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NIFE Water Survival


Active Member
Glad this is helping folks! I too cannot wait for SERE (I heard there's S'mores and camp songs). Anyway, here is a write-up of Phase IV (Class 1 and 4 qual). You will do this after completing the flying portion (Phase III). You cannot get a pink sheet here and from what I hear, the instructors make remedials as enjoyable as possible. Very few people end up going to remedials in the first place and those that do spend maybe a week there.

Starts in the classroom where the instructors do intros and you sit through a bunch of lectures on stuff like survival equipment, how to get hoisted in a helicopter, helicopter egress, survival priorities, etc. That'll take up the morning. You break for lunch, and then it's time for the pool.

Everyone starts off with doing a 50 yd swim in full gear followed by a 90 second tread and a 90 second prone float. The full gear is (helmet, flight suit, boots, gloves, harness/vest, LPU (inflatable life preserver), and a g-suit. After the 90 second prone float, you are then required to keep treading/floating and simultaneously inflate your LPU manually. Not hard, just a bit awkward. The key here is to not freak out. You can prone float for hours, necessary. People get themselves into trouble because they start flailing around when their gear doesn't work smoothly. Pro tip from my personal experience: do not tread/float by the pool lights. The LPU bladders are yellow, but the yellow light makes it hard to distinguish from the water. Once you inflate all four bladders, you get out of the pool. The instructors are very helpful and I got coaching along the way in the pool. Again, there is no time limit to the swim nor the inflation. You are surviving as long as you are making progress.

You are then broken into two groups. No significance outside determining event order. You accomplish the following in the first part: parachute landing in the water (read slow zip-line), getting out from under a parachute canopy in the water, boarding and using an individual life raft (ejection seat), boarding, sitting in, and exiting a Class 4 raft (multiple person rafts... like what airliners/ships use), and the helicopter hoist (kinda cool to get the experience, but we just got taken out of the water and put back down, no full hoist or actual helo ops like back in the day). Your class comes back together and then gets divided up again. You then move to Underwater Problem Solving.

Underwater Problem Solving is helo dunker prep. Crawl, walk, run is the name of the game. The crawl phase is shallow water hatch problems. You submerge, grab the rail, pull yourself to the hatch, undo all the latches/handles, push the hatch out, and swim through. You do a day swim (no goggles) and a night swim (blacked out... really just slightly darkened goggles). Big emphasis is grabbing a reference point and not letting go/not letting go until you have new one grabbed. Then you go to the Shallow Water Egress Trainer (SWET). That is the chair that gets flipped upside down. This is the Walk phase and it's more or less the same (a day ride and a night ride). Pass those and it's off to the Run phase (helo dunker actual).

I know a lot of people fear(ed) the helo dunker, including yours truly. Trust me, if you can pass the SWET, you will pass the dunker. Besides flying, the helo dunker was my favorite part of NIFE. Yeah, the water up the nose sucks, but it felt like a carnival ride! Just grab a reference point, know which exit is yours, and you will be fine. You get three rides: one where you have to swim/crawl to an exit, one in the cockpit, and one next to an exit. In my experience, those go in order of difficulty from hardest to easiest. The first two rides are day rides and the last one is a night ride. The order is random, so no way to game the system. After that, you stow your gear and you go home with a burning nose and a very high sense of pride/relief that you passed the helo dunker. I also got a kick that I got good training, but it felt like going to the water park as a job. Happy swimming!


New Member
From someone who was never super comfortable in the water, the Helo dunker was fun. If you spend your days in early A-pool fearing the water/swimming portions, go to the pool on base and get used to swimming a few laps/tread/swimming underwater. Even if you don’t do that, you’ll be fine. Enjoy your down time and don’t sweat the little stuff like swimming. Worst that happens is that you have to try it over again and you get an extra week in Pensacola to have fun.