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Building a Better Life Jacket

$10,000 waits its live-saving inventor

Life jackets are old technology. When Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio donned theirs on the fictionalized deck of the Titanic, they were using a technology that was mature even in the early 20th century.
    There has never been a problem designing life jackets that would keep people afloat. The problem has always been getting people to use them. Often disaster strikes in zero time. If life jackets aren’t on when trouble strikes, it’s unlikely they ever will be. Chances of survival sink way faster than the Titanic.
    Boating safety advocates have long campaigned to make donning a life jacket as routine as buckling up when we get in a car. In spite of the proven safety benefits, many adults do not routinely wear a life jacket because it is bulky or uncomfortable. Inflatable jackets have improved wearability. They are more comfortable and less obtrusive — but also more expensive.
    Couldn’t there be a better life jacket?
    The Boat U.S. Foundation for Boating Safety thinks so and is ready to invest $15,000 to prove it, sponsoring a competition for new life jacket designs, with a $10,000 top prize. Entries, due by April 15, will be judged on four criteria: wearablity, reliability, cost and innovation.
    The time is right for innovation. The Coast Guard recently announced it is changing its regulations defining life jacket types. This change will open the door to new ideas and new designs. In the next few years we will see new designs and designations replacing the old familiar Types I to V.
    “We know this is a whole new era of innovation and it is exciting to be part of it,” says Chuck Hawley, one of five contest judges, an ocean sailor with 40,000 miles of experience.
    Can you be the innovator who takes home $10,000, along with the satisfaction of saving lives?