SURVIVAL SUITS GREATLY ENHANCE A WEARER’S ABILITY TO SURVIVE A CATASTROPHY.
Testing a suit that can save your life in cold water.
Awave of panic washes over me. I’m having trouble getting both my legs into the survival suit. I try to calm myself down, but I’m rushing to get the suit over my midsection. Oh, no. The zipper’s stuck. You should’ve lubricated the zipper teeth so it
would’ve been easier to zip up, I scream at myself. And I still haven’t gotten the hood over my head yet. No, I’m not on a storm-tossed boat in the middle of the Arctic Circle. In fact, I’m not even on a boat: I’m on a dock in Essex, Connecticut, wrestling with a bright red Neoprene Cold Water Immersion Suit ($500) from Mustang Survival as the rest of the editorial staff looks on. About the only thing that is in any real danger of getting seriously injured in this situation is my ego. But I’m scrambling like my life depended on it.
Standard equipment on everything from Alaskan commercial fishing vessels to offshore oil rigs in the Gulf of Mexico and, increasingly, private yachts, survival suits are virtually waterproof dry suits that protect the wearer from extreme temperatures. When I saw a box arrive at the office marked “Mustang Survival” I knew we were going to put this immersion suit through hell.
All things considered, I got it on in under a minute. Not fast enough to win the gentleman’s bet among our staff (you’ll want to see this video at pmymag.com), but fast enough to satisfy the recommended time for donning an immersion suit by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).
According to NOAA, monthly practice—not to mention inspections, which would have alerted me to that pesky zipper—can reduce suit-up time from minutes to seconds. And in a situation where time matters, those additional seconds could mean the difference between life and death. (For more reasons to practice safety drills, see our new column “Seamanship” on page 34.)
Bottom line: This is the suit you want to be in when you have no choice but to enter the water.
Made from neoprene, a synthetic rubber that maintains flexibility over a wide temperature range, the 5-millimeter-thick suit has flame-retardant qualities, floats effortlessly, and can stave off hypothermia for almost 24 hours in the open water.
Its buoyancy is downright shocking; once I positioned myself lying on my back in the water, I had trouble touching my feet down and standing upright. (One test was wading into the Connecticut River.) While a watertight face seal keeps out spray, an inflatable head pillow supports the neck and positions more of the upper body out of the water—something any survival expert will tell you is incredibly important when trying to preserve precious body heat.
The more times I put the suit on, the more comfortable it became, until I saw it less as a gumby suit, or a sophisticated tool, and more as an extension of my ability to survive.
Practice makes perfect when it comes to survival.