Immersion Suit Try-On

July 20, 2019

Day 248

Noon Position: 60 20N  52 03W

Course(t)/Speed(kts): NxW 6+

Wind(t/tws): SE <4

Sea(t/ft): Various to 3

Sky/10ths Cover: Overcast 10 (no fog!)

Bar(mb): 1012+, steady

On-deck Temp(f): 59 (46 at 6am)

Cabin Temp(f): 64 (heater on)

Water Temp(f): 44

Relative Humidity(%): 57

Magnetic Variation: -23.8

Sail: Motoring with double reefed main.

Noon-to-Noon Miles Made Good (nm): 141

Miles since departure: 32,597

Leg Newfoundland to Nuuk

Day: 5

Miles: 778

Our sweet wind finally departed this life mid morning. It had held on bravely overnight, if with signs of weakness, but by the second cup of coffee, Mo was cycling between two and four knots.

By the time I started the engine, the water was glassy. Our wind had died.

The sea has been glassy all day.

I’ve changed course and am heading NNW whereas Nuuk is due N. This is because what wind there is along the coast is from the N and will be building to a fresh blast over the next couple days. Out here we should remain in the high’s calm area where we can motor easily. When we’ve achieved about 63N, I’ll tack into Nuuk, taking the breeze close reaching on port.

Today I got out Mo’s immersion suits for inspection and to practice putting them on (again). Yes, by accident, Mo sports two suits for a single sailor. One she had when I bought her and one I brought aboard when I took possession in Homer, Alaska, having missed the first in inventory.

An immersion suit is high latitude emergency kit. It is intended to be worn in the water if one has to abandon ship, and its purpose is to keep you floating and warm long enough to survive until rescue arrives.

My immersion suit (red), known colloquially as a Gumby suit, for reasons that should be clear from the photo, is Alaskan standard issue. It’s a required item for each crew member on all commercial fishing boats in that state. It’s made of thick neoprene (wet-suit material) with hood, mits and booties (cut big enough that one could keep his shoes on) all attached. It’s awkward as hell to don and wear, and about the only thing one could do after getting into the suit is throw himself overboard.

The suit already in Mo’s inventory (yellow), is standard Canadian issue. It is a required item on commercial craft up here, and though its purpose is generally the same, it employs a different strategy.

The suit is made of a heavily waterproofed, one-piece shell and a removable floatation/insulation lining. The attached booties are actually boots with tred, and they are meant for sock-covered feet only. The arms are open at the wrist and here there are wide, very tight fitting neoprene gaskets to keep the water out. Neoprene mitts there are, but they are tucked into the sleeves as a do-it-later item. (They are attached to the garment by a wide strip of shell so they can’t go missing.)  Though it’s a one-size-for-all suit, it fits amazingly well and allows a person to move around easily.

Both suits have heavy neoprene hoods and manually inflatable floatation and both have a heavy waterproof zip up the front.

What I find interesting about the Canadian immersion suit is that it’s meant to be worn while active. Imagine trying to deploy a liferaft from inside a Gumby suit. Imagine you’re in the raft and trying to open the dramamine bottle (your first job once in the raft is to take sea sickness pills). The former would be difficult; the latter would require getting an arm out of the Gumby suit. All this would be relatively easy if one was wearing the Canadian suit.

Which is to say that the suits make different assumptions about the abandon ship event. The Gumby suit assumes there is no raft or that abandoning ship needs to happen fast, so fast you don’t even have time to take off your shoes.

The Canadian suit assumes that dire circumstances have come on more slowly; one has time to don the suit and get to muster stations, to have a sugary snack and then help with raft launch procedures. In fact, because one could work in the suit, it might well have been put on before all hell broke loose.

It could be argued that, by definition, an immersion suit is only meant to be worn if going directly from vessel to water, but a life raft up here will be a very wet, very cold place in which to survive, and immersion suit-type protection will be wanted if one is to avoid exposure.

My sense is that the Gumby suit would be warmer than the Canadian suit. The neoprene is quite thick and the only opening is around one’s tightly sealed head and neck. But once inside, one would be helpless, unable to do anything to advance his survival except breath and pray.

3 Comments on “Immersion Suit Try-On

  1. And hopefully you never really need one or the other! Sail on Randall.

  2. The SE Alaska State Fair in Haines includes an Immersion suit race. Contestants have to run a short distance to the suit, put it on and race back wearing it. This is a roll on the deck laughing event.

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