How to maintain immersion suits

Immersion suit's pressure test

What is an immersion suit?

The immersion suit is a personal life-saving appliance. Sometimes it is also called a survival suit. The immersion suit must be waterproof and is designated to protect persons from hypothermia in cold waters. It should cover the whole body and include boots, hood and gloves (or watertight wrist seals). There are different sizes of immersion suits to fit any person. Always the most appropriate size must be used to ensure optimal performance.

The immersion suits can be separated on two types:

  1. Designed to be worn all the time.
  2. Designed to be worn in case of emergency

The first type is used by deep-sea fishermen, pilots and people who can be exposed to cold water during their work.

The second type can be found on all vessels. In this article I will focus on this type. The immersion suits which could be found on board are usually made of neoprene orange or yellow color. In any case they must be high visible.

Immersion suit requirements

According to SOLAS  Reg.III /32.3 the immersion suits are compulsory for all vessels. There is an exception for vessels operating exclusively in warm waters which can be granted by their Flag Administration. Nevertheless such exemption cannot be provided for bulk carriers. As a minimum one immersion suit must be provided for each person on board. Additional immersion suits may be required on remotely located watch or work stations such as Bridge, Engine control room, forecastle, steering gear room, etc. It is recommended additional ones to be stored in close proximity to the lifeboats or life rafts which can be grabbed quickly in case of emergency. The exact location and total number must be according to the Fire and Safety Plan of the vessel and ship’s certificates.

Some types of immersion suits fulfill the buoyancy requirements therefore can be used solely. Other types can be used only in conjunction with a lifejacket. The requirements of the Flag administration must always be considered as some of them require usage of lifejackets regardless of the immersion suits’ buoyancy.

Immersion suit maintenance

The maintenance of the immersion suits must be done regularly to ensure their good condition and readiness to be used. The maintenance can be divided on ship-based done by the crew every month and shore-based.

The shore-based testing is a pressure test. The frequency is every three years for suits less than 12 years old and every 2 years for older ones. Note that the first test must be done three years after the suit’s date of manufacture. It should not be counted from the date it entered in service. Note that to avoid unnecessary troubles.

If you want to familiarize yourself with the details of the pressure test you can read MSC/Circ.1114.

In any case this is a responsibility of the company which is taking care for the safety equipment onboard. They must also issue a certificate which should be kept on board.

The monthly test of the immersion suits must be performed by the crew according to MSC/Circ.1047.

I strongly advise you to read the procedure and follow it to ensure the safety of all people on board.

Every vessel must have an appointed safety officer. Usually that is the Chief Mate as he is the most experienced. He can delegate the routine checks to the junior officers once he believes they can perform the task in a good manner.

During my experience on board I’ve seen such task delegated to ratings. My advice is NEVER to do this on your vessel. Even if they have very good experience usually they do not have appropriate training for such jobs. They can assist the responsible officer during the task of course.

There is something else important I would like to point out. Some manufacturers supply the immersion suits in airtight bags which are inside the inside the storage bags. It is clearly said that if the airtight bag is intact the requirement for monthly check is fulfilled. I saw such arrangement in 2015 for first time. I know a Chief Mate who ordered two ABs to check the immersion suits. They thought this is a packing material and destroyed the airtight bags of 60 immersion suits. From that point all immersions should be checked thoroughly every month. That is a big lost of man-hours.  That is another reference to my above mentioned advice “DO NOT delegate such tasks to ratings”. And my other advice for you is read and think carefully before doing any task even if you consider it routine.


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