Here, in a building at a nondescript suburban office park just a mile from the harbor made famous as “America’s sailing capital,” is a look into the future of life jackets for American boaters. It’s the headquarters of the nonprofit BoatUS Foundation for Boating Safety and Clean Water, and on the line is a first place prize of $10,000 for the best new design submitted for the 2015 Innovations in Life Jacket Design Competition. However, for now, there are just a trickle of entries as boaters, arm chair inventors, design, engineering or high school students have until the April 15 deadline to submit their design to www.BoatUS.org/design.
Five competition judges are eagerly waiting to review the entries coming in for the design contest, which hopes to seek out the newest technologies and design ideas for the next generation of these life saving devices. Teamed up with the Foundation are the Personal Floatation Device Manufacturers Association as well as the National Marine Manufacturers Association, all looking to find the best new life jacket ideas based on four criteria: wearability, reliability, cost and innovation.
Not too distant on any of the five judge’s minds was the big news on October 22, 2014 -- the US Coast Guard had eliminated the old Type I-V code labeling system which clears the path of out-of-box design ideas and is the first step in a multi-year process to get new designs to market (for more on this, go to BoatUS.com/typecodepr).
Design competition Judge Lili Colby, Co-Owner of MTI Adventurewear, a paddlesport life jacket manufacturer, said, “Manufacturers will continue to use Type I-V coding until newer labels are designed, approved, and new standards are adopted, so it’s likely a couple of years before consumers will start to see a difference on store shelves. But this is where it all starts.” Colby is an advocate of programs that increase paddling participation among young people, and understands how life jacket design can appeal – or alienate -- the younger demographic. Colby’s out-of-the-box awareness generating campaigns have included offering promotional condoms imprinted with the “Wear it” life jacket messaging. “It’s all about targeting your message – or product – with an appeal to a specific audience,” added Colby, whose manufacturing and marketing expertise is being heavily tapped as a judge.
Also from the paddling industry is competition Judge Chris Stec, whose day job is COO of the American Canoe Association, which focuses on education, stewardship, recreation and competition. An Eagle Scout who was one of the authors of the revised Boy Scouts of America (BSA) Canoeing and Whitewater Merit Badge pamphlets, Stec also led the development of BSA’s Stand Up Paddleboarding Award. Stec clearly understands what works for youngsters.
Judge Chuck Hawley, a marine industry consultant, speaker on boating safety, and former “West Marine Advisor” with 40,000 miles of open ocean sailing experience on both coasts is keenly on the lookout for better jacket ideas for offshore sailors. Hawley has sailed everything from 24-foot ultralights to the 125-foot catamaran Playstation and his expertise in the product development pipeline and the retail environment is helping the group make their decisions.
Joe Fogarty, VP at Image Base, a business communications company in Chicago, is also a judge. Joe’s insight on the boating consumer is adding an important voice to the judging mix. Fogarty has been knee-deep in the NMMA Discover Boating program for many years, producing videos that have contributed to driving over one million visitors to boatbuilder websites in 2013.
The fifth competition judge is Frank Solazzo, a Team Leader with Leland Limited which supplies life jacket manufacturers with the small, high pressure gas filled cylinders used for inflatable life jackets – arguably the most comfortable jackets on the market today. With his hectic schedule of trade shows and sales visits, Frank adds an important supplier voice, helping the group imagine what’s possible.
What these five judges decide may have a long-term impact on increasing voluntary wearing of life jackets and saving lives. “We know this is a whole new era of innovation and it is exciting to be a part of it,” added Hawley. A short video about the competition is available at: http://youtu.be/wSfdANt_lGU.
Winners will be announced in September at the International Boat Builders Exhibition and Conference (IBEX) in Louisville, KY.
The BoatUS Foundation for Boating Safety and Clean Water is a national leader promoting safe, clean and responsible boating. Funded primarily by donations from the over half-million members of Boat Owners Association of The United States (BoatUS), the non-profit provides innovative educational outreach directly to boaters and anglers with the aim of reducing accidents and fatalities, increasing stewardship of America's waterways and keeping boating safe for all. A range of boating safety courses – including 33 free state courses – can be found at BoatUS.org/courses.