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THE LIFE SAVING COAT: 55 YEARS LATER - Shipmates

THE LIFE SAVING COAT: 55 YEARS LATER

Fifty-Five Years ago, a phone rang in the Mustang Survival office in Vancouver’s historic Gastown. “This is John Wayne speaking. I’ve got to get one of those damn jackets of yours. A buddy of mine has one here, and it’s the greatest.” The company had just launched their inaugural product – the Style-100 Navy Blue Floater Coat.  

The jacket quickly became synonymous with the Pacific Northwest lifestyle. The safety, versatility, and quality it offered made it the uniform of fishers, mariners, and at least one Hollywood actor up and down the coast.  

The original dark blue and eventually green designs were anywhere someone was reeling in a fish, gossiping over coffee at the local gas dock, and even at community potlucks where guests arrived by boat in wet and windy weather. For West Coasters from that era, it’s nearly impossible to see one without smelling the tell-tale mix of fish guts, strong coffee, and motor oil that so often permeated their mornings.   

The funny thing is, founder Irv Davies hadn’t set out to save lives; he just wanted a better winter coat. But during the design process, he discovered that the closed-cell foam in life jackets was incredibly insulating and helped preserve vital body heat in the open air and cold water.  

At the time, only bulky PFDs existed; they restricted movement and were so cumbersome most opted out of wearing them. Combining flotation, comfort, and protection from the elements negated the inconvenience of changing in and out of a life jacket and encouraged those on the water to keep it on.  

Nine years after its inception, in 1977, Dr. John Hayward, a physiologist at the University of Victoria, developed a new design for the coat. Referred to as the UVic Modifications Batch, research participants at the Bamfield Marine Station on Vancouver Island floated in the frigid water of the Pacific Ocean, waiting for hypothermia to set in. While the volunteers dreaded the miserable conditions, they participated because fishermen were losing their lives. The recent re-opening of the herring fishery in the adverse weather of the winter months had caught many unprepared. The testing proved the added flap of neoprene – the Beaver Tail – at the back of the jacket, when brought between the legs and secured to the front, delayed the onset of hypothermia. The new Thermofloat Coat won the Design Canada award that year, and the research collected went on to inform the creation of survival suits.  

Another redesign in 1985 added the M-Tech Comfort System (Must Move Technology), a pattern update that allows the wearer an unparalleled range of motion and mobility.  

The few updates the Floater Coat has had over the years have resulted from the availability of new science or technology. The most recent re-issue is the more stylish Catalyst model. The Coast Guard, fishing guides, and Mustang Survival ambassadors tested the combination of breathable exterior material, foam middle, and moisture-wicking interior in the field. This fourth incarnation became the only waterproof and breathable flotation garment on the market.  

The Floater Coat is now an international favourite for various water-based activities, but it will always be a mainstay of everyday life on the cold waters along the British Columbia coastline. Earlier iterations may still be seen in the thick fog of the morning bite or sunset in a small harbour town. For anyone wanting a little of that nostalgia – or just a great-looking and hard-to-lose cap – Mustang Survival has re-released their 1986 Floater Hat. ‘A smart way to top off any Mustang Survival working gear,’ the original ad suggests. This six-panel buoyant trucker hat is everything customers can expect from a 37-year-old design, but with modern materials and finishing. Whether the wind comes up unexpectedly or someone hits the throttle without warning, boaters won’t lose this brightly coloured hat to the ocean floor.  

Next article Mustang Survival - Their Heritage

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