Care and Use of your Immersion Suit
Stewart M. Tweed
RUTGERS COOPERATIVE EXTENSION
working away from shore in cold weather have little chance of survival if
they fall overboard or have to abandon a sinking ship. Humans rapidly lose
heat in cold water and can die in a matter of minutes.
Immersion suits, or
survival suits as they are often called by commercial fishermen, can
significantly improve survival time in cold water. These suits are often
featured in stories about successful sea rescues. Recognizing that
hypothermia is a major factor in lives lost at sea, the U.S. Coast Guard
now requires immersion suits on documented vessels operating north of 32
degrees North and seaward of the Coastal Boundary Line.
requirements, immersion suits are recognized as an important piece of life
saving equipment for all fishermen. To be effective, fishermen must keep
their suits in good condition, keep them handy and know how to use them.
Proper care and
maintenance of immersion suits will extend their working life and possibly
your own. Routine suit inspections should include suit material and
function of zippers and inflation hoses.
Inspect for holes,
tears or signs of wear. Suits used in salt water or in pools should be
rinsed thoroughly inside and out with fresh water and turned inside out
to dry, but not in direct sunlight. Grease and oil should be removed from
suits with mild soap. Do not dry clean.
Check all zippers
for smooth operation. Lubricate zippers with a non-petroleum based
product such as canning paraffin, beeswax or substance recommended by the
provide extra buoyancy and are vitally important in keeping the head out
of water when lying horizontally in the water. At least once a year the
bladder and inflation hose should
Suit repairs are
critical and should be made by the manufacturer or a technician
experienced in repair of wet suits. Do not tamper with the suit by adding
a pocket or changing design, both these actions could cause your suit to
lose its Coast Guard approval rating.
Store your suit in
an accessible and dry place. Suits should be rolled and stowed in their
bags (Figure 1) with the zippers open and zipped up one inch from the
bottom. Lubricate snaps and zippers on the bag.
Your immersion suit
works properly only when you are wearing it in the water. New safety
regulations for documented vessels that operate beyond the boundary lines
or with more than 16 people, require monthly drills and instructions for
donning immersion suits. First attempts can be awkward and exhausting but
with practice you should succeed in getting into a suit in one minute or
less. Practice seated donning of suit. This will be the most convenient
method in actual high sea, emergency situation. The following is the
instructions for practice seated donning of an Immersion Suit (Figure 2):
STEP 1. Roll
suit out on deck and sit on it. Insert your legs into suit using plastic
bags to make it easier. Leave on boots and other clothing for insulation
and protection in the water.
STEP 2. Place
non-dominant arm into suit first (lefties-right and righties-left). Pull
hood over head with free hand.
STEP 3. Place
dominant arm in last. Pull the zipper up with care and secure flap over
STEP 4. Make
sure that all straps and hoses are secure to avoid being snagged or
injured. Do not inflate air bladder until you are in the water.
A training variation
on this procedure would be to try putting the suit on in the water. Sit on
top the suit and slide in one leg at a time. Next insert one arm, put hood
over head and then the other arm. Your suit may now be filled with water
but your body heat will warm it up.
As of September 15,
1991, the Coast Guard requires all suits to be marked with 31 square inches
of retro-reflective material Tape I and II. This will improve your
visibility and chances of being picked up. All Coast Guard Approved suits
come with the correct amount of retro-reflective tap and should not need
any additional. A whistle and strobe light (as required on ocean going
vessels) will also help. Suits must be equipped with a Coast Guard Approved
PFD light which should be attached to the shoulder area, and have an
up-to-date power supply. Suits must also be marked in "block capital
letters" with (a) the vessel name, (b) the name of owner of the suit, or
(c) the name of the person to whom the suit is assigned. Check with
manufacturer for proper paint or magic marker for your suit.
functioning, be sure your suit fits properly. Check the seams, equipment
and fit in your monthly drills. Make repairs immediately. Your life could
depend on it.
*Information appears by permission of
the author and/or copyright holder.
Stewart M. Tweed - Marine Extension Agent - New Jersey Marine Advisory