ANNAPOLIS, Md. — Back in January, BoatUS Foundation put out a last call for innovative designs for life jackets (personal flotation devices). The premise was to design one that wasn’t bulky, uncomfortable and hot to wear. Can you build a better life jacket? they asked.
BoatUS and Underwriters Laboratory have announced the winners in this design contest, and their designs break new ground, BoatUS said in a March 28 press release.
Of the original 35 entries — some from as far away as Malaysia — 15 semi-finalists were selected. Short videos of the designs were posted online for the public to pick their favorites with the focus on choosing life jackets that were more innovative, wearable, affordable, reliable and practical. In addition, expert judges voted for their favorite designs at the recent International Boating and Water Safety Summit held in Savannah, Ga. The combined votes resulted in three winners.
First went to the See-Tee by Float-Tech Inc., a design from Jeff Betz of the Troy, N.Y.-based Float-Tech Inc. This isn’t Betz’s first life jacket innovation — his company started as the result of a graduate school project that designed the firm’s first non-traditional inflatable life jacket based on a foul weather coat.
The Sea-Tee is a standard rash-guard shirt that many water sports enthusiasts are used to wearing, but with a twist. It has a built-in inflatable bladder similar to most inflatable life jackets. Betz is careful not to call this a life jacket however, and simply refers to it as a buoyancy aid.
“The Sea-Tee is a thousand times better than traditional life jackets for many of the activities people engage in on the water,” Betz said. “Most life jackets are designed to standards that are meant for offshore conditions, but most boaters are on calm inland waters. Jackets built to 100 percent of the current standards — but not worn — are zero percent effective. So with the Sea-Tee you can wear essentially the same shirt you’re used to wearing on the water and have the back-up of a buoyancy aid in case of an emergency.”
The company received the $5,000 first place prize, awarded by Underwriters Laboratories (UL), for their efforts. “UL is honored to have been a part of the Innovation in Life Jacket Design Competition,” said UL’s Joseph Waters.
Second place went to the Directors Bureau, a Los Angeles based creative consulting company that works in the film industry. Their “Float Coat” is a windbreaker with added floatation. The Bureau, represented by Sebastian Pardo, said his firm had never delved into this type of project before. Pardo stated that their guiding strategy was to design something that “should always work, shouldn’t require action by the person wearing the jacket, and should be fashionable.”
While not a unique design, judges felt that the distinctive placement of the floatation, which included never-before-seen hollow “microspheres,” or small spherical particles, along with fashionable styling, made it stand out. The firm took home a $1,000 prize, provided by the National Safe Boating Council.
Third place went to the design team of high school seniors Josh Jankowski and Nathan Karabon of St. Thomas More High School in Milwaukee, Wis. Their design, which marries traditional foam floatation in a modern inflatable configuration, is a result of their school’s Pathway to Engineering curriculum that is part of the national “Project Lead the Way” program.
Jankowski and Karabon’s interest in designing a life jacket came from learning about the competition while doing research as part of their senior research project. As the youngest participants in the competition, the pair surveyed boaters and researched designs to come up with their prototype. Jankowski and Karabon took home a $500 prize awarded by the BoatUS Foundation.
The winners can be seen at BoatUS.com/foundation/winners. Plans for the next round of the design competition are already underway and will be announced in 2012.