“Swim Safe with an Automatic Inflate-a-belt”

Tipperary Students Scoop Marine Institute Young Scientists Award

Three students from the Ursuline Convent, Thurles, Tipperary were announced winners of the Marine Institute Award at the BT Young Scientist & Technology Exhibition at the RDS Friday last.

The project, by Louise Crowe, Tara Rhatigan, and Michelle Egan, is an adaptation of a commercially available “Crew Saver Lifejacket.” The students’ design, however, only inflates when immersed in one metre or more of water. When asked about the inspiration for the project, Tara Rhatigan, said,

“I was on the beach during the summer and witnessed someone almost drowning, and taken away in an ambulance. It occurred to me that there was nothing that could protect you in the water if you were in trouble. There are foam life jackets, big ones, that are buoyant all the time, but you cannot swim in them. I’ve tried to swim in these kinds of jackets and they’re just not practical. So we wanted to come up with something that would protect you all the time and would only inflate when you needed to be saved. 

The young scientists innovative design eliminates accidental triggering of the lifejacket on shore during washing and allows swimmers and other watersport enthusiasts to wear the lifejacket uninflated. An automatic salt pellet trigger system inflates the jacket once it has been immersed more than one metre under the water. This is done by inserting two valves between the salt table and the intake that only allow water in under pressures of greater than one metre below the surface. 

Presenting the award, Dr. John Joyce of the Marine Institute complemented the team on their innovative, yet practical approach to a very real problem. “I can see this having a very real impact on the wearing of life jackets by recreational water users in future,” he said. “It is wonderful to think that one day, somewhere, a life may be saved because of this project.”

Roger Sweeney, Irish Water Safety, said, “We welcome this project for promoting water safety and the importance of wearing approved lifesaving equipment to prevent tragic drownings. Whatever flotation device one chooses, it is very important that the aquatic enthusiast learns swimming and lifesaving skills so that one has the survival skills necessary to get out of difficulties and compliment the function of a Personal Flotation Device.”