Survival Suit Types

Designed primarily for safety and survival in maritime environments, survival suits exhibit a wide range of functions and forms to accommodate different sea conditions.

Each type is tailored to meet specific needs, making choosing the right type for each situation essential.

This selection is crucial for optimal protection and survival, especially in challenging conditions such as cold and turbulent waters.

Understanding the nuances of each suit’s design and capabilities can be a lifesaver. This article delves into that to help you face the harsh realities of the sea.

Immersion Suits

Immersion suits or Gumby suits are typically made of neoprene, and provide significant insulation and thermal protection in cold waters, ensuring your body retains heat. Their design largely focuses on keeping you afloat and turning you into a face-up position in the water for rescue. In addition to sustaining body temperature for extended periods.

Dry Suits

Not to be confused with immersion suits, dry suits seal tightly at your neck and wrists to prevent water entry, offering flotation and comfort. While not inherently insulated, they can be worn with underlying layers for thermal protection in cold environments. Ideal for extended periods in the water, dry suits maintain dexterity and mobility, crucial for active work. 

Understanding the differences between immersion suits and drysuits is essential for selecting the appropriate gear for your maritime activities.

Inflatable Immersion Suits

Inflatable immersion suits are equipped with air bladders that can be manually or automatically inflated to provide additional flotation, ensuring your head and torso remain above water. These suits are constructed from waterproof material that’s lightweight when not inflated, making them space-efficient for storage on board.

Anti-Exposure Work Suits

Anti-exposure work suits, classified as Type III or Type V personal flotation devices (PFDs), are intended for continuous wear during high-risk activities. These suits combine the advantages of protective work suits with flotation devices for safety without compromising comfort.

Special Use Suits

Special use suits encompass deck suits, rescue suits, and other specific-purpose suits that offer protection against harsh marine environments. These suits are often tailored to the user’s needs, incorporating elements from both Type II and Type V PFDs for optimal performance and safety in unique conditions.

Safety Features

The design and materials of the suit are tailored to ensure maximum protection against the cold and to provide necessary flotation to keep you afloat in the event of an emergency at sea.

Survival Suit Materials

Flotation and Buoyancy: Survival suits often incorporate built-in flotation devices to help maintain your head above water. The materials used, such as neoprene, provide intrinsic buoyancy, and some suits have additional foam or air pockets for enhanced flotation.

Insulation: To safeguard against hypothermia, survival suits are constructed with materials that have excellent insulation properties. For instance, a 5mm neoprene layer is common and acts as a barrier against the cold, retaining body heat.

Comfort: Despite their primary function, survival suits are designed with your comfort in mind. Flexible materials and ergonomic features allow for ease of movement, ensuring that continued wear doesn’t lead to excessive fatigue.

For detailed insights into survival suit features, including advanced safety attributes, durability, and user recommendations, explore comprehensive resources that delve into how these materials combine functionality with user needs.

Hood and Face Flap: A hood is integral to the suit, designed to cover your head and minimize heat loss. Some suits feature a face flap to protect against cold water splash and to insulate the facial area, which is particularly vulnerable to the cold.

By utilizing materials and designs focused on flotation, buoyancy, comfort, and insulation, survival suits provide critical hypothermia protection and improve chances of survival in extreme conditions.

Suit Fitting and Comfort

Choosing the right survival suit is crucial for your safety and comfort in emergencies. The fit, ease of donning, and your ability to move freely are all key points to consider when selecting a suit.

Size and Fit

Proper size and fit is essential. The fit of a drysuit is more specific than an immersion suit. This is because of mobility requirements. Gumby suits are grouped into broader sizing categories.

Ease of Donning

In an emergency, you need to be able to put on your survival suit quickly. Quick-donning immersion suits are designed for rapid deployment and typically have simplified zippers and minimal straps for speed. Your suit should not be bulky to the point of hindering your ability to don it swiftly, even when under stress.

Range of Motion

Once your survival suit is on, it’s important that you can move freely to swim or perform necessary tasks. Check that the suit allows for a full range of motion, particularly in the shoulders and joints. A suit that is too restrictive can become uncomfortable, and in a survival scenario, your ability to move without constraint is paramount for both comfort and survival.

Usage and Applications

Survival suits are a critical part of safety gear across various marine professions and activities. They are designed to protect you from the harsh marine environment, significantly improving your chances of survival in the case of an accident at sea.

Commercial Fishing

When you’re engaged in commercial fishing, the use of a survival suit can be the difference between life and death. In a profession that deals with extreme weather and cold waters, survival suits provide thermal insulation and increase buoyancy, ensuring that fishermen remain warm and afloat until rescue. It’s not uncommon for fishing vessels to be equipped with these suits, as they significantly enhance the safety of the crew members.

Offshore Work

If your profession involves offshore oil rigs or renewable energy platforms, a survival suit is an indispensable part of your safety equipment. The risks in offshore environments are diverse, ranging from helicopter ditching to platform evacuation. As part of a standard offshore safety procedure, you would be trained in donning an immersion suit quickly, often required to extend survival time in the water.

Boating and Cruising

While you might not anticipate emergencies on a leisurely boat trip or while cruising, having survival suits on hand can be a prudent measure. Should your boat encounter trouble, these suits provide thermal protection and can help you stay alive even in frigid waters, complementing your life jacket. This is especially relevant when boating in colder climates or in regions where rescue may not be immediately accessible.

Regulations and Certification

When considering the purchase or use of survival suits, it’s critical to be aware of the stringent regulations and certifications that govern their design, manufacturing, and use. These standards ensure the safety and reliability of suits in life-threatening situations.

U.S. Coast Guard Approval

The U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) plays a pivotal role in the certification of survival gear. For a survival suit to receive Coast Guard approval, it must meet the specific requirements set by this governing body. This includes compliance with Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) conventions, which are international standards aimed at ensuring the safety of ship’s personnel. Manufacturers must ensure that their products adhere to these strict guidelines to facilitate Coast Guard approval. Notably, the USCG website provides in-depth information about types of approved personal flotation devices (PFDs) and the proper use and care for such safety equipment.

Safety Standards

Different types of survival suits are subjected to a variety of safety standards, assuring they are capable of withstanding the harsh conditions they are designed for. There are certifications like NFPA 1991 and EN 943, mentioned in the context of hazmat suits applicable to survival suits to some extent for their chemical and gas protection features. Manufacturers and users alike should refer to these established testing standards to understand the benchmarks survival suits must meet. These standards are integral to ensuring the suits perform under extreme conditions and enhance the wearer’s chances of survival, whether it involves thermal protection, buoyancy, or integrity of the suit in submerged environments.

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.