New Cougar Helicopters rescue suits focus on technology and mobility

Cougar Helicopters, the company that brings workers back and forth to offshore oil facilities, is showing off its latest search and rescue suits.
Ian Wheeler of Cougar Helicopters shows off the latest search and rescue dry suit at the Maritime and Arctic Security and Safety Conference in St. John's last week. (Heather Barrett/CBC)

Cougar Helicopters, the company that brings workers back and forth to offshore oil facilities, is showing off its latest search and rescue suits.

While the company's primary task is transporting crews safely to the offshore, they also provide emergency response services to their own vessels, as well as for other marine emergencies.

At the recent Maritime and Arctic Security and Safety Conference in St. John's, Cougar representative Ian Wheeler showed off the new suits that rescuers will wear if and when they respond to emergencies out at sea.

"It's the North Atlantic, so even in the height of summer the temperature is quite cold," he said. 

Cougar Helicopters search and rescue teams primarily respond to offshore emergencies for the company, however in some cases they also assist in other rescue efforts. (Cougar Helicopters)

The "red dry suit", as he called it, is made of a Gortex material, and keeps the rescuer dry and warm during encounters with the cold waters off the Newfoundland and Labrador coast.

The material breathes which prevents sweating and subsequent chills.

In addition to the dry suit itself, there is also a black vest which carries special equipment like a radio, locator beacon and other necessary tools such as knives and wireless headphones for aircraft intercom systems.

Different design than standard offshore survival suits

Underneath the suit, the rescuers wear thin thermal underwear. Wheeler said this makes it different than the suits that offshore workers wear, because those working in search and rescue have to avoid feeling weighed down during their rescue operations.

"It's different from the suits the passengers would wear ... which has the insulation to keep them warm built into it," he said.

The Cougar search and rescue suit comes with various pieces of technology to help the rescuer communicate with aircraft and other vessels. (Heather Barrett/CBC)

"In a search and rescue environment, obviously we can't have a lot of bulk, so this is basically just a shell  - but it will keep the person dry."

Cougars search and rescue teams perform training exercises every day, though they rarely respond to actual emergencies.

In addition to being on stand by for Cougar's own flights, the teams are also a taskable asset under the national search and rescue system.

Wheeler said their rescuers have to be prepared to deal with whatever comes their way.

"There's a lot of training and technology, just like any other emergency response agency. What does it take to be a police officer, fireman, a paramedic? It's very similar to that," he said.

"You just need to be in tune with what your job is, comfortable with it and able to perform when you're called upon."

With files from Heather Barrett