of this is good stuff to know.  Always check your fuel level.  I would recommend not trusting the gauge.  Always check the tank itself.  Know how much fuel you are starting with and an estimate of your hourly consumption.  I like to use 3/4 GPH for the Bronze diesel powered boats, 1 GPH for the Silver Fleet boats, and 1.25 GPH for Gold Fleet boats.

Be safe out there.  As a friend of mine likes to say, there are three types of sailors.  Beginning sailors … paranoid sailors … and retired sailors.  A little paranoia regarding fuel consumption is not a bad thing.

Posted in Skipper's Tip | 4 Comments

Hypothermia

Hypothermia on San Francisco Bay is a very real danger.  Sailing in the cold wet conditions of San Francisco Bay can and will result in hypothermia if proper steps are not taken.  Recognizing the symptoms and understanding first aid treatment options may be the difference between an enjoyable sail and tragedy.

Before going too far, understand that I am not a doctor.  The stages, symptoms, and treatments talked about here are commonly accepted as accurate, however, seeking professional expertise is always a good idea.  As part of your sailing education, I encourage everyone to seek first aid training from qualified organizations and individuals.

There are three degrees of hypothermia, mild, moderate, and severe.

With mild hypothermia, the body’s internal temperature has dropped to 95 degrees or below.  The most visible symptoms include shivering, mental confusion, and mild muscle “miss-coordination.”  The person may be having trouble speaking.  At this stage, the body is still able to warm itself, so first aid treatment should be focused on helping the body do just that.  Shelter from the cold, warm dry clothing, warm liquids, and staying active are great examples.  I personally carry four blankets anytime I sail just for that purpose.  Alcohol and caffeinated drinks should never be given.

Moderate hypothermia is indicated when the body’s core temperature has dropped below 90 degrees.  Shivering has progressed to violent shivering and there is a distinct lack of muscle coordination, including speech.  The surface blood vessels contract.  The person becomes pale, with lips, ears, fingers, and toes possibly turning blue.  The body may no longer be able to warm itself, and requires external assistance.  As with mild hypothermia, a warm environment and warm dry clothes (or blankets) are the place to start.  However, with moderate hypothermia, application of external heat such as a heating blanket and warm water bottles placed in the armpits and groin will begin the rewarming process.  If nothing else is available, body to body contact while wrapped in blankets will help.  Now is not the time for gender concerns and modesty.  Liquids generally should not be given to someone suffering moderate hypothermia.  There lack of muscle coordination may have impacted their ability to swallow.

Severe hypothermia is the body’s internal temperature falling below 82 degrees.  Vital organs begin to shut down.  Symptoms include difficulty speaking, sluggish thinking, amnesia, an inability to walk normally, and perform normal hand dexterity functions.  The person may lose consciousness.  It can be very difficult to find a pulse on a severely hypothermic person.  Treatment obviously includes all of the first aid steps appropriate to moderate hypothermia, however, you must get the person immediate emergency medical treatment!

Here’s one last thought.  The water temperature on San Francisco Bay averages about 50 to 60 degrees depending upon the time of year.  In 50 degree water, death can occur in as little as 1 hour.  The beginning stages of hypothermia happen after just a few minutes.  If anybody should fall overboard while sailing, by the time you get them recovered, you can assume at least mild hypothermia.  Begin first aid treatment right away … even if they say it isn’t needed.

Posted in General | Leave a comment