Most marine safety gear is a product of slow evolutionary change, but occasionally a product comes along that represents a step change. TeamO’s reverse tow harness/lifejacket is one of those – it’s fundamentally different to existing products in a manner that stands to significantly increase survival rates. The problem with conventional front-pull safety harnesses is that a wearer who falls overboard while tethered to the boat is pulled face downwards and is therefore unable to breathe at anything faster than a minimal speed.
If the boat can’t be brought to a stop instantly – within little more than 30 seconds – there is significant risk of the casualty drowning. Oscar Mead, a 22-year-old transaltantic sailor and engineer, developed and patented this new lifejacket systemto solve exactly this problem.
The harness line is attached to the front of the lifejacket in normal use, but if the wearer falls overboard it’s designed to transfer the pull to their back. The effect of this is that the casualty is towed along on their back, with their face lifted upwards and clear of the water. Another significant innovation factor is that lifting ability is built into the lifejacket – you simply clip a halyard to the strop, which is sufficiently strong to lift a person on board.
The importance of this is illustrated by two recent incidents - in the first a crew member fell overboard in the early hours of the morning while on passage from Ireland towards Lands End. Although she was wearing a combined lifejacket and harness that was clipped to the boat, she immediately discovered she was being pulled face down through the water and couldn't breathe.
Her only solution was to wriggle out of the lifejacket, taking the risk that she would not be easily found. A frantic two-hour search followed, before she was located by another yacht. The outcome of the second incident was not as fortunate – the skipper of a 38ft yacht fell overboard at night on an offshore race in the English Channel and, although he was tethered to his boat, he was already dead when recovered back on board.
However, with the reverse tow harness it seems very likely that both these people could have stayed connected to their boats, while being pulled along face up and therefore able to breathe, until the boat could be stopped. They could then have been hoisting on board just by attaching a halyard to the lifejacket's strop.
In the quest to produce a perfect product, the bladder was shaped to make it more comfortable to wear and a neoprene seal protects the wearer’s neck from chafe. An EPRIB pocket, light, whistle and sprayhood are all included, so you don't have to buy any extras.
First production models will be available in December, and pre-orders are already being taken at a price of £220. Find out more at TeamO Marine.