New products aim to improve upon life rings

By Dom Yanchunas

For Capt. Rory Sheridan and deck hand Paul Monti, it was supposed to be a routine pilot transfer from a bulk freighter in San Francisco Bay.

Instead, the two crewmembers of the pilot vessel Golden Gate found themselves in the midst of a frantic water rescue of two men near the anchored ship.

A surveyor was transferring from the launch Ailine Elizabeth to the bulk freighter MV Feride when he fell overboard. The man was wearing a flotation device but was encumbered by his equipment. A deck hand tried to pass the surveyor a rescue line but also fell into the water. Other members of Feride’s crew hurled ring buoys toward the two men but a 1-knot current kept carrying the two men away beyond reach of the rings.

Golden Gate had been maneuvering into position to take the pilot off the freighter. Sheridan, the boat operator, noticed the trouble and moved his vessel alongside the men in the water.

Sheridan and Monti used a new water-rescue device, the Life Safer Personal Retriever, to get a line to the two men quickly. Where ring buoys had failed, the Frisbee-like Personal Retriever and its 100 feet of line ensured that both were rescued.

The Personal Retriever only a few months earlier had received Coast Guard approval for uninspected commercial vessels and inspected vessels not carrying passengers for hire.

In a similar development later this year, Mustang Survival Corp. will introduce its Rescue Stick, a compact item that can be thrown over 100 feet and inflates into a personal floatation device upon hitting the water.

Along with other recent improvements  Jason’s cradle, EPIRBS, beacons, whistles and hydrostatic inflatable personal floatation devices the new items provide mariners with many choices that will improve their chances of successful rescue.

Capt. Richard Block, director of the Gulf Coast Mariners Association (GCMA), said it’s time to embrace life-saving products that come from an era more recent than the Titanic. Block notes that the ring buoy technology dates from the 19th century and often doesn’t get the job done if the vessel can’t be steered close enough to the victim.

People are starting to realize how useless the ring buoy is, Block said. The heaving lines and the floating seat cushions and the ring buoys are nowhere near as good as the Personal Retriever.

It was developed in response to mariners’ pleas for something better than the ring buoy, said Life-Safer Inc. President Paul Driscoll, a former Coast Guard master chief boatswain.

Ring buoys carry 40 feet of line, but the 16-pound ring is so heavy that many people can hurl it only 20 feet.

The tools of rescue response and recovery seemed to be frozen in time, Driscoll said. This could be to drowning what the automated external defibrillator is to heart attacks, but we’ve got to get them out to people in large numbers.

The Personal Retriever’s 17-inch disc, made of expanded polyethylene soft foam, provides 11.24 pounds of buoyancy.

To overcome wind, the Personal Retriever is thrown hard like a Frisbee with a flat trajectory. The Personal Retriever generally requires about 15 minutes of training for a person to throw it far and accurately. Most people can reach 60 to 100 feet, said Driscoll, whose company is based in San Diego.

The Personal Retriever is ideal for inland and offshore coastal tugboats and pilot boats, Driscoll said. An optional leash extension kit adds another 100 feet of line for use on high-freeboard vessels. Driscoll said he hopes that the device will be approved for use on ferries and other vessels.

I’m looking at any vessel that gets into hazardous waters, Driscoll said.  It could be a real tool for small boats, police boats, fire boats and the Coast Guard.

Mustang Survival’s Rescue Stick is scheduled to go on the market this fall, said Graham Ross, a product manager at the company based in Richmond, British Columbia. Mustang plans to seek Coast Guard approval for the device, which the company calls the most compact water rescue tool available.

Resembling a small baton, the 15.5-ounce Rescue Stick automatically inflates into a horseshoe-shaped floatation device when it is thrown into the water. With 24 pounds of buoyancy, it is designed to keep a person’s head above water until rescuers arrive. The Rescue Stick can be thrown 110 to 150 feet. Ross said it can be used effectively from a large vessel.

You can quickly get floatation to someone at a distance, Ross said.  We’re just launching it for recreational, commercial and first-responders. We’re going to be taking it into the larger marine market.

By Professional Mariner Staff