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Tuesday 2 September 2014

High-tech lifejackets can now call the coastguard to help

An innovative Co Donegal firm has created an all-new hi-tech lifejacket that will help save lives at sea

Tom Prendeville

Published 06/04/2014 | 02:30

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STARS OF THE SEA: The Mullion lifejacket sits like a collar and most importantly it doesn’t restrict movement

WHEN a seafarer in trouble dons a safety jacket to abandon ship and is forced to scramble overboard to save his life, the biggest enemy ahead of him is not necessarily drowning – but rather hypothermia.

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A fisherman could be thrashing about the cold raging water for an age, and if a rescue is not forthcoming fairly quickly the outlook could be rather grim. Modern vessels have portable GPS satellite beacons on board that a seafarer can grab hold of. In reality though, in a panic situation most seamen have just about enough time and presence of mind to locate and don a lifejacket.

However, an innovative county Donegal firm, Mullion Survival Technology, has come up with an ingenious and profitable solution: the Mullion Jacket, which has a built-in Global Positioning System beacon and lighting system that is activated once the sailor hits the water.

The lifejacket also self-inflates and within seconds the nearest coast guard rescue are alerted to their exact location within several feet.

Appropriately enough the company motto is: "The sea shall not have them."

The lifejacket has won an endorsement from the Department of the Marine, who now mandate that every vessel under 50 feet must carry the equipment.

The company has also secured a contract to supply the UK Maritime and Coastguard Agency with all their inflatable lifejackets for the next three years.

Adrian Towey of Mullion Survival Technology explains the innovative features on their unusually named Mullion Compact 150N CE lifejacket, which is manufactured, appropriately enough, in Gweedore, the heart of Ireland's traditional clothing and weaving industry.

"We are in Donegal over 30 years and we have been designing and manufacturing lifejackets the past 10 years. We principally supply the high end of the marine market, and design work on the Mullion Compact 150N CE project began four years ago."

"The lifejacket comes with a transponder which communicates with a satellite that pinpoints the wearer's exact location. It also has a water-activated light with a very long battery life that flashes a high intensity beam. Each jacket and individual user must register with Comreg. So if, for example, someone fell overboard they would be able to identify that say Tony Brown was in trouble.

"The jacket has already saved one Northern Ireland fisherman's life when he hit the water in Carlingford Lough – a week after he bought his jacket. He is getting married next month. Sam Cully didn't even realise he was wearing a Mullion, it was that comfortable. Our jacket is like a collar, it is easier to wear and less likely to come off," added Adrian Towey.

Most conventional lifejackets have a strap that fits between the legs to secure the safety aid. However, sailors frequently don't secure the strap because it is seen as uncomfortable. As a consequence, if they end up in the water the jackets can float free over their heads.

Mullion Survival Technology currently employs 40 staff and has become one of the world's leading designers and manufacturers of lifejackets. The firm also do niche products such as body armour.

The firm recently won a contract to supply 8,500 life jackets to the British fishing industry and now also supplies the Irish marine rescue service.

The satellite tracking jackets cost €425 each. However, a marine safety initiative, run by Bord Iascaigh Mhara, is offering a special deal for skippers who can complete the training and purchase the new grant-aided equipment. On completion of the Bord Iascaigh Mhara new one-day Enhanced Safety Training Scheme, skippers can buy a Mullion personal flotation device fitted with a personal locator beacon for just €150. A lifesaver.

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