Immersion Suits, Immersion Survival Suits and Abandonment Suits are part of the essential and often mandatory survival gear for those who travel on or over cold or hypothermic water. Search and rescue services including lifeboats and coastguards, merchant ships, workers on fishing vessels or gas & oil rigs, helicopter and plane pilots are all legally bound to carry immersion suits.
An immersion suit is designed to increase the survival time in cold water. This means that in the event of abandoning a sinking or capsized vessel or escaping a stricken production platform, especially in the open ocean, there will be less chance of death by hypothermia and more chance of being rescued. The rapid effects of “Cold Shock” and the onset of hypothermia reduce your potential Survival time to matter of a few minutes if no immersion suit is worn.
It is important to distinguish between an immersion work suit and an immersion survival suit. Immersion survival suits have both thermal insulation and floatation built into the suit, typically extending a person’s survival time by several hours while waiting for rescue. Immersion work suits on the other hand typically require additional floatation devices and have no integral thermal insulation, and so do not guard against cold shock so reducing your potential survival time.
Recent SOLAS regulations for cargo ships in cold climates mean that there needs to be an immersion suit for the total number of people the ship is licensed to carry, as well as several more.
All Immersion suits need to be kept in good condition, and so regular inspection care and maintenance will extend the life of the suit, and possibly extend your life too. Routine inspections need to be made, and any damage reported.
An Abandonment immersion survival suit is often a large bulky one-size-fits-all design meant to fit a wide size range. They have large oversized booties and gloves built into the suit, which will let the wearer quickly don it on while fully clothed, and without having to remove work shoes. Transport Immersion suits are often more fitted and made from either neoprene rubber or coated nylon, often with attached shoes or boots. Such suits would be regularly worn by the Offshore Oil & Gas platform service workers moving between shore and platform.
Immersion survival suits typically have a waterproof front entry zip, a face flap, neck and wrist seals as well as a spray hood to protect against breaking waves. For any suit to be effective regular drills much like fire drills need to be performed periodically to ensure that everyone can get both to the survival suit storage quickly, and don the suit in the required time. It should be possible to put on a survival suit and abandon the vessel or platform in a matter of a few minutes.
Abandoning a sinking or capsized vessel or stricken production platform is a very rare event indeed. Maritime safety is by nature very heavily regulated to ensure maximum safety in what can be a very harsh environment. Making the right choice is a matter of simply following regulation requirement to the letter. If you feel the need to have a survival suit or that it’s a mandatory requirement then don’t cut corners. Choosing the cheapest isn’t necessarily the best option.
Can you afford not to have the right immersion suits? You don’t want to discover the failings of your immersion suit once you’re in the water.