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Vol 40  No 3
September 20, 2007


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MI researchers go above and beyond the call of duty
by Stephanie Barrett

Wearing different sensors, volunteers are helping researchers determine the effect that the cold ocean environment has on the human body. (Photo by Hubert Best)

If you ever had to abandon ship in the middle of ocean, a life raft could be your only hope to keep you safe and dry until rescue.

Researchers at the Marine Institute’s Offshore Safety and Survival Centre (OSSC) are working in partnership with the National Research Council (NRC) and the School of Human Kinetics are looking at ways to improve life raft safety for those who travel on the ocean.

In order to do this, real-life situations had to be re-created. This involved volunteers spending at least four hours (and sometimes up to eight hours) in a 16 person life raft in the National Research Council Canada Institute for Ocean Technology’s (NRC-IOT) ice tank and tow tank. Cold environmental conditions were simulated and the subjects were studied wearing both wet and dry clothing.

Jim Boone of the OSSC is one of the collaborators on the project. He said that this research is very necessary as the results will increase survival time.

“The purpose of this study is to provide reliable, objective knowledge about the performance of life rafts as it relates to heat loss,” he said. “Our goal is to be able to identify areas of improvement.”

To achieve this, Mr. Boone, along with his fellow collaborators on the project, Rob Brown, OSSC, Lawrence Mak, NRC, and Dr. Fabien Basset, School of Human Kinetics, went above and beyond the call of duty and volunteered to be human subjects in the study.

So why volunteer as a subject for the study? “I couldn’t let my wife upstage me,” Mr. Brown said with a grin. “She actually volunteered for the study before I did and she was a trooper. She actually spent eight hours in the raft.

“As a researcher in the field of offshore and maritime safety, it is difficult to fully understand the environment and stress unless you are actually subjected to a survival situation. While most of the test subjects were taken from outside the research team, the team members also found it valuable to participate in order to help understand what an individual might experience in a life raft.”

Mr. Mak, project manager for the study, also spent some time in the raft.

“This is an interesting and challenging project. Our research team has made excellent progress. We are excited to help Canada influence international regulations and enhance marine safety with good research and sound results.”

This is a 2.5-year, $1.7 million project, sponsored by Transport Canada and The National Search and Rescue Secretariat New Initiative Fund. The remaining funding came from other research partners.

Members of the research team from Memorial also includes Dr. Scott Mackinnon and Dr. Bassett of the School of Human Kinetics and their graduate students Kerri-Ann Evely, Steve Penney and Mr. Boone, and Mr. Brown and Kevin O’Brien of MI’s Offshore Safety and Survival Centre.

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