Falling overboard is not something a lot of us want to imagine happening to us, but for some it’s a risk of their job. But, having a lifejacket attached to the hull of a moving boat can be as dangerous as not wearing one at all.

Opinion has long been divided in the nautical world over whether it is safe to stay attached to the boat’s safety line if you fall overboard, which risks slipping under the guard rails and getting trapped or hanging over the side while still tethered to the boat. A situation which can be hard to release yourself from.

The traditional option of using a knife for release is not easy in an emergency, and while quick release systems via the safety line have been explored by other manufacturers, these have proved unsuccessful or unreliable. The systems become overcomplicated, oversized and can compound the problem of quick release. An externally mounted quick release safety line also risks the chance of accidental release.

The challenge

This month’s challenge therefore is to come up with a safer, easy to operate quick release for lifejackets. It could be designed into the lifejacket itself, the safety line or even the hull of the boat. Whatever form your design takes it should be small, lightweight, easy to maintain and easy to operate even in the dark or with wet, tired hands.

The idea we have in mind will be revealed in the March issue of Eureka! Until then, why not post your design ideas in a comment on the Coffee Time Challenge section of the Eureka! website or by emailing the editor: paul.fanning@markallengroup.com

The solution

The solution to last month’s Coffee Time Challenge to come up with a better, safer and easy to use quick release system for the lifejackets of sailors comes from British marine design and manufacturer Spinlock.

The company developed the Harness Release System (HRS), which is attached to the lifejacket itself. The HRS is a discreet but easy to locate two-stage release handle which with a short pull opens the soft loop harness connection.

As well as the focus on user simplicity the HRS system is a surprisingly detailed piece of design engineering. It works by combining a rotating stainless-steel lock and release pin in a moulded locking system all within a small space envelope. This interacts with a lifejacket harness attachment loop made from Dyneema, which is 15 times stronger than steel, light enough to float on water and low in friction, that allows the HRS pin to release with an easy but positive action.

Few concepts get the chance to be put through a test bed of 3 million cumulative miles in the most gruelling ocean-going challenge in the world, but Spinlock was so convinced that integrating a HRS into a lifejacket would work, that it successfully presented the idea of including it in the design of the custom lifejackets for each of the 70 crew taking part in the elite Volvo Ocean Race, forming a focus group for discussion and quickly developing a brief for the Volvo Ocean Race Deckvest.

The lessons learned from this toughest of environments allowed Spinlock to create a production HRS for other lifejackets in its range and reduce its complexity, bulk and cost.