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Redesigned steam suits for the U.S. Navy

Projects | July 1, 2017 | By:

Sponsored by the Office of Naval Research’s TechSolutions Program, the new steam suit was developed by the Naval Sea Systems Command and Navy Clothing and Textile Research Facility. It is currently being tested at sea by the crew of the USS Toledo and two other submarines. Photo: U.S. Navy/John F. William.

One of the dangers of life on a submarine is the potential for one of the pressurized steam lines aboard to rupture. In such a situation, steam would leak at extremely high temperatures, potentially resulting in severe injury or death. While it is highly unlikely for this to occur, safeguards must be in place in advance. In the event, protective steam suits must be worn to make emergency repairs or rescue crewmates.

The U.S. Navy has developed a new steam suit that is lighter weight, quicker to put on and more mobile than previous HAZMAT-style chemical suits. Designed with input from sailors who said they wanted suits that were more comfortable and flexible, the new suit is nine pounds lighter than previous suits. The air tank and hose for the breathing apparatus are worn on the outside, instead of under a chemical suit, allowing better access to oxygen. Gel ice packs keep things cool in steamy conditions.

The steam suit comes with unique lobster-claw gloves—thumbs and two fingers—that make it easier to grasp tools and climb ladders. They also feature a leathery fabric for wiping the suit’s face shield if it gets fogged up.

During a recent demonstration at the Naval Submarine Base New London in Connecticut, two sailors vied to see who could put on their steam suit the fastest. The sailor wearing the new-and-improved suit donned his in just over two minutes. The sailor in the older suit took more than double the time.

After testing and modifications, the new steam suit is expected to be in use in about two years. For more details, visit

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