Immersion Suit Adds 19+ Hours Survival Time

immersion suit

Published Jun 26, 2015 9:41 PM by The Maritime Executive

Hypothermia is a major cause of death at sea, resulting in about 800 casualties annually, most of which are reported as drownings. 

With the increase of trading routes in Arctic territories, this number could unfortunately increase, says Diego Jacobson, CEO of White Glacier, a company that has released a range of immersion suits that he claims adds at least 19 hours to the IMO stipulated six hours survival time requirement.

Cold water immersion suits have become an important safety component on board commercial vessels and offshore platforms, protecting accident victims from open flames, high impact jumps, hypothermia and drowning. 

SOLAS requires cold water immersion suits to meet numerous minimum requirements for safety and performance including:
•    No more than two-minute donning time;
•    Impact protection up to 4.5 meters;
•    Hypothermia protection up to six hours; and
•    Flame resistance up to two seconds.

The Polar Code is mandating that immersion suits are available for cruise passengers as well as crew, says Jacobson. He believes other suits on the market might not provide prolonged protection. “I would be afraid to be in the Arctic with another suit. In the case of an accident, it is very likely that the helicopter will take more than six hours to reach you.”

Most suits are made of neoprene, but neoprene is limited in its ability to protect against hypothermia, says Jacobson. The White Glacier suits have a three layered, non-neoprene construction. The innermost layer is a microfiber fabric that contains air to protect against the cold. The next layer is a bubble-like film that provides water proofing and the outer nylon layer is abrasion resistant and fire retardant.

The basic suit, the Arctic 25, is flame resistant for four seconds, and the more advanced suit, Fire and Ice, for 10, says Jacobson.

White Glacier’s immersion suits can be fully donned in under one minute or partially donned in 15 seconds. Donning can then be completed once in the water. All suits will withstand ten-meter jump impacts, more than twice the industry standard, says Jacobson. If victims are soaking wet or water gets into the suit during donning or while escaping, each suit will restore core body temperature within ten minutes.

The suites have heavy duty, pre-lubricated zippers, eliminating the need for routine maintenance and ensuring proper function at all times. A retractable cabin provides heightened protection against high wind, waves and freezing water when engaged. Suits are also equipped with a built-in harness to aid in fast evacuation and will float horizontally or vertically for optimal visibility from sky or sea rescue.

The use of immersion suits is not just limited to polar waters, and the ability to open the suits from within and expose the wearer’s arms can be an advantage in hotter weather. The only way to cool off in a neoprene suit is to flush the suit with water, says Jacobson. This can be dangerous as the wearer is likely to remain wet at night time and could get cold. With the White Glacier suits, the wearer can just wet their arms to cool off.

Jacobson cites the Sewol tragedy as an example of how lives could be saved around the world. Sewol sunk in less than three hours, taking with it hundreds of school children. The coast guard arrived on scene less than 40 minutes after the initial distress call. By that time, the ship sat at a 60° angle. Crews attempted to launch life rafts, but they had waited too long and the severe tilt of the ship made deployment impossible. Over 100 passengers abandoned ship, plummeting overboard into freezing cold waters where they could swim to nearby rescue boats.

“Had there been enough survival suits on board Sewol, the hundreds of victims paralyzed by fear and stranded without deployable life rafts would have had access to a safe, alternative escape route,” says Jacobson.  

The products and services herein described in this press release are not endorsed by The Maritime Executive.