Safety First: Your life depends on it

Immersion suits hang for crew use in case of emergency. Coast Guard inspectors discovered improper repairs to immersion suits, which make them unsafe for crew use. U.S. Coast Guard photo.

Immersion suits hang ready for crew use in case of emergency. Coast Guard inspectors discovered improper repairs to immersion suits, which make the suits unsafe for use. U.S. Coast Guard photo.

Marine inspectors from Sector Detroit and Marine Safety Detachment Sturgeon Bay discovered immersion suits with improper repairs to the gloves, a general lack of servicing documentation, and suits that were beyond 10-years-old with no inflation tests.

The major function of an immersion suit is to provide thermal insulation, buoyancy, and flotation stability when a person enters the water. Functions that will not happen if suits are too old or not serviced properly. 

The deficient immersion suits were last inspected and serviced in the fall of 2016 by American Marine (Superior Wisconsin). American Marine closed due to improper and faulty life raft servicing. The closure of American Marine left few approved and available equipment repair facilities located within the Mid-West. The original neoprene gloves had been removed and replaced with rubber gloves with an unapproved, uninsulated general industrial rubber glove. At a glance, the repair appeared to be an approved repair making the watertight seal between the gloves and the suit.

However, after a closer inspection it was discovered that the gloves were not Coast Guard approved and also did not have necessary thermal insulation properties.

Not just any neoprene suit satisfies Coast Guard requirements for immersion or survival suits. Immersion suits must be Coast Guard approved, and repairs must be made in accordance with the manufacture’s specifications. An appropriate suit, gloves, boots, and hood are integral to the entire approved suit and must pass rigorous testing procedures by a Coast Guard-accepted, independent laboratory.

A close up of an improper repair to an immersion suit glove. The attached glove does not meet the requirements for thermal insulation. U.S. Coast Guard photo.

A close up of an improper repair to an immersion suit glove. The attached glove does not meet the requirements for thermal insulation. U.S. Coast Guard photo.

 

The neoprene material provides buoyancy, and the bladder at the back is designed to turn an unconscious person face-up immediately. Neoprene fabric degrades over time and can lose its original buoyancy and fabric integrity. Coast Guard requirements specify the number and installation of reflective tape patches. The locations of these reflective patches should not be changed from the manufacturer’s specifications.

The changing season provides an opportunity for mariners to inspect the immersion suits aboard their vessels. Owners and operators should pay particular attention to the immersion suit’s serviceability and ensure that repairs are made to the manufacturer’s specification.

It is keenly important that the suit fits, is properly stowed and readily available.

Per the Coast Guard’s Navigation and Vessel Inspection Circular (NVIC) 01-08, the seams and closures of immersion suits experience deterioration over time. The materials and adhesives used have a finite service life. Even under ideal conditions, they will inevitably experience reductions in strength, buoyancy, and/or water-tightness with age.

NVIC 01-08 can be located at: http://www.dco.uscg.mil/Our-Organization/NVIC/Year/2000/.

 

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