Hypothermia - Signs and Treatment

One of the biggest risks in swimming over long distances is hypothermia. Before your Port to Pub swim, it is crucial you know what it is, signs and symptoms, and how to treat it.

Hypothermia is a significant risk for solo swimmers who are in the water for a very long time, but similarly teams of four and six, whose members are spending a lot of time on the boat and exposed to the wind.

Hypothermia occurs when the body’s core temperature falls below 37 °C. You don’t have to be in freezing conditions to risk hypothermia as it only requires the environmental temperature to be less than your body temperature for you to ‘donate’ heat to the atmosphere.

Symptoms of hypothermia include

  1. Shivering, cold, pale, and dry skin
  2. Tiredness, confusion, and irrational behaviour – inability to answer simple questions
  3. Slow and shallow breathing
  4. Slow and weakening pulse
  5. Refusing food or drinks between swims might be a sign something is wrong


First aid

  • In case of suspected hypothermia, call for medical aid as soon as possible
  • Wrap patient in towels and blankets and protect them from wind as much as you can
  • Change them into dry clothes
  • Offer a warm drink and high energy food like chocolate. Encourage them to eat and drink small quantities of warmed fluids frequently
  • Handle the patient gently so as not to cause disturbances in heart rhythm. Keep the person calm, still, awake and don’t let them sleep.
  • Don’t rub or massage them
  • Do not give them alcohol as it increases the heat loss rate by dilating the skin’s blood vessels.
  • If a swimmer has wool fat or lanolin on them, leave it on and dress them in an old tracksuit which can be thrown away .The fat will help to retain their body warmth until they get to a hot shower.


Radio call Port to Pub swim base urgently to report your swimmer is out of the water with suspected hypothermia, and await instructions and directions. You may be advised to return to the mainland even if you are closer to Rottnest.


If unconscious: place the swimmer in the coma position, maintain the airway and do not give fluids or food.


Radio call the Port to Pub Swim base and request urgent medical aid.



Severe hypothermia




“Pan-Pan, Pan-Pan, Pan-Pan! Our position is …Our emergency is…”

Then communicate your race number, boat registration number, and follow instructions


Suspected hypothermia



“Port to Pub Swim base, this is Port to Pub swim race number…”

State your issue / ask question and listen for instructions.


Swimmer tips:

  • Dry yourself with a sports towel or chamois towel when you get out of the water to dry off before covering yourself with heavy towels and clothes
  • Pack layers of dry clothes, including wind break jackets
  • Drink warm water instead of cold. Pack a few thermoses of hot water
  • Pack a bucket – soak your feet in warm water to help you keep warm
  • Wear microfiber socks/booties and a woollen beanie between swims
  • Cover yourself in an aluminium thermal wrap (available from sports shops) as the plastic sheets
  • Buy wool fat from the chemist. Make sure you microwave it for a couple of minutes before you leave home to soften it. Apply it before your first swim. Don’t wait until you get cold to use it


Items to carry on your boat for the Port to Pub swim

  • Wool fat/lanolin (from chemist)
  • Blankets
  • Warm clothes – eg: tracksuits
  • Towels
  • Woollen or microfiber socks and beanie
  • Sleeping bags
  • Thermal wraps or plastic sheets to keep swimmers warm and to manage hypothermia
  • Hot water
  • Bucket
  • High energy foods like chocolate
Jan 22 2016 - 11:15am