Protective Suit – Why you need one?

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Hypothermia doesn’t only happen when the water or the air are cold. It can happen any time of year and almost anywhere. We got into a situation where we were unprepared for the environment in July in Florida no less. We were kayak fishing the Gulf Coast Flats and the weather was hot and humid. You had to run the air conditioner in the motel room and vehicles. The heat was brutal. We were out fishing and had come upon the first island on our way to a farther island. A thunderstorm was off in the distance so we decided to stop and fish near the first island before proceeding further. It started to rain and then we determined the lightning was getting closer. Here we were on a tropical island approximately 20 minutes from our starting point. We recognized that the storm was going to pass over us so we decided to beach our kayaks on the island and take shelter in the jungle. The storm passed right over us and the lightning was all around. The rain was torrential and we got soaked. Here we were wearing only t-shirts and shorts for the sweltering weather that was the norm. The temperature dropped and it was very windy. We began to shiver. This is the first stage of losing body heat.

The storm wasn’t showing any signs of letting up and after close to an hour of shivering we realized that we couldn’t continue to loose body heat. As we thought of things that we could do to provide warmth or insulation, we realized that our PFD’s would do the task. So we put them on and fortunately they provided enough insulation that our shivering stopped. We saw an opening in the storm and made a mad dash back to the mainland. Shortly after getting back the storm intensified and for the next few hours it was severe. If we hadn’t taken advantage of the short weather window and returned to the mainland we would have been in trouble. The adventure could have been an ordeal; we were very fortunate that it became a valuable learning experience instead. We were both amazed at how cold we got in on a July day. Teeth chattering cold! You can’t really judge what will happen on the water in a couple of hours time. You have be prepared, no matter what the weather is when you launch.

 

Immersion Suit Inspection Process

It makes sense that is important to always check the equipment before using it and go out to an adventure. Below are some common inspection tips.

1. Check closures on storage bag, as well as general condition. Wax closure snaps on bag for ease of opening. Ensure Donning Instructions are legible. Be bag, size, and manufacturer of suit labeling are correct.

2. Lay suit on a flat clean surface. Visually check seams and remainder of the suit, inside and out, for damages. Small rips, tears, or punctures can be repaired by an authorized repair station. Major tears, rips, punctures and chemical or heat burns must be inspected and repaired by the suit manufacturer. Make sure suit is dry inside and out before storage.
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3. The zipper used in an immersion suit is designed to provide a water tight seal. It is important that regular maintenance practices be performed.
A) Visually check zipper for wear, damage, corrosion and cleanliness. If zipper shows any signs of wear or damage, remove the immersion suit from service and have a factory authorized repair facility inspect the suit. Debris and foreign matter can be removed by using a soft bristle brush and fresh water.
B) Check zipper by sliding up and down with a steady straight pull to check for ease of operation. If zipper is non-functional or difficult to close, remove the immersion suit from service and have a factory authorized repair facility inspect the suit.
C) Regular lubrication of the inner and outer zipper is essential. Only use a lubricant recommended by the manufacturer. Use of grease or non-approved lubricants can harm the zipper or suit.
4. Check head support/buoyancy ring for obvious damage and ensure that it is properly attached. Check inflation hose for kinks, deterioration or leaks. See that the lock screw is in open position. Head support/buoyancy ring should be inflated and tested for leaks using one of the following two methods.
A) Orally inflate the bladder until firm then immerse in water looking for air bubbles. If bubbles are present, remove immersion suit from service and contact the manufacturer or a factory authorized repair facility
OR
B) Orally inflate until firm, let stand for 24 hours and check for firmness. If leaks are detected, remove immersion suit from service and contact the manufacturer or a factory authorized repair facility
5. Check reflective tape. Replace if necessary. For best adhesion, repair should be completed by a factory authorized repair station.
6. Check whistle for audio function and ease of accessibility.
7. Be sure an approved distress marker light with an unexpired battery is firmly attached to the suit.

Dry Suit: When and How Do You Use During Kayaking

dryclothesIt’s hard to define the exact water temperature and conditions when you need to wear a dry suit for safety, because often times in the overlap between 45 to 70 degrees Fahrenheit a wetsuit may work as well as a dry suit. The key is comfort in addition to safety. When you combine a dry suit with multiple layers that you can adjust based on the conditions, a dry suit, because it breaths, will often be more comfortable than getting soaked in sweat under a wetsuit. If you have the option, using a dry suit when the water temps drop below 50 degrees will make you more comfortable, and often when the water is above 50 and the air temperature is cold a dry suit will feel more comfortable.

As a kayaking guide, I’ve heard “I can’t believe I waited so long” and “I’ll never go back” from multiple other guides that made the switch from a wetsuit to a dry suit. Seriously, until you try one, you just don’t know how great they are. So here’s my personal guide to when I wear a drysuit:

  • On long distance trips on cold water.
  • Day trips when the water temp is below 60ish degrees.
  • When the air temp is cold (below 60 degrees).
  • If it’s really windy.
  • In the surf when the water is below 70 degrees.
  • When going rolling.

For day trips on calm water days, you may switch to a dry top and dry pants or a dry top and a wetsuit. On cold water, I’d guess that 90% of the time I wear a dry suit. The rest is some combination of dry tops and other gear.

How do you choose a drysuit for kayaking?

When you’re trying to choose a dry suit, I think it comes down to these criteria:

  • Fit
  • Material it’s made from/durability
  • Features
  • Warranty
  • Color

Fit: It has to fit right. Generally speaking, you’re probably going to select the same size of dry suit as the size shirts that you wear. So, if you wear a large shirt, you’re probably going to wear a large dry suit. If you wear chest hugging t-shirts that are one size too small, that’s probably not going to work out for you. Regardless, if you have the chance to try a drysuit on, then do it. If you don’t, make sure that the store you order from has a good return policy.