Cold-water Diving Wetsuit

Navy SBIR 20.2 - Topic N202-130

Office of Naval Research (ONR) - Ms. Lore-Anne Ponirakis

Opens: June 3, 2020 - Closes: July 2, 2020 (12:00 pm ET)



N202-130       TITLE: Cold-water Diving Wetsuit


RT&L FOCUS AREA(S): General Warfighting Requirements (GWR)

TECHNOLOGY AREA(S): Materials, Bio Medical


OBJECTIVE: Develop and demonstrate an insulated wetsuit for cold-water (35 °F) diving, capable of maintaining 75% of its surface insulation rating to 100 foot depth. Surface insulation rating equivalent to 2 air gaps is sought using new approaches, possibly sealed multiple layers and minimized flushing of ambient water in the wetsuit.


DESCRIPTION: Most Special Operations Forces (SOF) diver training and operations is still done in wetsuits. For cold-water operations, and with basically all wetsuits being neoprene, hypothermia is a serious risk. Neoprene wetsuits provide very limited time at the surface and provide roughly 1/4 the insulation at 100 feet depth. A new wetsuit construction is desired, one that has R ratings in the single digits, comparable to a double air-gap of roughly R3-5. An innovative multi-layer approach (e.g., drop-stitch, additive manufacturing, multiple coveralls, outer fur) is sought that maintains a smaller gap or has stop-gap materials, which minimize thermal bridging, such that the R-value at 100-foot depth is 75% of the value at the surface. Innovative solutions to minimize flushing inside the wetsuit with cold ambient water will be most important. Mobility, and don and doff times should be comparable or better to those of current wetsuits. Solutions should not focus on gases composition within the gap, other than air, for ease of usage, maintenance, and repair.


PHASE I: Define and develop a design for a cold-water (35 °F) wetsuit and analyze and specify the anticipated insulation value (R-value), where it arises from and how it improves on current COTS wetsuits. Prepare designs that are sufficiently detailed to specify all materials needed, their availability, how they will be implemented, and the overall wetsuit thickness. Specify how the design  reduces flushing of external/ambient water through the wetsuit. The wetsuit material, its seams (both intergarment and at wrists, neck and feet),and any closing mechanisms must stand up to typical special operations underwater diver activities and approximately 100 dives. The design created in Phase I should lead to plans to build a prototype unit in Phase II.


PHASE II: Develop, fabricate, lab-test (R-value and chiller-tank performance), and provide two suits for form, fit, and function evaluation by operational Navy divers in cold-water maritime environments. Within the period of performance, revise the design and refabricate an additional 10 units based on feedback.


PHASE III DUAL USE APPLICATIONS: Assist the Navy in transitioning the technology to operational use by Naval Special Warfare, support the Navy for test, validation, and qualification of the system for use by Navy divers, and develop commercial variants suitable for recreational divers and use in the gas-oil industry or research community.  Create a marketing plan for reaching recreational users and mass production, to bring the per unit cost down to under five hundred dollars.



1. Beckman, F. L. “Thermal Protection During Immersion in Cold Water.” Proceedings of the Second Symposium on Underwater Physiology, No. 1181, National Academy of Sciences, -National Research Council, Washington, D. C., 1963, pp. 247-266.


2. Piantadosi, C. A., Ball, D. J., Nuckols, M. L. and Thalmann, E. D. "Manned Evaluation of the NCSC Diver Thermal Protection (DTP) Passive System Prototype." US Naval Experimental Diving Unit Technical Report (NEDU-13-79), 1979.


3. Bardi, Jason S. "How Does Fur Keep Animals Warm in Cold Water?" American Physical Society, College Park, MD, November 23, 2015.


4. Vrijdag, Xavier et al. “Argon used as dry suit insulation gas for cold-water diving.” Extreme Physiology & Medicine, 2:17, 2013.


5. Bardy, Erik et al. "A comparison of the thermal resistance of a foam neoprene wetsuit to a wetsuit fabricated from aerogel-syntactic foam hybrid insulation." J. Phys. D: Appl. Phys., Vol. 39, Number 18, 1 September 2006,


KEYWORDS: Diving, Wetsuit, Cold-water, Hypothermia, Insulation, Heat Loss



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