Who’s it for? Arctic-rated immersion suit – a kind of one-man raft – which US company claims could replace a liferaft. www.whiteglacier.com
This immersion suit is a much more serious product than it perhaps looks with me pictured in it. It will keep an occupant alive for up to 25 hours in Arctic waters, where water temperatures can drop as low as –30°C.
White Glacier designed the suit to set new standards for protecting an occupant against hypothermia in polar conditions. That it is jump-proof from a height of 10m and fire-proof for four seconds indicates that it is clearly marketed at the commercial sector.
But can the Arctic 25 actually offer a replacement to the traditional and trusted liferaft – as was claimed by UK spokesperson Thomas Harding?
The product includes a new technical material called Thymus, which White Glacier describes as the next GoreTex owing to its leading buoyancy and thermal properties. The US company is keeping quiet about the technical details, but has plans for a Spinlock lifejacket, using Thymus, that is 60 per cent smaller.
Although obviously overkill for most yachtsmen, if the Arctic 25 is capable of handling extreme conditions, it should manage everything else with ease. The best way to find out how practical it is is to give the £825 suit a trial out in open water.
On my second effort, I was able to get into the suit in under the 60-second target time. Time to don is important, as once inside movement is restricted to the point where you would find it difficult to move around a boat easily. The water off the UK’s south coast was at its coldest and, without any protection, I would have lasted less than an hour even in the Solent.
Once immersed, it’s very clear that there’s no shortage of buoyancy and the suit’s large size kept me well protected. There’s a clear screen that unfolds to protect your face in rough weather, and if it gets too bad, you can expand the chest area and bring your face and arms into the body of the suit and away from the spray.
The suit then forms a sort of one-man raft, with an opening in the chest to allow fresh air in should the weather improve. On the outside there’s a floating line that attaches to other suits, and a hook for helicopter rescue.
Unlike a traditional liferaft, there are no supplies packed into the suit – and if you wanted to pack sustenance separately, there aren’t any internal pockets for storage.
The design and manufacture of the suit are first class to suit its purpose. The chances of needing it on a calm day such as I had for the test, however, is unlikely – it could be much less comfortable in big waves, especially as lying on my back was the only position I could manage.
When it comes to polar safety in sailing, the market is slim. The direct comparison is an insulated liferaft, which might not offer a pleasant environment, but at least allows you to stick with the crew.
www.whiteglacier.com Tested by guest reviewer Greg Goulding
The Arctic 25 may be a great development for the commercial sector, but it’s not so practical for sailors.