Things Some People May Not Know About Survival Suits

Survival suits decay just sitting in their bags. I test about 50 suits a year, by putting people in them and having the people jump into open water and float for hours. About 5-10% of survival suits, even as little as five years old, have leaks at the seams. You won’t see the leaks by visual inspection. Many a never-used suit sitting in a bag will have leaks.

Cautions about jumping from heights of 8 feet+
A small/light person hits the water like a bag of trash. Little or no plunge. A big/heavy person plunges deep before rising to the surface. The heavier they are, or the the greater the jump, the farther they sink. We’re only talking a few seconds of total immersion, but it has real effects.

  1. When a person 5’7” or shorter jumps into the water in an adult suit, they will often surface with their head down in the chest area, because as they plunge down the suit rises up. Very disconcerting. For this reason, put your hand on top of your head/hood. This anchors it.

  2. Different trainers advocate different things to do with your hands. I’ve trained hundreds of people in open water. I teach this; right hand on the crown of your head, anchoring the hood. Right forearm in front of your face, protecting it from debris and the hull. Left hand covering your spray shield/mouth, to prevent an autonomic swallowing of water when you go under.

  3. Some trainers advocate crossing your legs before jumping, to prevent them from splaying on impact with the water, causing injury. I’m not saying this is wrong. I’m saying that with a freeboard height of 20 feet or less it’s not needed, and, more importantly, trying to jump with crossed legs, from a wildly rolling deck, while thinking of everything else you have to do, may be counterproductive. Keep it simple: just keep your legs together as you jump. Accuracy counts (see 8).

  4. If you’re jumping from a height, don’t inflate the back floatation (or belt) until you’re in the water. Otherwise it will rip off as you plunge under.

  5. If your light & whistle are on lanyards, keep the lanyards as short as possible (< one foot), and keep these articles tucked in the pocket before jumping. Twice I’ve had people get stitches in their foreheads after being clocked by a d-cell survival light at the end of a long lanyard. Happens when they plunge in.

  6. A person struggling to zip their suit up because they have a thick neck should be aware of two things: 1) They are lucky, in that the majority of the water that enters the suit comes through a loosely-fitting neck, and 2) if they surface right-side up when they plunge in, the suddenly pressurized suit-air will cause the neck opening to tighten. Some people will feel as if they are being choked, and panic. Solution: pop the zipper down to the neck for an instant, depressurizing the suit. (Best to warn them ahead of time).

  7. Tall people with big guts will plunge deep, and often rise upside-down. The suit-air rushes to the legs, exacerbating the effect. Not a big danger, really. In a few moments the person will naturally right themselves. But people panic. Train them ahead of time to dog paddle to right themselves; this speeds the normal righting process, and avoids panic, because they have agency.

  8. Jumping in the water should be avoided. If your survival craft is a raft, jump into the raft. Of course, freeboard, and wave height play a factor in this. But history has shown that jumping in the sea in winds as as little as 25-knots greatly decreases your chances of making it to the survival craft, even over a distance as little as ten feet.


I often had a fun time trying to stay right side up after getting in the water for a while, yup, you gotta get the air at the right end !!, someone mentioned a mustang suit on the Rose sinking …getting in the water up there in a mustang suit won’t do you much good.
any employer trying to save money by not supplying a gumby over a mustang is more than wrong, and yes, they need a hook on them but it’d probably have to be rated nearer 500 lbs. which of course makes for significant and $$ design changes.

Mustang is a brand name, not a specific kind of suit. The company makes a wide variety of water survival products, several of which are designed for immersion in icy water. This includes their traditional “Gumby” suit.

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I’m guessing he is referring to the Mustang brand coverall type exposure suits which are essentially a full-body float coat. Like a traditional zip-up coverall but has foam flotation in the body. We used these at work for winter deck work and they are very nice. Designed for winter work in bad weather and quick rescue if one goes overboard, not long term survival situation like a Gumby suit.