Survival Suit Testing Standards

Rigorous testing ensures that survival suits meet specific construction and performance requirements. 

And standards are developed through consensus, often internationally, to foster consistent guidelines that manufacturers must adhere to. 

Such precision in testing is vital for the confidence and trust of the user in knowing that their gear will perform under extreme conditions.

Important among these specifications are the insulation capabilities of a suit that mitigates the onset of hypothermia. 

Procedures laid out in documents such as the eCFR outline the strict requirements that immersion suits must fulfill to gain approval for use. 

The difference between a tested and an untested suit could mean the difference between life and death, making it evident why routine maintenance and testing to these standards is non-negotiable.

Testing Protocols and Standards

A certified practitioner should do all official testing. While I encourage you to routinely inspect your Gumby suit, you should still send it for annual inspection and testing. 

This is especially important if you frequently sail in extremely cold water environments where suit failure could be catastrophic.

Testing for Buoyancy and Water Tightness: Regular air pressure tests, recommended every three years and more often for suits over ten years old, are essential to ensure the integrity and water tightness of immersion suit seams and closures.

ISO Standards

The International Organization for Standardization (ISO) sets global benchmarks for products, including survival suits, with standards such as ISO 15027.

This standard specifically outlines the requirements for thermal protection, ensuring survival suits provide adequate insulation against cold water.

MSC.81(70) Testing

The Maritime Safety Committee’s resolution MSC.81(70) introduces rigorous testing procedures for life-saving appliances.

Survival suits undergoing MSC.81(70) testing are subject to simulated extreme conditions to verify their protection and performance capabilities.

U.S. Coast Guard and Transport Canada

In North America, the U.S. Coast Guard and Transport Canada enforce strict approval testing for survival suits within their respective jurisdictions. These tests ensure gear and equipment meet minimum product safety standards before they are available in the market.

Regulation Changes and SOLAS

Amendments to regulations and the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) can result in changes to survival suit standards. Keeping abreast of these changes is crucial for manufacturers and users to ensure continuous compliance and safety.

Survival Suit Testing in Controlled Environments

Your safety gear’s reliability hinges on rigorous testing. Survival suits undergo thorough evaluations in controlled environments to ensure they meet industry standards and protect you in life-threatening situations.

Indoor testing facilities are crucial for assessing survival suits under repeatable and consistent conditions.

These facilities include specialized test pools where suits are rigorously examined. The safe, controlled setting allows for precisely manipulating variables like temperature and weather effects.

For instance, Survitec, with its extensive background, utilizes these facilities to evaluate the performance of immersion suits. Simulating realistic marine environments can accurately assess the suits’ insulation properties and buoyancy.

In controlled test scenarios, survival suits are subjected to specific challenges that mimic the harshest conditions you might face.

Test subjects wear the suits in the pool, and aspects like the time to don the suit, suit integrity, and thermal insulation are closely monitored against predefined testing standards.

The rigorous scenarios are designed to ensure the suit can exceed testing standards. White Glacier’s Arctic 10+ PC suit notably surpassed the required benchmarks during its trial in a Norwegian testing facility. 

Controlled tests are not only about survival time but also about tracking the wearers’ mobility, dexterity, and overall performance when encased in the survival gear.

Survival Suit Classification

Survival suits, critical for safety at sea, come in various types and designs, each tailored to specific environmental conditions and survival requirements. Understanding the classification of these suits is essential for selecting the right gear for maritime operations.

Types of Immersion Suits

Immersion suits, designed to provide thermal protection and buoyancy in the event of abandoning a vessel, are classified mainly by their function and insulation levels. 

There are two primary categories: insulated immersion suits, which are intended for cold water environments to prevent hypothermia, and non-insulated immersion suits, which are suitable for warmer waters and primarily meant to keep you afloat and dry.

Among immersion suits, there are variations like drysuits, which are not explicitly designed for abandon-ship scenarios but are often used in environments where prolonged exposure to water is expected. 

Drysuits seal water out completely, keeping the wearer dry, and thus provide thermal protection depending on the underlying garments worn.

Insulated Immersion SuitsNon-Insulated Immersion Suits
Made with neoprene or other insulating materials.Constructed with waterproof materials that lack thermal insulation.
Preserve body heat in frigid temperatures.Aim to keep the wearer dry and afloat rather than warm.
Often come with additional accessories such as gloves and hoods.
Must meet specific standards for survival gear, ensuring thermal insulation.Subject to regulations which dictate performance requirements.

Selecting between an insulated or non-insulated immersion suit depends on your operating environment, water temperature, and the potential duration of exposure to the elements. 

Always choose survival gear that conforms to regulatory testing to ensure the highest chances of survival in an emergency at sea.

Case Studies and Real-World Applications

A case study involving a research team in Trondheim, Norway, revealed the importance of rigorous testing.

After an accidental immersion in icy waters, scientists discovered that specific suit materials became less flexible in extreme cold weather. To combat this, Diego Jacobson, a global leader in survival gear development, introduced a proprietary fabric blend that preserved mobility at much lower temperatures.

Incident: Unexpected loss of insulation in Arctic temperatures. Solution: New material blend that withstands harsher conditions without loss of flexibility or warmth.

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.