INTRODUCTION: The shortfall between breath-hold time on cold-water immersion and the time required to make an underwater escape from a helicopter provides the rationale for emergency underwater breathing systems (EUBS) for passengers flying over cold water. This study compared three types of EUBS: a compressed gas system (CG); a rebreather system (RB); and a hybrid system (H). METHODS: Each EUBS was examined during water deployment (W(dep)) and over 90 s in cool (25 degrees C) and cold water (12 degrees C) immersion to the neck (Imm) and submersion (Subm). Subjects wore standardized clothing, including dry suit. Measures included: W(dep) time, stay time (Imm and Subm), dyspnea rating, O2 and CO2 remaining in rebreather bags [H and RB (partial pressure mmHg)], and gas volume used (CG). RESULTS: Mean data show W(dep) was slowest in the H (17.7 s) compared to the RB (10.0 s) and CG (8.1 s). Stay time was greatest in the H (90.0 s) compared to the RB (68.3 s) and CG (87.0 s); stay time in CG was also greater than RB. Dyspnea ratings were greater in RB trials (6.5 cm) compared to the CG (2.4 cm) and H (1.9 cm). Across devices, stay time in cold water was shorter during submersion than immersion (85.9 s vs. 70.1 s). During submersion stay time was shorter in cold compared to cool water (12 degrees C: 62.8 s; 25 degrees C: 77.5 s). DISCUSSION: The data suggest that the CG and H devices outperformed the RB device, but the H device required longer to deploy.