Researchers develop life-saving workwear for fishermen

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Norwegian scientists and industrial companies are leading an eight-member European group in the development of fishermen’s workwear with inbuilt life-saving electronics.

The scientists plan to incorporate a wireless ‘dead man’s handle’ that will stop a small one-man fishing vessel if its only crew member falls overboard. The same device will also include an alarm that will transmit the boat’s position.

The project, dubbed Safe@Sea, started last year and will run until the end of 2012. It is being coordinated by Norway’s SINTEF research group and project managed by textile manufacturer Helly Hansen Pro.

‘We will map the needs and wishes expressed by European fishermen regarding the workwear, and physiological and ergonomic tests in the laboratory and the field will help to ensure that the clothing will have the functionality and comfort that will meet these demands,’ said SINTEF physiologist Hilde Færevik, who is leading a team made up of two industrial designers, an engineer specialising in biophysics and a materials scientist.

Wireless ‘man overboard’ systems capable of stopping small one-man fishing vessels if the fisherman falls overboard, and that also trigger an alarm and indicate the vessel’s position, are already being manufactured by Norway’s Sisyfos.

The current version of this equipment needs to be attached to the clothing. One of the goals of the project is to develop a version that can be incorporated in the clothing itself, so that the fisherman will constantly have it on when working at sea.

A further development is to demonstrate the improved safety by incorporating conventional locator systems such as radio and GPS signals with technologies including AIS-Sart in the personal locator beacons. 

‘We also want the clothing to incorporate flotation systems, either in the form of solid flotation elements or of ‘lungs’ that will automatically be inflated if the user ends up in the sea,’ said Færevik.

As well as incorporating electronics, the scientists hope to develop a method of surface treatment that will make it simpler to wash off blood and fish guts from the clothing.

‘At the same time the textiles need to be soft and able to ‘breathe’ but, if the high-technology aspects affect such properties, we will have to lower our technological ambitions, because if the new clothing is not comfortable to wear it won’t be used,’ said Færevik. 

The 14 research institutes and industrial companies involved in the Safe@Sea project come from Norway, Denmark, Finland, Sweden, Belgium, Spain, Italy and the UK.