UPDATE 03/30/2018: We asked Scott Wilwert, the lead Commercial Fishing Vessel Safety Examiner for U.S.C.G. District 17, for some clarification on this Marine Safety Update. In particular, we were interested in the brand of the suit, so people will know if they have suits that may have this defect.
The Coast Guard is not yet ready to release the manufacturer and model of the suit involved. Their engineers are still analyzing the suits and the Coast Guard is in discussion with a European certification organization regarding this suit. It appears that these suits were on a foreign vessel and may not be in U.S. distribution. I wish we knew more, but that's the information available at this time. Regardless, the broader safety message is relevant. Inspect and service your immersion suit's zipper regularly!
In a recent vessel examination, the U.S. Coast Guard found that the zippers on 35 out of 40 of the ship's immersion suits failed when tested. This, according to the Coast Guard's Marine Safety Alert 3-18. In each case, the glue used to attach the zipper to the body of the suit had failed. Needless to say, this would seriously endanger anyone relying on these immersion suits in an emergency. Due to the extraordinarily high failure rate, the Coast Guard is urging mariners to inspect the zippers on their immersion suits to ensure that they are securely attached to the suit and operating properly.
The perfect time to check the zipper on your immersion suit is when you conduct your month emergency procedure drills. After you practice donning your immersion suit, check the zipper and ensure that the zipper is securely attached to the suit. Apply a little wax to keep the zipper sliding smoothly. In addition, look the seams of your suit over for any tears, and make sure that your whistle and strobe light are securely attached. Inflate the pillow or buoyancy ring to ensure that it holds air. When your inspection is complete, fold and stow your suit according to the manufacturer's instructions.
For more information on how to inspect and maintain your immersion suits, download a PDF file of AMSEA's brochure, Your Immersion Suit: How to Maintain It, Leak-Test It, Repair It. With a bit of care, your immersions suit will be ready, should you ever need it.