Survival Suit Buoyancy

Buoyancy is a fundamental aspect of survival suits, allowing you to remain on the water’s surface without expending energy to swim or tread water, which is crucial in prolonging survival time. 

They should offer enough buoyancy to lift you clear of the water and are crafted to allow you to jump into the ocean from a considerable height without water breach. 

Survival suits equipped with buoyancy aids can include features such as buddy lines to keep groups tethered together, enhancing collective safety.

When selecting a survival suit, consider options that meet the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) standards, as these suits are tested for performance in extreme conditions. 

Always inspect and maintain your equipment because when it comes to your survival in the harsh marine environment, the reliability of your gear can make all the difference. 

Stay informed about immersion suit types, maintenance, and safety tips to ensure you’re well-prepared for any situation that arises at sea.

Buoyancy Mechanisms

Understanding the buoyancy mechanisms of survival suits is essential to ensure they provide adequate flotation and keep you afloat in an emergency.

Inherent Buoyancy

This characteristic is due to the unique structure of neoprene, which is a type of synthetic rubber.

Neoprene contains numerous tiny gas bubbles, usually nitrogen, embedded within its structure. These gas bubbles are what give neoprene its buoyancy, as they help to reduce the material’s overall density, making it lighter than water.

This buoyancy feature of neoprene is particularly advantageous in water sports and activities. It’s commonly used in wetsuits, life vests, and other flotation devices. In wetsuits, for example, the buoyancy provided by neoprene helps swimmers and divers stay afloat with less effort and also provides thermal insulation.

Additional Flotation Devices

For situations demanding even greater buoyancy, survival suits might be equipped with additional flotation devices.

These can include items like inflatable pillows or air bladders that are manually or automatically deployed. These devices not only enhance the suit’s buoyancy but also increase the wearer’s visibility and aid in rescue operations.

Buoyancy Thresholds

An immersion suit, either on its own or when worn with a lifejacket, must have enough buoyancy and stability in calm, fresh water to:

  • Lift the mouth of an exhausted or unconscious person clear of the water by not less than 120 mm.
  • Allow the wearer to turn from a face-down to a face-up position in not more than 5 seconds.

If the immersion suit is to be worn in conjunction with a lifejacket, the person wearing it should be able to don the lifejacket without assistance. The suit should be marked to indicate that it must be worn with a compatible lifejacket.

Buoyancy Reduction: The buoyancy of an immersion suit should not be reduced by more than 5% after 24 hours of submersion in fresh water. The buoyancy should not depend on the use of loose granulated materials.

Immersion suits that have inherent buoyancy and are designed to be worn without a lifejacket should be:

  • Fitted with a light complying with specific requirements.
  • Provided with a releasable buoyant line or other means to secure it to a suit worn by another person in the water.
  • Equipped with a suitable means, a rescuer can lift the wearer from the water into a survival craft or rescue boat.

Thermal Protection

Cold Water Survival

When immersed in cold water, the absence of adequate thermal protection can lead to rapid heat loss and hypothermia

Your survival suit provides a barrier, which combined with insulation, significantly slows down the heat loss process.

Thermal linings offer inherent insulation, capable of protecting you for a set duration, as highlighted in products like the E 307 Insulated Immersion Suit, designed to ensure survival in water temperatures less than 2°C for up to 6 hours.

Regulations and Standards

When considering purchasing or using a survival suit, you must be familiar with the strict regulations and standards governing their quality, performance, and certification. These rules ensure your safety and the reliability of the suit in emergencies.

SOLAS Compliance

Survival suits must comply with the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS).

This set of rules requires maritime safety equipment to meet specific criteria for performance in harsh environments.

SOLAS compliance is mandatory for suits used by seafarers internationally, and it dictates minimum standards for buoyancy, thermal protection, and visibility of the suits.

USCG Approval

In the United States, survival suits must have United States Coast Guard (USCG) approval. This indicates that the suit meets the necessary requirements for design and construction, buoyancy, and thermal protection under specific conditions. 

The USCG tests and verifies that suits can perform to set standards, which includes having enough buoyancy to lift and keep the wearer’s head above water. Regulations on approved immersion suits can be found within the USCG’s guidelines.

I’m the founder and chief editor here at Sailing Savvy. I spent a decade working as a professional mariner and currently, I mix those experiences with digital publishing. Welcome, and I hope that we can be the hub you need for safe passage.