Immersion Suits & Outboard Motors

A. Taivalkoski (left) and B. Hornbeck getting ready to jump in the water wearing Mustang float coats. M. Irinaga, 2019.

Planning an archaeological field season requires a great deal of attention to crew safety and well-being. This process is especially complex when the field research is taking place in an isolated and extreme environment. Here are some of the factors that need to be considered before working in the Aleutian Islands:

  • Cold temperatures which fluctuate in the 40s (Fahrenheit) and only occasionally break for a beautiful high-50s day.
  • Gusting winds and gale.
  • Persistent fog - sometimes it's light and hazy, sometimes you can barely see the person next to you.
  • Frequent precipitation - sometimes it's misty, sometimes it's raining, sometimes you're walking through an invisible pool, sometimes the precipitation collecting on your rain-gear is your own snot.
  • Tundra vegetation which can cause skin blisters or swallow you whole.
  • Isolation (physical and mental).
  • Remnant dangers from WWII activity. 
  • Dangerous waters (no one wants to be on a boat in a storm, let alone in the Low Arctic)
  • and of course the plethora of dangers caused by tectonic activity such as earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, and even tsunamis (the Aleutian Islands are the northern arc of the infamous "Ring of Fire" after all)

Fortunately, there are a variety of field-safety training courses that provide invaluable resources for researchers. Even seasoned professionals take and retake these courses! Completing field-safety training prior to a field season is essential for remaining mindful and prepared. Not only may your life depend on it, but the lives of others as well.
Left: B. Hornbeck donning an immersion survival suit. Right: B. Hornbeck practicing techniques for entering the water. M. Irinaga, 2019.

The logistical planning of our field season included working with the support team at CH2MHILL Polar Services to develop a unique training course which would meet our specific needs. We were especially interested in learning how to operate an outboard motor and in practicing boat emergency response techniques since we were going to be relying on the Pŭk-ŭk and its Zodiac (an inflatable boat) for daily support.

A. Taivalkoski and B. Hornbeck practicing survival techniques in immersion survival suits. M. Irinaga, 2019.
Our crew completed an Arctic Field/Marine Safety Training course through the logistical support of CH2MHILL Polar Services the week before our summer 2019 field season began. We reviewed basic Arctic safety concerns and practiced a series of other important tasks such as unpacking and packing our survival bag, assembling our survival bag tent, donning a variety of marine survival wear, making calls with our satellite phone, and assembling, disassembling, and operating a Zodiac and two-stroke outboard motor! A field season in the Aleutians with no emergency decision making is rare. Ours was no exception, and we were thankful to have had the fresh practice and knowledge provided by our safety-training!

B. Hornbeck (left) and A. Taivalkoski learning how to operate an outboard motor on the Zodiac they built. M. Irinaga, 2019.


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