Survival suits are essential safety equipment if you work on a fishing vessel, oil or gas production, or as part of a search and rescue team. Survival suits will increase the amount of time that you can spend in the water in the event of abandoning a sinking or capsized vessel or stricken production platform, especially in the open ocean.
Here are 10 tips to help you choose the right survival suit, and increase your chance of being rescued should the worst happen.
1. The survival suit you choose needs to meet all the operational requirements placed on it by the operational regulatory body. So whatever you purchase make sure it conforms to your industry regulation. Depending on the environment you work in, you may need a flameproof survival suit. A more obvious requirement in the Offshore Oil & Gas Industry for example.
2. An Immersion survival suit that has personal buoyancy and thermal barrier protection which will dramatically increase survival time in the water. Immersion work suits often do not have these qualities so it is important to spot the difference.
3. Attention to detail: A buddy line ensures that you can be tied to others, so that you don’t drift apart. A lifting strap will help the rescuer to winch you up to safety. An integral approved emergency light and approved reflective tape means that you are more easily found in the dark.
4. An integrated safety harness for the rescuer’s suit will mean that a separate harness is not required, and ensures that it is always fitted and ready to be used, and appropriate for use with the survival suit. It is also one less thing to remember when embarking on a rescue mission.
5. Insulated gloves and booties will help to keep hands and feet warm and delay the onset of hypothermia. Also a hood is vital as so much heat is lost from the head. The hood will also protect from frostbite, and from any debris that may be in the water. Head, hands and feet should always be well insulated and protected.
6. Transport Immersion survival suits when fitted with an “Emergency Re-breathing System” (ERBS) can be a lifesaver, as it allows exhaled breath to be used again, so that if you are submerged for any reason, you can still breathe for a short time whilst you sort yourself out.
7. An Emergency Locator Beacon is essential so that the rescue services can locate you. These are designed to be used in tough conditions, and transmit on aircraft frequencies to increase you chances of being found. Some survival suits have built in emergency locator beacons, but it is also recommended to have proprietary additional beacons to hand.
8. Look for regulatory certification and approval. A survival suit that has been tested to the highest standards will certainly be up to the task. There are different standards for survival suits to be used in different environments. A pilot’s survival suit will differ from that of an arctic sailor. If you are not sure of the standards you need to look for, ask. Your supplier will help you to make sure you get the right survival suit in the right size, and be able to offer any additional vital accessories, to make sure that you have the highest chance of survival.
9. An inner layer will provide additional insulation and buoyancy, meaning that you can be in the water for longer. Depending on the environment you will be in, you may find yourself in freezing water for several hours. The warmer your survival suit, the more chance you have of staying alive.
10. Your survival suit will need to be quick and easy to put on. If you are a rescuer then time is definitely of the essence, and the quicker you can be ready, the more chance you have of saving those in the water. If you are in a position where you need to abandon your vessel or aircraft, you will probably only have a few minutes to prepare. By ensuring that you can put your survival suit on quickly and easily, you will increase your chances of surviving, and being rescued.
Don’t underestimate the importance of the right survival suit. Like insurance, it’s something we buy and hope to never need. If we do need it, we hope we’ve got the best. Property and possession can be replaced, but your life can’t. Don’t risk buying the wrong survival suit, as it could cost you your life.