When hot air balloon captain Jack O’Neill took up skindiving in the early 1950s, he soon found himself less than satisfied with the options for wetsuits and drysuits. One day, on a balloon flight over Monterey Bay, he wondered about his chances of survival if he went down over the water.

O’Neill set to work designing what would become the Supersuit. The new survival suit design was created to be donned quickly in an emergency. It is inflatable by the wearer with a small mouth valve at the neck, and it borrows from the best of wet and dry suits. The material is a nitrogen-impregnanted unicellular foam neoprene. The key to making it easy to get in is the same gas-tight zipper used by NASA’s Apollo astronauts.

O’Neill has had a U.S. Navy contract and manufacturing plant, but at press time was negotiating with NASA to supply the Apollo space recovery teams with Supersuits.

Supersuits priced out at $125-185 in 1971. Calculating for inflation, those suits would come to about $830-1,225 today.

NF October 1971: The Supersuit, designed by Jack O’Neill. L. Lindquist photo

Jessica Hathaway is the editor in chief of National Fisherman. She has been covering the fishing industry for 16 years, serves on the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute's Communications Committee and is a National Fisheries Conservation Center board member.

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