Innovations including satellite technology and advanced alerting devices are bringing lifejackets into the 21st century. But wearability remains key.
NauticExpo e-mag spoke with three manufacturers, who all agreed that designing lifejackets that people want to wear, especially for long periods, should be the major focus.
“Wearability is the big requirement,” commented UK-based Spinlock’s marketing manager, James Hall. “People now have to wear and carry so much equipment—gloves, helmets, harnesses, etc.—that the lifejacket needs to integrate with it, especially with regard to weight and fit.”
That focus won Spinlock’s Deckvest lifejacket the 2017 Queen’s Award for Enterprise: Innovation. “With no significant technical or aesthetic change in lifejackets for over thirty years, we decided to develop the Deckvest,” Hall explained. “It’s attractive, comfortable and a step-change in lifejacket design.”
A European Space Agency project
“Lifejackets also need to make the most of the latest material technology to encourage integration of beacons, lights and communication equipment,” Hall continued. “A lifejacket will buy you time in the water, but being located and rescued quickly is more important.”
To that end, Spinlock was part of the two-year European Space Agency (ESA) project aimed at improving personal locator beacon (PLB) signals transmitted to the geostationary satellite network.
“We worked with ESA to develop the concept of an antenna being incorporated into equipment,” Hall explained to NauticExpo e-mag, “and to further improve the uptake of electronics for man overboard [MOB] rescue.
“The concept has been proved and we are now looking to start the next phase of development. It will include partnership with ESA and, potentially, an electronics manufacturer, although this is still in discussion.” But there are also challenges.
Big and Bulky
“SOLAS regulations very much relate to ship abandonment. They do not really look at equipment to be worn and used at work for long periods,” Hall stated. “Should crew have to wear SOLAS gear all the time? It’s big and bulky, with its twin chambers and cylinders. Or could they wear an ISO12402 lifejacket for much of their work?
“Lifejackets are becoming smaller and more comfortable.”
“The ISO standard produces a very good lifejacket, though it’s very prescriptive. It does not allow for much adoption of new materials, and this holds back development.”
Looking to the future, Hall concluded, “Automatic identification systems [AIS] and PLBs are fantastic, compact and lightweight. At present you need two devices. A combination of both AIS and PLB would be a big step forward.”
Paul Haswell, marketing manager of Marine Rescue Technologies (MRT), agreed that wearability is vital. “Lifejackets are becoming smaller and more comfortable,” he told NauticExpo e-mag. “They are becoming user-focused rather than purely functional—to add more mobility for fishermen, for example.”
Haswell sees alerting devices as “a major area of innovation. Integrating such devices is essential.” “Our sMRT range of SOLAS lifejackets have been specifically designed to be integrated with the sMRT PLB range, as has the sMRT Compact, a 150N ISO12402-approved inflatable lifejacket.”
Integrating Alerting Devices
Alistair Hackett is the general manager of Ocean Safety, which recently garnered a third contract for a custom version of its Kru lifejacket for the Clipper 2017-18 Round the World Yacht Race. “A requirement for greater comfort when worn for long periods has led to far superior ergonomic lifejacket designs. Integration of alerting devices is also important,” he explained.
“For the Clipper race we designed a feature-packed lifejacket that will be worn by every crew member. It has a custom sprayhood, a heavy-duty cover, extended lifting beckets and a custom crotch strap system. It also features a fitting point for the Ocean Signal rescueMe MOB1, which helps recover a crew member using AIS.”
Integration of alerting devices is also important.
Hackett also cited the advent of ISO12402 and its integration with ISO12401 as major drivers of lifejacket design. “A greater emphasis has to be placed on the durability of fabrics and all other components to help increase lifejacket longevity.”
As for future challenges, Hackett sees “the transition of taking the advances in leisure lifejacket design to the commercial arena under SOLAS. “If employees are expected to wear lifejackets for long periods, then they should be comfortable,” he concluded. “The challenge will be designing a lifejacket in such a way that it is cost-effective for the commercial sector, in a market which is driven by price.”
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