Introduction to the Immersion Suits
The sea has always been a hostile environment and the decision to live and work upon it takes courage, skill, determination and good training. Occasionally, things do go wrong and in extreme event ship's crew may have to abandon their vessel and that could lead to person being immersed in water which could be very cold water. Under most conditions, the body maintains a healthy temperature. When more heat is lost than your body can generate, hypothermia can result. Hypothermia may develop within minutes of being exposed to cold weather conditions or it may take several hours depending on the water and wind temperatures.
Wearing the immersion suit could make all the difference - the difference between life and death. Immersion suits, also known as survival suits and abandonment suits, are intended for use in ship evacuations when rescue could be some time arriving. They are designed to save your life and since 1st of July 2006 it has been mandatory under SOLAS to provide immersion suits for every person on board cargo ships trading outside 20 deg. north or 20 deg. south. Understanding the correct procedure to put on, or don, the immersion suit, is extremely important. Hypothermia is a condition that is triggered when your body' temperature drops by just two degrees Celsius grade. As this happens, the body tries to protect itself. Circulation concentrates blood flow around the central part of the body and away from the arms and legs.
A person will start to shiver and then shake. This is the body attempting to heat itself up by muscular activity. As the temperature drops another couple of degrees, this muscular activity starts to fail. In northern latitudes, when the waters are colder, this can happen in just fifteen minutes to an unprotected person. By that time you will lose muscular control and start to lose the ability to think patiently - this could be irreversible and result in death. This situation need not arise if you know how an immersion suit works and are able to get into it correctly. It is very clever piece of kit that needs to be looked after. The suit is a one-piece item that is stored in a bag for easy access.
Take it out of the bag and lay it on a clean dry surface. Immersion suits are usually made of neoprene to provide thermal protection; they have special seals to stop water getting in and around the face and hands. The most important seal is the zip. To be able to use your hands most suits have the rubber or neoprene five finger gloves with anti-slip built in. They do not allow water to get in. In order to conserve heat, over mittens are supplied which fit over the rubber gloves to give greater insulation to the hands. Every bit of heat that can be saved is vital for survival.
Feet are just as important. Insulated boots are built in and will provide a non-slip footing. To assist with walking, Velcro straps are provided to take the slack out around the ankles and reduce the buoyant area around the feet. For this type of suit, Velcro straps also adjusts the face mask. The mask protects the face from wind and water, helping the wearer to breath and preventing water from being swallowed. Behind the mask is the insulated head covering - this helps to reduce heat loss.
Over the top are reflective strips for high visibility to aid rescuer. it is important to obtain correct size of immersion suit so that the face wrapper will seal properly around the face. The worst thing that can happen is the water to get in and the body temperature start to drop. The zip is the most critical part of the suit. It is designed and manufacturer to an approved military standard and must be properly maintained. The zip must be fully closed so that the total seal is achieved and the suit becomes waterproof. There is a certain amount of resistance to the zip which is normal, and it is advised to practice opening and closing it.
Attached to the sleeve is a body line - it pulls out and can be attached through a loop to another person's suit. Rescuers can spot a group of people in the water much more easily than an individual. Make sure the whistle can easily be found - this is essential for attracting attention.
Our next article will provide instructions on wearing and maintenance of the immersion suits.
The "Read Later" function allows you to add material to this block with just one click. Just click on the icon and read the articles that interest you at any convenient time.