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Collaboration and evolution: Lifejacket features improve, safety message is reinforced

by Mark Jardine, YachtsandYachting.com 27 Nov 2018 12:00 GMT
Tom Harrop (Exposure Lights / OLAS), Alan Roberts & Nigel Parkes (Crewsaver) © Mark Jardine

At the METS 2018 marine trade fair we spoke to Nigel Parkes from Crewsaver, Tom Harrop from Exposure Lights / OLAS and Alan Roberts, their mutual sponsored dinghy and offshore sailor.

Mark Jardine: Nigel, we've just seen Crewsaver's new ErgoFit+ lifejacket which features a load of new innovations. You have to pack more and more in every time, yet the product has to look the same sort of size! How do you do that?

Nigel Parkes: That's a good question! A lot of our inspiration comes from developments from our commercial partnerships. We've been working very closely with our aviation customers and Les Sauveteurs en Mer (SNSM), a leading French search and rescue organisation on a few bespoke lifejackets and a lot of the ideas from this have been put into our new leisure lifejacket, the ErgoFit+. Firstly, the hood has been improved dramatically, and that is a result of our work with these organisations. The halo hood system has been tailored to the shape of the inflated lifejacket bladder to create a protective barrier between the wearer's airway and the surrounding water to reduce water inhalation. Plus, it features two structural halos which keeps the hood at a more comfortable distance from the wearer's face.

It has also been adapted to work better with other items such as any personal location devices the wearer may have added inside the lifejacket, such as the McMurdo S20 AIS. Looking at the outside of the lifejacket you can see that the Exposure OLAS tag can be integrated with ease and that we've added a quick lock buckle that makes it easier and faster to don. We really do believe that the best just got better and finding ways to accommodate these features without compromising on day-to-day comfort is always a top consideration. After all, a lifejacket is only going to work if it is actually worn - so when designing lifejackets we focus on comfort, style and performance.

Mark: So this really is an evolution of a product. One of the innovations you mentioned was with personal location devices (PLDs); you're now working with Exposure Lights and Exposure OLAS. How does that work when you have innovative brands working together with you, integrating products together in the Crewsaver offerings?

Nigel: We strive to work with leading specialists to provide our end users the very best. Working with Exposure during the design of the ErgoFit+ to accommodate their OLAS Tag into the lifejacket has been an incredible experience. The result is a lifejacket that really takes man overboard protection to the next level. You've seen the excitement here today at the launch, about technology that is coming through. That is fantastic, and we want our products to work to their best with that technology.

Mark: Tom, I saw the Exposure OLAS product earlier. If you have that on you, and someone else is on the boat, as soon as the Exposure OLAS is out of range of a phone, an alarm goes off. How has the take-up been on this product, and what is it like to work with a brand such as Crewsaver?

Tom Harrop: We are really enjoying the opportunity to work with Crewsaver and to see they have taken up this technology; placing the tag in the optimum position for it to work on the vast majority of boats up to 40ft. We are constantly innovating cost-effective safety products in the Exposure OLAS range, like the lighting system which you've also seen. That is going to help us grow the Exposure OLAS brand, alongside Crewsaver, taking it to larger vessels as we develop the technology. Bluetooth and phone technology is growing year on year, and is accessible to everyone. So, to partner with Crewsaver not only from a product collaboration angle but also as an Exposure Lights and Exposure OLAS distributor; we couldn't ask for a better company.

Mark: The pace of technology change, both on the LED side - where Exposure has its roots - and on the phone side, seems relentless!

Tom: It really is. We're also based in the cycle industry, and each year we're adding 100 or 200 lumens due to continued technological advances in both LEDs, power management and efficiency. The same is true for Bluetooth safety technology. As Bluetooth connectivity gets stronger and more common place it is a natural progression to integrate the technology into safety products such as the Crewsaver Ergofit+ lifejacket.

Mark: It must be a huge advantage to have your engineering in-house, so you can turnaround new products faster and look at new technologies. You don't have to go offshore and ask for a production run.

Tom: It is a huge advantage. With our 3D printers we can react very quickly to market demand, and are able to spark up development relationships with brands such as Crewsaver.

Mark: Alan, you sail both inshore and offshore, and you rightly brought up the question of servicing. These lifejackets are full of incredible technology, but they are useless unless (1) you've got the thing on, and (2) you look after it and get it serviced! How did that message reach you for the first time, and how do you think we can reinforce that to the end users?

Alan Roberts: That is the key, I guess: reinforcing it to the sailors out there. Nowadays, in every industry, we want to see the idea of "having less and giving more"; the integration of the Exposure OLAS system in the lifejacket is part of that – comfortable lifejackets with more technology, so it does more for you, and the human has to do less. If you fall overboard, the system noticed the disconnection, rather than requiring the human to initiate the AIS system! So straight away the alarms go off, and the lifejacket inflates automatically. So, whether you're racing or cruising with your family, and one of the kids or a dog has gone overboard, at least you know straight away rather than someone having to activate it; they could be unconscious.

On the servicing side, it is all about getting the message out there. In the past I've been on a yacht, got given a lifejacket, and you don't really think too much about it. You feel it is a bit of a pain. But it is there to save your life. You don't drive your car without getting it serviced, or knowing that your tyres are OK - not about to explode - you need to know the kit is fit for purpose. The message that Crewsaver are trying to get across is imperative. Make sure your lifejacket is professionally serviced at an approved service centre every year. Plus, familiarising yourself with your safety equipment such as your lifejacket is essential – this is something that is designed to save your life and you have the power to ensure it is ready for action. Crewsaver have recently launched a series of bite sized HOW-TO videos on their website which shows you how to rearm, repack and care for your lifejackets.

Mark: With the modern ergonomics of lifejackets, do you think there is any excuse not to wear one now?

Alan: If I'm the skipper on a crewed boat I'd want a rule that everybody wears a lifejacket. There's no excuse not to have it. They are so small now, and so much less of a pain than they were 10 or 15 years ago. They really do work. On a crewed boat, a man overboard's chances of life are significantly increased by having this technology on you. You don't know when you're going to go over and it is certainly never something you plan on doing! However, the chance of knocking your head and passing out is just too much. Knowing how your own kit works and what is included before you must use it in anger, is very important. Rigorously enforcing the #LifejacketSafe rule is imperative.

Mark: Nigel, Tom Alan, it is great to see this innovation and collaboration between brands, and sailors constantly enforcing the message that there is no excuse not to wear a lifejacket. Many thanks for your time all of you.

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