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The current Volvo race crews benefit from a new lifejacket harness created for the event... but now ready for you!

In June 2016 Spinlock kicked off with a development map for the design and production of a new lifejacket harness for the Volvo Ocean Race crews. The company has been supplying personal safety equipment used by the Volvo teams since 2005, but for 2017-18 race organisers approached Spinlock and asked them to develop the next-generation lifejacket for their sailors.

Here was an opportunity to develop a lifejacket harness for this specific race involving a specific type of sailing, rather than teams using an off-the-shelf product. The brief was to develop the latest and best in personal on-deck safety for the sailors.

The gulf between what is needed to stay safe on today’s much faster round the world raceboats and what is considered acceptable for a 250nm offshore is quickly demonstrated (below) by opening up Spinlock’s Volvo Race lifejacket harness to display its full armoury of carefully developed tricks to keep you safe onboard and alive should you enter the water. That said, making the most of today’s best materials and design and fabrication techniques, once packed away (main picture) it is as friendly to wear as a good dinghy buoyancy aid

With delivery required for May 2017, and a lengthy ISO approval to consider, the project was always going to be challenging. However, Spinlock’s work with the Land Rover BAR team during the previous 24 months, developing a bespoke lifejacket for their America’s Cup campaign, meant they were well set up and running. Plus the Volvo Race was keen to assist and assembled a group of specialists led by Brunel crew Abby Ehler to help steer the design team in quickly grasping what crews wanted from a new system.

‘Up til now the lifejackets we have used have generally been designed for the recreational sailor, suitable enough but limiting in design factors; it was exciting to see Spinlock’s enthusiasm to research a product more closely meeting the needs of the most competitive offshore sailors,’ says Ehler.

Developing custom equipment should allow crews to enhance their performance with marginal gains, rather than hindering performance to comply with safety rules. With the boats becoming faster, and with reduced crew, equipment needs to allow teams to perform better and provide a higher level of safety than that of standard products. Custom equipment considers the whole team not just the individual.

There was a wide range of input for what became the Deckvest 5D Offshore mode; the group also had a desire for Spinlock to develop a lifejacket harness that the crews would actually want to wear. With many new sailors, especially under- 30s in the teams, this was a chance for Spinlock to help shift attitudes towards personal on-deck protection, reduce the risk of MOB and increase the user’s survival chances if they do enter the water.

Samples tested at sea and in a pool helped develop the final structure of the new lifejacket, before the detailed work started on how the crews would be wearing it. The latest ISO standard for lifejackets has encouraged better design, but it is limiting on allowing suppliers to develop new solutions to design, such as closures, attachments and materials. Many great buckles, loops, fasteners, attachments and fabrics exist in the outdoor, motor - cycle and ski industries, but they cannot be quickly adopted into lifejacket usage. Spinlock’s knowledge of these constraints enabled them to present the best choices to the Volvo steering group from which a solution would be chosen.

Design emphasis was placed on:

  • Designing it to ‘disappear’ when worn, ie a comfortable, ergonomic fit that is not noticed in normal use
  • Including positive touch points, making it easy to put on, secure, quick, easy and intuitive to use
  • Easier of use which increases the likelihood of it being worn
  • Aiding identification. On deck in full offshore gear with face masks, large hoods and collars and similar footwear, crews had previously found it hard to identify fellow crew members. Fluorescent numbering on each lifejacket is standard
  • Visibility in the water. Spinlock already had the solution with the award-winning Lume-On and Pylon lights giving crews maximum visibility for their rescuers. The Pylon light sits high above the head and the flashing Lume-On LED lights illuminate the whole lifejacket bladder, creating a large area of glowing identifiable shape.
  • Ensuring all internal components were reviewed for performance in the water, location and rescue.

Product features of the Spinlock Volvo Race lifejacket harness:

  • ISO12402 approved
  • 170N buoyancy
  • Enhanced weight distribution of the lifejacket body, positioned for ultimate fit and comfort
  • Performance fit and ergonomics, making it more comfortable and ‘friendly’ to wear for long periods
  • Lightweight design with careful attention to weight distribution
  • Course and fine-tune chest adjustment for a one-handed, perfect body fit every time
  • Quick-release manual harness attachment point. This allows the user to release the connection in an emergency
  • Fitted with a 2m fixed safety line with a custom, wide aperture lightweight clip
  • Mono double-width crotch strap, with easy-find, off-centre buckle
  • Hammar firing activation
  • Structural sprayhood with autodeployment from cover to head
  • Bladder design enhanced to aid in-water support and performance
  • Lifting strop – easy to find and identify
  • Reflective printed crew numbers
  • Designed to fully integrate an Ocean Signal MOB1 AIS device.

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