Flashing seamen

An engineer at The Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Lauder, Maryland, has invented a safety device for sailors to automatically alert other boats to when help is needed.



If a boat is in distress, George Borlase’s Automated Integrated Distress Device (AIDD) automatically fires flares and flashes a strobe light to notify other boats within a 15km radius.



‘Currently there’s no way to automatically signal distress to other vessels near your boat,’ said Borlase. ‘You have to manually fire a flare gun or send a mayday message using your marine radio–devices that might not be accessible in a marine accident.’



The AIDD is a cylindrical, waterproof device approximately 30cm tall with a small beacon on one end and a control switch on one side. The AIDD would be installed on the boat in a small metal bracket with a hydrostatic release and stored in ‘automatic’ mode. There is also a ‘manual’ mode to allow sailors to alert nearby rescue boats or helicopters.



If the boat sinks to a depth of six to nine metres, the hydrostatic release would automatically cut a strap so that the device floats to the surface, which would trigger a strobe to continuously flash and flares to begin firing in a timed sequence. A horn will also sound several seconds before any flares are fired to warn anyone near the device.



Although the prototype device holds only eight flares, Borlase plans to develop future AIDDs with the capacity to hold different numbers of flares to meet the requirements of a range of recreational and commercial vessels.