Survival Suit Size and Fit

Proper sizing is critical, as a survival suit that is too large can fill with water, causing heat to escape, while a suit that is too tight may restrict your movement and lead to fatigue.

Since survival suits are considered vital parts of ocean safety, the USCG and SOLAS regulate immersion or Gumby suit sizing. This allows for standardization and, hence, less confusion.

Adult Small: 90-110 lbs, 55-67 inches (140-170 cm)Size S: 1500-1650 mm
Adult Universal: 110-330 lbs, 59-79 inches (150-200 cm)Size M: 1650-1800 mm
Adult Oversize: 220-375 lbs, 67-87 inches (max 205 cm)Size L: 1800-1950 mm
Child Size: 44-110 lbs, 40-59 inches (99-150 cm)Size XL: 1950-2050 mm

This article uses the terms survival suit, immersion suit, and Gumby suits. These are all describing or referring to the same thing.

Assessing the Proper Fit for Survival Suits

To give you a clearer picture of how an immersion suit should fit, I’ll use hypothetical examples for one man and one woman based on the USCG and SOLAS sizing information.

Let’s assume a man has the following measurements:

  • Height: 5’11” (180 cm)
  • Weight: 175 lbs (79 kg)
  • Chest: 40 inches
  • Waist: 32 inches

Based on these measurements and the provided sizing guides, the man would likely fit into a Large size for USCG-approved suits (Adult Universal: 110-330 lbs, 59-79 inches in height)​​.

For SOLAS Immersion Suits, he would fit into a Size L (1800-1950 mm in height)​​.

Now, let’s consider a woman has the following measurements:

  • Height: 5’6″ (168 cm)
  • Weight: 140 lbs (63.5 kg)
  • Bust: 37 inches
  • Waist: 29 inches

For USCG-approved suits, she would fit into an Adult Universal size (110-330 lbs, 59-79 inches in height)​​.

In the case of SOLAS Immersion Suits, she would be suited for a Size M (1650-1800 mm in height)​​.

Importance of Fit in Performance

The fit of a survival suit affects not just comfort but also its functionality. An ideal fit means the suit is not too tight, allowing for a full range of motion but snug enough to maintain crucial thermal protection and buoyancy.

Properly fitting survival attire can literally be a lifeline, proving why it’s more than just a piece of clothing but an essential piece of survival gear.

Fit Preference and Comfort

It’s recommended to test the suit with any layering you typically wear and to practice donning the suit for familiarity​​​​.

Height and weight are typically the most important markers for size, but additional measurements like chest and waist are also important to consider​​.

Different Types of Survival Suits

There are different types of survival suits, each serving a specific purpose in protecting you against hypothermia in the event of an emergency at sea.

Immersion Suits versus Dry Suits

A Gumby suit is designed to provide thermal protection while floating in water. These suits, often mandatory under SOLAS regulations, have the primary purpose of delaying hypothermia and increasing your chances of survival during maritime emergencies.

They are not meant to be worn continuously but are donned quickly in a “grab and go” situation.

Dry suits, in contrast, are engineered to prevent water from entering the suit altogether, keeping you dry.

They’re used in situations where prolonged exposure to water is expected, such as during diving operations.

Unlike immersion suits, which are usually a universal size designed to fit most adults, dry suits are sized and tailored to fit the wearer snugly.

You may want to learn about the differences between immersion suits and dry suits, as choosing the correct type can be crucial.

Practical Tips for Donning Survival Suits

When faced with an emergency, knowing how to properly don a survival suit is critical for your safety and survival. Comfort, speed, and choosing the right suit size are fundamental considerations.

Step-by-Step Guides

1️⃣ Initial Preparation

Ensure you’re wearing appropriate clothing underneath for insulation.

Lay the survival suit on a flat surface, like on a tarp, to avoid damage.

2️⃣ Entry

Open the survival suit and enter one leg at a time, sliding your feet to the end.

3️⃣ Pulling It Up

Carefully pull the suit up over your body, ensuring no sharp objects on your clothing snag the material.

4️⃣ Arms and Hood

Insert your arms, starting with the non-dominant arm, then positioning the hood over your head.

5️⃣ Sealing

Zip up the suit completely and securely to prevent water ingress.

6️⃣ Final Adjustments

Make necessary adjustments to ensure the suit is not overly tight or loose.

7️⃣ Buddy Check

Have a partner check your suit to ensure it has been donned correctly.

Common Mistakes to Avoid

Incorrect Size: Choosing a suit that is too small restricts movement, and a suit that is too large may not insulate properly. Select a size that allows for mobility and insulation but maintains a snug fit to prevent water from entering.

Speed Over Secure Fit: Rushing and not closing seals properly can lead to exposure. Quick-donning immersion suits are designed for rapid deployment, but always ensure all seals are secure.

Neglecting Buddy Checks: Always perform a buddy check. Another person may notice gaps or misplaced seals you’ve overlooked.

Skimping on Practice: Don’t wait until an emergency to try on your suit. Regular practice ensures quicker, more efficient donning when it counts.

Maintenance and Storage of Survival Suits

Ensuring survival suits are in top condition is crucial for the safety of those at sea, whether aboard a vessel or a sail.

Consistent regular checks and adherence to proper storage practices are paramount.

Regular Checks and Suit Servicing

Regularly inspect your Gumby suit to check for tears, leaks, or damaged seams. Test the integrity of zippers and closures, as these are critical for the suit’s effectiveness.

Servicing should include verifying that the suit’s buoyancy remains uncompromised and that all safety features are functional.

Manufacturer recommendations typically dictate servicing intervals; you can learn more about suit maintenance and inspection routines through tailored information directly from them.

Proper Storage Practices

Store your survival suit in a cool, dry place away from direct sunlight to prevent material degradation.

Hanging the suit up can prevent creases and potential weak points, so consider installing a dedicated rack or storage system on your vessel.

That said, storage on smaller boats may not allow this luxury, so ensure they are rolled correctly before storing them.

It’s vital to ensure easy access to the suit in case of an emergency, so strategic placement is as important as the conditions in which it’s stored.

Personal Experience and Case Studies

In my decade-long career of working at sea, part of our monthly drills were abandon ship situations. As part of these walkthroughs, donning immersion suits was a critical aspect.

Every vessel I worked on ensured that every crew member knew what size immersion suit to select in an emergency.

After that, it’s down to practice putting them on. You’ll find it far more manageable by sitting down, getting your legs in first, and then moving onto your knees to secure the rest. This is especially true in rolling seas. 

Lessons Learned from Maritime Incidents

Years of maritime incident analyses have underscored a lesson you cannot afford to ignore: the difference between a good fit and a poor one can mean everything when you’re relying on an immersion suit.

Case studies have repeatedly shown that when a suit is too loose, the excess material can fill with water, creating drag and exhausting you faster.

Conversely, an overly tight suit might restrict your movement, preventing you from effectively signaling to rescuers or attending to survival gear.

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.