• 27-MAR-2015

All things safety and survival in the South Ocean

All sailors taking part in one of the leg of the Volvo Ocean Race underwent a 2-day mandatory survival training course in the UK. In this course, they (re)learned safety and survival procedures, including basic medical training, and tested the equipments they have onboard.

Survival Equipment onboard: from man overboard to full boat evacuation
2 Xtrem 12 Persons SOLAS A Pack Liferafts => Serviced (opened, checked, restocked… before every leg, and especially Leg
2 Grab Bags with flashlights and spare batteries, VHF and Satellite phone (+battery), AIS and GPS systems, anti-sickness pills and the team members official documents (passports …)
2 Medical Kits
1 Kit, in the event a boat looses its mast
1 Water maker (in the life rafts)
1 Fishing kit
1 Signaling mirror

2 Man overboard Jonbuoys

On each sailors at all times during leg 5:
1 AIS Transmitter
1 Harness
1 Life jacket
1 Knife

More info on the mandatory equipment onboard, please go page 48 of the Notice of Race

On the Musto Survival Suit: Full drysuit construction provides 2-3 hours survival time in water of 5°C
The crucial thing was to design a suit that has enough ease of movement to allow sailors to go about their normal day-to-day business. Dry suits were often only worn when the going got really tough because they were very inhibiting, and we wanted to change that for the safety of the sailors. No one taps you on the shoulder and tells you to put your suit on because you're about to be swept overboard in 5 minutes – you need to already be wearing the kit, and we needed to ensure that it wasn't restrictive so sailors could be comfortable enough in it to want to wear it throughout their watch.

In 1989-90 Whitbread Round the World Race Creighton's Naturally suffered a serious broach on leg 2, at about 3 in the morning. Crew members Anthony (Tony) Philips and Bart van de Dwey were swept overboard. They were both recovered and pulled back on deck. Van den Dwey was successfully resuscitated, but, after three hours of trying crewmembers were unable to revive Philips. A few days later, by radio agreement with relatives ashore, Philips was buried at sea.

In 1992 we designed a prototype survival suit and gave it to Skip Novak to test in Antarctica. He swam around with ice all around him – basically putting his life on the line and trusting that MUSTO would not let him down. It was a real success, but when he tried to climb out of the water he opened the neck seal to let some air out and give him more manoeuvrability. He nearly froze because neither he, nor we, realised that the air was crucial in giving him insulation. Through this process – almost by accident - we realised that as much as the suit itself would keep people dry, it was the insulation that would keep them from developing hyperthermia. We put a tube onto the suit so that the wearer could blow air into it if you wanted to top it up. The suit is designed so you can float on the surface, which is the warmest part of the sea. Blowing air into it meant the legs and the upper part of the body has this air insulation, which was crucial to keeping people alive.

Ahead of the 1993-94 edition of the race and reflecting on the learnings from the Creighton's Naturally accident, the organisers approached MUSTO requesting that they design a dry suit that would increase the survival time of a sailor in the coldest waters from 15 minutes to 2 hours, giving a far greater chance of mounting a successful rescue attempt for any sailors swept overboard. The final suit that MUSTO designed actually gives up to three hours survival time for a person overboard with average body fat in water of 5 degrees centigrade.

Naturally several design evolutions have happened to the suit since its development in 1992. The suit, is now constructed in a GORE-TEX Ocean Technology membrane which significantly increases the breathability of the suit and makes it even more comfortable as an on-deck working suit. The hood, collar, zip and arm seal technology has all been upgraded since the original version – making the suit lighter weight, more flexible and harder wearing. The last construction change was in 2011-12 when, working with Camper, MUSTO upgraded the reflectors on the suit to photoluminescent patches – meaning that these patches give off light in low light conditions and enable crew members to be easily seen both on and, if the worse happened, off the boat in low light conditions.

In 2000 the suit was awarded the Design Council Millennium Product Status. This was awarded to British products and companies which show "imagination, ingenuity and inspiration" as well as "innovation, creativity and design" – over 4000 products were submitted, and 1,012 were selected for the awards. The Survival Suit was exhibited adjacent to the Millennium Dome during 2000.

All four of the MUSTO Volvo Ocean Race teams in this year's edition of the race have a suit onboard for each crew member. These were deployed by Team Vestas Wind when they crashed into the reef, and now that the teams are in the Southern Ocean we've seen some of the guys getting their suits on.

More info on the Musto Dry Suit here


  • Marie Laurens
    Volvo Ocean Race News Distribution Manager