“Ounces equal pounds and pounds equal pain.’
Tactical Operator Mantra
A Path Towards Innovation
The Mustang Survival story starts with the original Float Coat; a solution designed to make working on, near or by the water easier and safer. It instigated an innovative passion that has been instrumental in creating incremental advancements, tests, endless research and incredible projects at our Waterlife studio.
From countless jumps, drops and submersions in test pools with groups like NASA, to skimming the surface at mach speed with the most competitive Bass fishers on the circuit, each step, evolution and learning lent itself to our growth as product engineers, researchers and developers - and positioned us to be ready for this culmination of experience, materials and ingenuity that is the RATIS.
The RATIS Roots
We set out to be the most mission-relevant flotation solution for Special Operations Forces (SOF). Beyond facing the two key design challenges—making PFDs completely invisible and as lightweight as possible, and introducing an inflation cell with never-seen-before capability—we faced another challenge: pushing our limits past what front line defenders knew us for, and re-creating what was possible in the world of their safety, and ability to take on any marine-involved mission with one piece of flotation equipment.
The result? The RATIS; a Life Preserving Unit (LPU) for SOF operators that’s forgettable when worn, and safe and secure when inflated. Whether integrated with a ballistic vest or worn solo, its weight is distributed to the back and when inflated, rights wearers into a face-up position that keeps their airways open; surfacing users from some depths and floating SOF Operators in full maritime kit.
From the Front Lines
Knowing every ounce an SOF operator carries has an impact on their ability to move with ease and agility, six words told us we had hit the balance between powerful buoyancy and utter invisibility:
“I forgot I was wearing it.”
Law Enforcement Officer after marine special ops training session
How’s this for a buoyancy to weight ratio: 40:1.
The RATIS itself comes in at just 1 pound (453 grams), yet when deployed offers wearers 40 lbs of buoyancy; a number chosen to support SOF users in being able to confidently float and self-right even when fully loaded, and even if unconscious.
The ability to offer such a lightweight unit stems from the application of extensive innovation in film technology by the Mustang Survival engineers; developing an ultra-thin membrane for the PFD’s bladder. What makes it unique is it’s an unsupported urethane material - whereas conventional bladders are laminated to a nylon fabric structure adding to their noise, bulk and weight.
It’s incredibly thin and highly pliable - packing down to a barely-there size, giving wearers the highest level of confidence in the least amount of package. The technology is also more forgiving than conventional bladder materials; improving breakout performance and ability to handle overpressure.
The Future of Inflation
Becoming mission-relevant had another caveat: an inflation system that could be easily adjusted to multiple missions. Turning to Swedish company CM Hammar—a leader in the inflation known for innovating better solutions for safety at sea—we presented the idea of one inflator for multiple tactical scenarios.
“We went to Sweden to visit the Hammar team about [the inflator]. The engineer I got to work with on it is a real powerhouse and very good at what he does - which instills a lot of confidence in the inflator. And, it was amazing to see him excited in his own way about it, too.”
Kyle Harland, Project Manager + Lead Engineer on RATIS
The result? The Hammar COR Electronic Inflator; one inflator that uses an electronic control unit to enable 4 inflation modes that respond to various depths and/or immersion times. Gone are the days of SOF operators needing to change their inflator based on the mission.
Depending on the conditions they’ll be in, they can choose the mode that best suits the mission: manual mode, water submersion, helicopter assault force, and boat assault force.
Getting It Right
Higher standards required higher protocols; our testing processes weren’t exempt from that rule.
New bladder technology. New inflation technology. And the commitment to gearing up these operators with the most invisible protection and highest confidence possible. Making sure we could deliver on that promise meant hitting the pool - hard.
To make sure we could have as complete an understanding of the RATIS as possible, we took our testing protocols to new depths; installing underwater cameras in the Mustang Survival Test Pool at the Waterlife Lab in Burnaby, BC.
In the pool every day, we modified variables for every situation possible (like packing the bladder, the shape of the shell, where zippers landed, and more), filming multiple deployments so we could play them back, and isolate where we had areas of opportunity to improve on. Specifically, video playback was a game changer in developing the bladder; our development of it moved so much faster with the video to show us the way it moved and other subtle nuances of the film.
All along the way, our SOF operator was in our minds. We worked with a leading maritime-focused SOF unit and started with their needs, not limiting ourselves by apparent engineering limitations. We examined pragmatic trade-offs in performance, size, weight, and configuration to create a system that exceeded the user’s expectations in terms of overall performance and package.
Then, we supplemented our own testing with independent lab testing.
By the time we tested it with a law enforcement special operations unit at a local training event, we had incredible confidence in the versions we placed on them - and their feedback of forgetting they were wearing it was everything we needed to hear to know we were on track to creating something incredible.
From the inception of the idea, to facing each design challenge, and working our way to the final product that’s now a go-to LPU for SOF operators across North America, the RATIS is an example of leaning into innovation and pushing the limits of the Mustang Survival engineering team in pursuit of a solution that lets the bravest users push theirs; giving them one less thing to think about in their already complex and intricately challenging missions.
The results of innovations like this for users that set the bar for quality, safety, and specificity in their standards means raising the bar for products geared at users taking on any and every marine pursuit.
When we get the chance to solve a unique problem, and when the great minds behind our most innovative solutions get to go to work, great things happen.