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Thread: Why do immersion suits have arms?

  1. #1
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    Default Why do immersion suits have arms?

    I was in Kodiak and got a thorough briefing on the tradition of survival suits from a local. They have drills and contests. The school kids get involved and compete with the coast guard and navy folks. Everybody who spends time on or works on a boat learns how to put them on quickly.

    The woman teaching us lost several friends in a fishing boat that went down and went into great detail on the things that can go wrong. If you get the suit on correctly, and the hood is up, you have a shot at surviving for a bit. She had an old suit and demonstrated how to properly put it on. It seemed pretty tight. Esp the hood.

    If you put plastic bags on your big work boots to make them slide in easier, the bag can get caught in zipper, and you die.

    Apparently, and maybe counter intuitively, if you put both arms on, it is much harder (impossible?) to get the hood on. And without the hood you die significantly more quickly.

    What struck me, it that the arms don’t serve any purpose, not really. What are you going to do with your big, floppy hands? Seems to me that a bag, with your arms inside, would both make it easier to zip (and clear obstructions), and easier to reach up and pull your hood on.

    So why have arms and hands? Or better, why not have arms and hands such that you can pull your arms inside, and put them into the arms as needed. Basically, a big bag with optional arms. Just enough arm and leg definition to let you walk on the deck.

    I figured you guys might know.

    9CE242A8-E07D-462F-B5A3-8951D7F89F06.jpg

  2. #2
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    Default Re: Why do immersion suits have arms?

    I don't know. But your question raises another: why the legs? We call these Gumby suits. But why not a penguin suit -- stubby legs just big enough to waddle around in and short flaps to stick your hands in if needed. Hardly any neck. That could be a really quick suit to don. But I'm sure there are very good reasons they're made as they are.

    I do wear a wetsuit often, and the warning with those is to always "burp" the air out of the suit, the risk being that if there's a lot of air in it and you go in head first, the air will fill the legs and hold you inverted. So how is a survival suit made to keep the face above water? Is it ballasted at all? I'm sure someone who knows something will come along shortly.
    -Dave

  3. #3
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    Default Re: Why do immersion suits have arms?

    Because people have to be able to get in a life raft. And grab their shipmates who float by. Everyone who I know who has ever been had to abandon ship describes it as a horrifying, confusing and turbulent environment.

  4. #4
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    Default Re: Why do immersion suits have arms?

    I've been in one of those suits in the water and you definitely need your arms to swim, on your back, doing the backstroke.

  5. #5
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    Default Re: Why do immersion suits have arms?

    If you go in... you're in a race against time. You don't know when... or if... help will come. But you want to hold out alap.

    Anything that slows the onset of hypothermia helps. So arms, legs, hands, head (the biggest heat loss area) and anything you can practically get out of the direct contact with water.
    David G
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  6. #6
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    Default Re: Why do immersion suits have arms?

    Being able to swim and get into the lifeboat makes sense. The guys I was hearing about didn’t have one on the fishing boat.

  7. #7
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    Default Re: Why do immersion suits have arms?

    Without arms there is no way to hoist you in a sling.

  8. #8
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    Default Re: Why do immersion suits have arms?

    USCG doesn't use hoisting straps; they hoist using a basket.
    But, your point is taken, use of arms and hands, even if limited, is still helpful.

    Screen Shot 2022-04-28 at 11.21.35 AM.jpg

    Kevin
    There are two kinds of boaters: those who have run aground, and those who lie about it.

  9. #9
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    Default Re: Why do immersion suits have arms?

    In the '70s I was part of folks promoting Gumby suits. [Aside: My partner at the time was the daughter of Dallas McKennon who voiced Gumby in "The Puppetoon Movie"]

    During that February I practiced donning the suit, first on the dry and then in a pool. Then the big demo: I hopped off a pier in Astoria with the suit in a valise. Cold cold water. My body compressed with everything that stuck out of me shriveled in, including my genitals that twined with my tonsils somewhere in my lower esophagus. I had trained well enough that I got into the suit while barely conscious. Once I'd blown the water out, it took about 5 minutes to begin to warm. Spent about an hour tethered to the pier to show off survivable time.

    Over the last forty five years I've seen fishermen move from scorn to appreciation of the Gumby. A good thing.

  10. #10
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    Default Re: Why do immersion suits have arms?

    Ian, I'm familiar with inflating the bladder in the survival suit but not with "blowing the water" out of the suit. Please explain.

    Bruce

  11. #11
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    Default Re: Why do immersion suits have arms?

    Bruce, I've not been in an immersion suit since the mid '70s. I don't recall a bladder, just a tube like you inflate a PFD with. Just breathe exhale through the mouth and float feet and legs down. The water went out the one way valves down by each ankle. That's likely still the same.

    Does what you're calling the bladder work like a bellows? Or maybe a compressed air source? Seems like it would need to be a bigish bladder?

    I'm sure that over the past forty five years there have been many improvements over the early units.

  12. #12
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    Default Re: Why do immersion suits have arms?

    I got to try one back about 1980, in Feb, in Rhode Island (not exactly warm). They are clumsy enough. You would just be a bobbing ball without the legs and arms.

  13. #13
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    Default Re: Why do immersion suits have arms?

    Some are buoyant, some need to be donned together with a lifejacket.

    But once in the water you will have trouble sliding your appendices in and out of legs/arms, the water pressure is quite big.

    Not two brands are exactly the same, you must train with the one you actually have. It must be perfectly donned within 2minutes. You absolutely need to remove your shoes, and stuck your trousers in your sock. Otherwise your trousers may act as tourniquet, and you can lose your legs.


    In France we have the Rigolet type, nickname Casimir ��.




  14. #14
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    Default Re: Why do immersion suits have arms?

    Can someone here point me to a thread / resources for something less-Gumby? I built an open boat that I have not yet tested in a knockdown. I want something for the test and also for possible use when things look like they could get ugly. One source recommended "Ocean Rodeo Ignite Dry Suit" for a feature which apparently has a feature that can be open but zips closed in a hurry. I want to be able to bail and possibly self-rescue, Please advise. Great Lakes in June.

    Ken

  15. #15
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    Default Re: Why do immersion suits have arms?

    Quote Originally Posted by kbowen View Post
    Can someone here point me to a thread / resources for something less-Gumby? I built an open boat that I have not yet tested in a knockdown. I want something for the test and also for possible use when things look like they could get ugly. One source recommended "Ocean Rodeo Ignite Dry Suit" for a feature which apparently has a feature that can be open but zips closed in a hurry. I want to be able to bail and possibly self-rescue, Please advise. Great Lakes in June.

    Ken
    Ken,

    I sail the Great Lakes, and use a Kokatat "semi" drysuit with built-in feet, a relief zipper, and latex wrist gaskets. The key for me was to accept a neoprene neck seal instead of a latex one. The neoprene seal around the neck tightens/loosens with a velcro adjustment. Left loose, it's comfortable enough to wear all day once you get used to it, FAR moreso than a latex tight seal would.

    Even velcroed tight, it'll let some dribbles of water down your neck if your neck goes under, but you won't get very wet at all. Everything except the neck seal is the same waterproof quality as a "real" drysuit.

    HERE IS THE SUIT that I use.

    Where in the Great Lakes are you planning to sail? And will there be trials on smaller waters first? I'd love to hear more.

    Tom
    You don't have to be prepared as long as you're willing to suffer the consequences.

    www.tompamperin.com

  16. #16
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    Default Re: Why do immersion suits have arms?

    Quote Originally Posted by kbowen View Post
    Can someone here point me to a thread / resources for something less-Gumby? I built an open boat that I have not yet tested in a knockdown. I want something for the test and also for possible use when things look like they could get ugly. One source recommended "Ocean Rodeo Ignite Dry Suit" for a feature which apparently has a feature that can be open but zips closed in a hurry. I want to be able to bail and possibly self-rescue, Please advise. Great Lakes in June.

    Ken
    You might look as surfing wetsuits. I wore one when winter sailing in Seattle. They come in different thicknesses for different water temps. On a long sail they get to be dang uncomfortable, but they will give you some time to get back on board before you go hypothermic.

  17. #17
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    Default Re: Why do immersion suits have arms?

    Hmm... Having worn both, I can say that a drysuit with a neoprene neck gasket is far more comfortable than a wetsuit. You do need insulation underneath, as the suit itself won't do anything to keep you warm--just dry.

    Then again, a wetsuit would be substantially cheaper if that's your priority. But if long extended use in small boats is the intention, I'd argue it's worth another few hundred dollars to get a drysuit.

    Tom
    You don't have to be prepared as long as you're willing to suffer the consequences.

    www.tompamperin.com

  18. #18
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    Default Re: Why do immersion suits have arms?

    Quote Originally Posted by WI-Tom View Post
    Hmm... Having worn both, I can say that a drysuit with a neoprene neck gasket is far more comfortable than a wetsuit. You do need insulation underneath, as the suit itself won't do anything to keep you warm--just dry.

    Then again, a wetsuit would be substantially cheaper if that's your priority. But if long extended use in small boats is the intention, I'd argue it's worth another few hundred dollars to get a drysuit.

    Tom
    I can't imagine sailing all day in a wetsuit - at least one that'll do any good in 45-50 degree water (7 mil - 1/4"). A drysuit of the type you describe (one doesn't need a SCUBA style drysuit for what you're doing) makes far more sense.
    "If it ain't broke, you're not trying." - Red Green

  19. #19
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    Default Re: Why do immersion suits have arms?

    Ocean Rodeo is no longer making drysuits, Mustang Survival bought their drywear business. Per an email from MS:
    "At the moment, Ocean Rodeo Drysuit is not available. We are expecting to have this item in stock on our website near May/June. However, you can find a dealer close to your location and you may purchase from them directly."
    ​​♦ During times of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act
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  20. #20
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    Default Re: Why do immersion suits have arms?

    Quote Originally Posted by kbowen View Post
    Can someone here point me to a thread / resources for something less-Gumby? I built an open boat that I have not yet tested in a knockdown. I want something for the test and also for possible use when things look like they could get ugly. One source recommended "Ocean Rodeo Ignite Dry Suit" for a feature which apparently has a feature that can be open but zips closed in a hurry. I want to be able to bail and possibly self-rescue, Please advise. Great Lakes in June.

    Ken

    I ordered my drysuit from Trident UK. The price was comparable to the one linked above. I love it, use it for kayaking year round. It optionally comes with a fleece jumper / liner which I also really like. The suit itself doesn't have much temperature protection, so you can tailor your base layers to the conditions.

  21. #21
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    Default Re: Why do immersion suits have arms?

    Yep, a drysuit is what you want. They are pricey, but they also expand your sailing/paddling season by a month or more at each end of the usual season. You get what you pay for with these things, there is no half-price model that works well that I'm aware of. That Kokatat suit mentioned by Tom looks like as good a deal as you'll find.
    -Dave

  22. #22
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    Default Re: Why do immersion suits have arms?

    I've had a Kokatat for years. First thing I did was assume I was smarter than the directions and cut the neck to uselessness. Got another, sewed and glued in place, and enlarged the opening correctly.

    Donning the suit is a bit of an art form. I'm not sure how good Kokatat's directions are but Mustang Survival has super instructions on their web site near their immersion suits.

    For foot protection I like neoprene slippers with a good aggressive tread. I started with knee high neoprene boots, which were fine unless the water was higher. Then they were just heavy water bladders.

    I had a strong roll so had no hesitation to winter open water paddling. I'd start each adventure with a roll or two just be be sure everything was rigged or stowed correctly.

    Before I got the Kokatat I paddled where I could wet exit and walk to shore if it came to that.

    The saying is, "Dress for immersion." The kayak with spray skirt is pretty warm and it's all too easy to dress too lightly under whatever you use. As with capsize drill, do things that involve getting wet and cold so you know what to expect and so you set up correctly.

    Winter paddling is a great way to have Peter Freuchen fantasies. G'luck

  23. #23
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    Default Re: Why do immersion suits have arms?

    Jackpot! Thanks to all, and keep it coming. To the first reply by Wi-Tom: My Mackinaw (Chapelle, "Western Lakes) has been lonely in Green Bay since September while I found a house out west. I go back early June, do some fix-up, then do student & adult sailing programs with https://www.handsondeckgb.org/. But I have never done a full-disaster / downflood test and that is a goal before I get kids on the boat. So the water temp will be June in Green Bay, which means if a gentle Northerly comes after a sunny calm, it can be reasonable, but if a Southerly blows all the surface water away and the deep water comes up, it will be deadly cold. My site is https://adrift314.wordpress.com/

    Ken

  24. #24
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    Default Re: Why do immersion suits have arms?

    Ah! I think I knew from before that you're with HandsOnDeck. I'll send you a PM on something related--have a look and get back to me if you're interested.

    I might be sailing my own boat on Green Bay (a Door circumnavigation, maybe) in late May or possibly sometime in June. We'll see... I always have more ideas for sailing trips than time to do them all.

    Tom
    You don't have to be prepared as long as you're willing to suffer the consequences.

    www.tompamperin.com

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