Title:
Flotation Device, Method of Mounting Same and Operation Thereof
Kind Code:
A1


Abstract:
Flotation device which comprises an exterior receptacle which is designed to be supported on the external surface of a ship, cargo container or floating structure in such a manner that it extends substantially within the ship, cargo container or floating structure, leaving its open end oriented toward the outside; and, inside of said exterior receptacle, an interior receptacle whose open end corresponds to the open end of said exterior receptacle and which houses inflatable means and expulsion means for expelling said inflatable means from the open end of said interior receptacle following the activation of the flotation device of the present invention.



Inventors:
Ormaechea, Victor Alonso (Madrid, ES)
De Leon, Garcia Alfonso (Drcha A. Coruna, ES)
Lopez Perea, Lloveres Vicente (Drcha A. Coruna, ES)
Application Number:
12/065886
Publication Date:
09/25/2008
Filing Date:
09/07/2006
Assignee:
KAFLOAT S.L. (Coruna, ES)
Primary Class:
Other Classes:
114/267, 114/382
International Classes:
B63B43/14
View Patent Images:
Related US Applications:
20080289563REAR-END WATER-SWEEPING DEVICE PARTICULARLY FOR AN AMERICAN FISHERMANNovember, 2008Ulgen
20080223277Boat decontamination systems, and methods of useSeptember, 2008Maglish
20080229994Device for Cleaning the Outer Hull Side of a BoatSeptember, 2008Marr
20090007837BackboneJanuary, 2009Haller
20080047476TWIN HULL BOAT SUSPENSION SYSTEMFebruary, 2008Stevenson
20100003085MATINGJanuary, 2010Westre
20070062432Position-adjusting mechanism of an optical engineMarch, 2007Huang et al.
20050241559Protection structure for a keel and/or profiled parts of a boatNovember, 2005Scotti
20090301377SUBMARINE ESCAPE SUIT ASSEMBLIESDecember, 2009Taylor et al.
20080047478RAT GUARD FOR SHIPFebruary, 2008Park et al.
20080127878General Purpose Submarine Having High Speed Surface CapabilityJune, 2008Marion et al.



Primary Examiner:
VENNE, DANIEL V
Attorney, Agent or Firm:
Sheridan Ross PC (1560 Broadway Suite 1200, Denver, CO, 80202, US)
Claims:
1. A flotation device, designed to be housed on the interior of ships, cargo containers or floating structures in such a manner that, in emergency situations in water, the activation of said flotation device reduces the danger of sinking of the ship, cargo container or floating structure while significantly improving its buoyancy, comprising inflatable means housed on the interior of a receptacle integrated into the body of the ship, cargo container or floating structure to be expelled to the exterior by means of respective thrust means following the breaking of an external cover of said receptacle, with the inflatable means being inflated in order to improve the buoyancy of the ship, cargo container or floating structure to be protected, including: an exterior receptacle adapted to be supported on the internal face of an external surface of a ship, cargo container or floating structure, leaving its open end oriented toward the outside of said ship, cargo container or floating structure, inside of said exterior receptacle, an interior receptacle whose open end corresponds to the open end of said exterior receptacle, closure means which close the open end of said interior receptacle, inside of said interior receptacle, inflatable means and expulsion means which can be slid along said interior receptacle in order to break said closure means and expel said inflatable means from the open end of said interior receptacle, feeding means designed to conduct fluid to the interior of said inflatable means, a pressurized fluid source which can be connected to said feeding means, (15, 21), valve means interposed between said pressurized fluid source and said inflatable means, and sealing means disposed at the inlet of said inflatable means, calibrated to allow fluid to pass to said inflatable means only after a predefined displacement of said expulsion means which causes the substantially complete expulsion of said inflatable means from the open end of said interior receptacle; wherein: said exterior receptacle comprises fastening means and said interior receptacle comprises anchoring means for the locking thereof, said exterior receptacle comprises locking means and said interior receptacle comprises mooring means for the interlocking thereof, said inflatable means are secured to said mooring means and, consequently, to said locking means, said exterior receptacle comprises perimetral signaling means which signal the degree of minimum embedding of said exterior receptacle in the external surface of the ship, cargo container or floating structure, said closure means of said interior receptacle comprise a trimmable projection, and said exterior receptacle, said interior receptacle and said inflatable means each have a single inlet for pressurized fluid.

2. Flotation device as set forth in claim 1, wherein said valve means are disposed in said exterior receptacle.

3. Flotation device as set forth in claim 1, wherein said valve means are one-way valve means.

4. Flotation device as set forth in claim 3, wherein said one-way valve means comprise a non-return valve.

5. Flotation device as set forth in claim 1, wherein said fastening means comprise positioning lugs and a lug crown with fastening grooves.

6. Flotation device as set forth in claim 1, wherein said locking means comprise a positioning lug and a locking guide.

7. Flotation device as set forth in claim 1, wherein said locking means comprise a recess arranged in the lateral wall of said exterior receptacle, a groove which covers the exterior of said recess, and a shoe having an H-section, with said recess extending from the free edge of said exterior receptacle initially in the axial direction and finally in the transverse direction, thus forming two portions which establish a 90° angle between them.

8. Flotation device as set forth in claim 1, wherein said signaling means include a line disposed in the exterior surface of said exterior receptacle.

9. Flotation device as set forth in claim 1, wherein said inflatable means are fastened to said mooring means and, consequently, to said locking means by means of a mooring halyard.

10. Flotation device as set forth in claim 1, wherein said mooring means comprise a mooring clasp with a profile that is complementary to said locking means.

11. Flotation device as set forth in claim 1, wherein said closure means comprise a cover that includes a perimetral projection.

12. Flotation device as set forth in claim 11, wherein said cover is joined to said interior receptacle by means of low-resistance screws.

13. Flotation device as set forth in claim 1, wherein said expulsion means comprise a piston and tiles.

14. Flotation device as set forth in claim 1, wherein said feeding means comprise tubing for the conduction of fluid from the exterior of said interior receptacle and a hose that is disposed on the interior of said inflatable means with one end connected to the inlet of said inflatable means.

15. Flotation device as set forth in claim 14, wherein said hose is provided with reinforcement.

16. Flotation device as set forth in claim 15, wherein said reinforcement is a metallic helicoid reinforcement.

17. Flotation device as set forth in claim 1, wherein said sealing means comprise a plug and a calibrated cord which joins said plug to the bottom of said interior receptacle.

18. Flotation device as set forth in claim 1, wherein said sealing means comprise a group formed by a mechanical shunt device and direct-fill tubing, and a calibrated cord which joins said mechanical shunt device to the bottom of said interior receptacle, with said direct-fill tubing being connected at one end to said mechanical shunt device and at the other end to the fluid inlet to said inflatable means and with said mechanical shunt device being arranged to conduct the entering fluid toward the space present between said interior receptacle and said piston or to conduct the entering fluid to said direct-fill tubing.

19. Flotation device as set forth in claim 1, wherein said sealing means comprise an electronic Hall sensor assembly.

20. Flotation device as set forth in claim 1, wherein said interior receptacle is provided with water-sealing means applied to said closure means.

21. Flotation device as set forth in claim 20, wherein said water-sealing means include a sealing ring.

22. Flotation device as set forth in claim 1, wherein said inflatable means are provided with a safety valve.

23. Flotation device as set forth in claim 1, wherein said inflatable means have an asymmetrical geometric shape, with the point of union to said mooring means being displaced with respect to the longitudinal axis of said inflatable means.

24. Flotation device as set forth in claim 1, wherein said inflatable means have a geometric shape with a horizontal section which has a predominant face.

25. Flotation device as set forth in further comprising a module for detecting hazardous situations and/or a module for controlling the activation.

26. Flotation device as set forth in claim 1, wherein said pressurized fluid source comprises a pressurized fluid container.

27. Flotation device as set forth in claim 1, wherein said fluid source comprises a motor-driven compressor.

28. Flotation device as set forth in claim 1, wherein said interior receptacle comprises at least one internal moisture sensor in deactivated condition.

29. Flotation device as set forth in claim 1, wherein said flotation device comprises at least one internal pressure sensor in activated condition.

30. Flotation device as set forth in claim 1, wherein said flotation device comprises at least one device for the destruction of the inflatable means.

31. Flotation device as set forth in claim 1, wherein said flotation device comprises a top-refillable buoy for feeding pressurized fluid to said inflatable means.

32. Flotation device as set forth in claim 31, wherein the feeding of pressurized fluid to said inflatable means occurs via the safety valve.

33. Method for the mounting of a flotation device as set forth in claim 1 comprising: providing an orifice in an external surface of a ship, cargo container or floating structure, supporting said exterior receptacle to the internal face of said external surface of said ship, cargo container or floating structure, leaving the open end of said exterior receptacle oriented toward the outside of said ship, cargo container or floating structure, protruding beyond said exterior receptacle from said external surface of said ship, cargo container or floating structure according to the degree of minimum embedding signaled by said signaling means, trimming the protruding part of said exterior receptacle to be level with said external surface of said ship, cargo container or floating structure, joining said interior receptacle and said closure means in order to form a group of interior receptacle and closure means, inserting said group of interior receptacle and closure means into said exterior receptacle and fastening said group to said exterior receptacle using said fastening means, said anchoring means, said locking means and said mooring means, with said closure means protruding from said external surface of said ship, cargo container or floating structure, and trimming the protruding part of said closure means to be level with said external surface of said ship, cargo container or floating structure.

34. Method of mounting as set forth in claim 33, further comprising: filling said closure means with hardenable mass until they are streamlined with said external surface of said ship, cargo container or floating structure.

35. Method of mounting as set forth in claim 33 further comprising: connecting said pressurized fluid source to said feeding means.

36. Method of mounting as set forth in claim 33, wherein prior to the step of inserting said group of interior receptacle and closure means into said exterior receptacle and fastening said group to said exterior receptacle, further comprising: connecting said tubing to said interior receptacle and to said exterior receptacle separately.

37. Operation of a flotation device as set forth in claim 1, comprising: said valve means open up and allow pressurized fluid to pass through to said exterior receptacle and to said interior receptacle, said expulsion means are pushed by said pressurized fluid, breaking said closure means and expelling said inflatable means. said sealing means open up and allow pressurized fluid to pass through to said inflatable means, and said inflatable means inflate.

38. Operation as set forth in claim 37, further comprising: untying said inflatable means from said mooring means.

39. Operation as set forth in claim 37 further comprising: tying at least some new inflatable means to said mooring means.

40. Operation of a flotation device as set forth in claim 22, comprising: said valve means open up and allow pressurized fluid to pass through to said exterior receptacle and to said interior receptacle, said expulsion means are pushed by said pressurized fluid, breaking said closure means and expelling said inflatable means, said sealing means open up and allow pressurized fluid to pass through to said inflatable means, said inflatable means inflate, and said safety valve goes off and allows pressurized fluid to exit from said inflatable means.

41. Operation as set forth in claim 40, further comprising said valve open up again and allow pressurized fluid to pass through to said inflatable means.

42. Operation as set forth in claim 40, further comprising: untying said inflatable means from said mooring means.

43. Operation as set forth in claim 40 further comprising: tying at least some new inflatable means to said mooring means.

Description:

OBJECT OF THE INVENTION

The present invention relates to a flotation device and to a method of mounting same, as well to the operation of same.

Said flotation device is designed to be housed in the interior of ships, cargo containers or floating structures in such a manner that, in emergency situations in water, the activation of said flotation device reduces the danger of sinking of the ship, cargo container or floating structure while significantly improving its buoyancy.

More particularly, the invention is such that it comprises inflatable means housed in the interior of a receptacle integrated in the body of the ship, cargo container or floating structure. The inflatable means are expelled to the exterior by means of thrust means following the breaking of an external cover of said receptacle, with the inflatable means being inflated subsequently in order to improve the buoyancy of the ship, cargo container or floating structure to be protected.

The field of application of the invention lies primarily within the maritime and fluvial industry, with one or more of the flotation devices being used to protect vessels such as ships, recreational and/or fishing vessels and the like or floating structures such as oil platforms, piers and the like.

The flotation device according to the invention is also designed for the cargo containers usually carried on the aforementioned ships and floating structures.

Likewise, said floating device optionally forms part of a more complex global system designed to keep a ship, cargo container or floating structure afloat, comprising, for example, in addition to the flotation device according to the invention, a module for detecting hazardous situations and/or an activation control module.

Use of the flotation device of the present invention in non-aquatic means of transport such as airships is not ruled out.

BACKGROUND OF THE INVENTION

The sea, lakes and some riverbeds are and have been widely used for such activities as fishing and the transport of people and goods.

Nonetheless, being on and moving across waters is not without hazards, with the most important danger being that of the sinking of the vessel and the cargo as a consequence of the appearance of a water opening or inlet, collision, leaks, running aground, capsizing, etc.

For this reason, various devices have been developed recently which are designed to reduce these risks, primarily by activating mechanisms which, in certain hazardous situations, increase the buoyancy of the ship, cargo container or floating structure to be protected, making it more difficult for it to sink. The majority of these devices function in a mechanical and/or hydraulic manner.

In particular, flotation devices which turn out to be of particular interest are ones that are constituted by mechano-hydraulic elements that are housed in the interior of a ship, cargo container or floating structure to be protected and that, in the event of an emergency, improve the buoyancy by inflating some inflatable means, with said inflatable means being arranged initially in the interior of a receptacle.

The devices described in the previous paragraph are relatively novel. What is more, the majority of the studies carried out in this area are more of a theoretical than practical nature, and there is still the need to develop flotation devices which overcome the primary disadvantages and difficulties associated with the current technology, namely:

First of all, in order to achieve the necessary watertightness, the flotation devices need to be adapted in a precise manner to the specific contours of the ships or cargo containers in which they are to be housed, with said ships or cargo containers taking on a great variety of different practical forms.

Accordingly, it is necessary in many cases that said devices be designed specifically for each ship, cargo container or floating structure in which they are to be housed. Moreover, in the case of ships, the design of the flotation device does not only vary as a function of the ship in question, but rather it also depends on the exact location in which the flotation device is to be housed within the hull of same. All of this makes difficult the industrial-scale production of versatile flotation devices applicable to ships or cargo containers of very different profiles.

Another significant problem arises upon achieving an effective inflation of the inflatable means of the flotation device. In order to optimize the inflation, it is important that said procedure take place only once the process of the expulsion of the inflatable means has been completed and that said inflatable means are located outside the device. Otherwise, premature inflation of the inflatable means on the inside of the structural receptacle may lead to undesired results such as, for example, possible deformations of the inflatable means.

On the other hand, there is still the problem of guaranteeing that, once inflated, the pressure in the inflatable means will be maintained for an adequate period of time in order to avoid a poor functioning of the system. Accordingly, if the pressure in the interior is too low, the buoyancy of the device is compromised. By contrast, if said pressure is too high, the risk of damage to the inflatable means and even a possible deformation or rupture of same increases.

The document ES2163958, in the name of this same applicant, describes a system for maintaining ships afloat which includes, among other components, one or more buoyancy devices. In this document, the question of how to achieve a versatile device which is applicable to multiple ships and/or cargo containers of different shapes is not addressed specifically, nor how to achieve the correct pressure of the pressurized fluid inside the inflatable means. Moreover, the thrust means of said buoyancy device, which expel the inflatable means to the exterior, are activated by means of a first feed circuit, whereas the inflation of the inflatable means is performed using a second feed circuit different from the aforementioned one.

SUMMARY OF THE INVENTION

The present invention addresses the difficulties described in the foregoing by providing a new flotation device.

Basically, the flotation device of the present invention comprises an exterior receptacle which is designed to be supported on the external surface of the ship, cargo container or floating structure to be protected such that it extends substantially inside the ship, cargo container or floating structure to be protected, leaving its open end oriented toward the outside of the ship, cargo container or floating structure to be protected; and inside of said external receptacle, the flotation device of the present invention comprises an interior receptacle whose open end corresponds to the open end of said exterior receptacle and which houses inflatable means and expulsion means in order to expel said inflatable means from the open end of said interior receptacle following the activation of the flotation device of the present invention.

The flotation device of the present invention shall be supplemented with a source of pressurized fluid which can be connected to said exterior receptacle by means of one-way valve means in order to provide fluid to said inflatable means following the activation of the flotation device of the present invention and hence to inflate them in order to increase the buoyancy of the ship, cargo container or floating structure to be protected.

To be precise, in the flotation device of the present invention, said exterior receptacle comprises fastening means which fix said interior receptacle in position, and said interior receptacle comprises anchoring means for the anchoring of said fastening means, closure means which close off the open end of said interior receptacle, expulsion means capable of sliding toward the exterior of the open end of said interior receptacle and making said closure means break, inflatable means taken up in the cavity of said expulsion means and feeding means designed to conduct fluid to the interior of said inflatable means; with the following special features:

    • said exterior receptacle comprises perimetral signaling means that delimit two parts longitudinally, a first part corresponding with its open end which, during the mounting of the flotation device, is designed to protrude at least partially from the external surface of the ship, cargo container or floating structure to be protected when said exterior receptacle is supported on said external surface and to be subsequently trimmed to level, and a second part corresponding to its closed end which, during the mounting of the flotation device, is necessarily designed to be disposed in its entirety on the interior of said external surface when said external receptacle is supported on it in such a manner that said signaling means extend toward the interior of said external surface in tangential relationship therewith,
    • said closure means of said interior receptacle comprise a trimmable perimetral projection designed to be trimmed during the mounting of the flotation device with the purpose of ending up level with said external surface and of being able to contain hardenable mass for the streamlining of said external surface,
    • said exterior receptacle, said interior receptacle and said inflatable means each have a single inlet for pressurized fluid, and
    • said inflatable means are supplemented with sealing means which, in the deactivated state, close their inlet for pressurized fluid and are calibrated to open with a predetermined displacement of said expulsion means within said interior receptacle in such a manner that, following the activation of the flotation device, said one-way valve means open and the pressurized fluid enters into said exterior receptacle and subsequently into said interior receptacle, pushing said expulsion means toward the exterior of the open end of said interior receptacle until, once sufficient displacement has occurred in order for said closure means to break, said sealing means open and the pressurized fluid enters into said inflatable means.

In this manner, the present invention provides a method which is different from those currently used in engineering which makes it possible for the inflation of the inflatable means to occur only when the inflatable means are already on the outside.

BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS

These and other characteristics and advantages of the invention will be made clear on the basis of the following detailed description of a preferred embodiment thereof, provided solely for the purpose of illustrative and not limiting exemplification with respect to the enclosed drawings, in which identical numerical references correspond to same and like elements:

FIG. 1 is a plan view, an axial sectional view along line A-A of said plan view and a transverse section along line B-B of a detail of said axial sectional view which show an exterior receptacle in a first embodiment of the device of the invention.

FIG. 2 is a plan view and an axial sectional view along line A-A of said plan view which show an interior receptacle of said first embodiment of the device of the invention, complementary to the exterior receptacle of FIG. 1.

FIG. 3 is an axial sectional view that shows an interior receptacle of said first embodiment of the device of the invention which corresponds to that of FIG. 2 but is provided with the rest of the components and is therefore ready for mounting in a complementary exterior receptacle.

FIG. 4 is an axial sectional view that shows said first embodiment of the device of the invention which includes said exterior receptacle of FIG. 1 and said interior receptacle of FIG. 3, installed but in deactivated condition.

FIG. 5 shows a partial schematic view of said first embodiment of the device of the invention, installed and in activated condition.

FIG. 6 is a plan view and an axial sectional view along line A′-A′ of said plan view which show an exterior receptacle of a second embodiment of the device of the invention.

FIG. 7 is a plan view and an axial sectional view along line A′-A′ of said plan view which show an interior receptacle of said second embodiment of the device of the invention, complementary to the exterior receptacle of FIG. 6.

FIG. 8 is an axial sectional view which shows an interior receptacle of said second embodiment of the device of the invention which corresponds to that of FIG. 7 but which is provided with the rest of the components and is therefore ready for mounting in a complementary exterior receptacle.

FIG. 9 is an axial sectional view which shows said second embodiment of the device of the invention which includes said exterior receptacle of FIG. 6 and said interior receptacle of FIG. 8, installed but in deactivated condition.

FIG. 10 shows a partial schematic sectional view of said second embodiment of the device of the invention, installed and in activated condition.

DETAILED DESCRIPTION OF THE INVENTION

In the following, a detailed description is given of the invention in making reference to the enclosed drawings (in all of which same or analogous components have been indicated with the same reference number) in accordance with some particular embodiments of same which refer to the application to a ship of the flotation device of the invention, with the understanding that it can also be applied to any other ship, to a cargo container or a floating structure.

In these enclosed drawings, when a part is composed of various equal elements, a reference has been indicated for only one of them for the sake of clarity. Likewise, in FIGS. 5 and 10, references that are not essential have been omitted, also for the sake of clarity.

FIGS. 1 and 3 conjointly form a first embodiment of the flotation device of the invention, which is additionally illustrated by means of FIGS. 2, 4 and 5.

More specifically, in FIG. 1 is shown an exterior receptacle 1 which has fastening means which comprise positioning lugs 5 and a lug crown 3 with fastening grooves 4. In addition, said exterior receptacle 1 has locking means 17 which comprise a positioning lug 17A and a locking guide 17B.

Said exterior receptacle 1 also comprises signaling means which consist of a line disposed on the exterior surface of said exterior receptacle 1 (with said line consequently not being visible in the figures, but with its position being indicated with broken strokes by means of reference 6 in this FIG. 1).

In this embodiment, said exterior receptacle 1 is provided with one-way valve means which consist of a non-return valve 2, although these means may be provided at any point of the fluid supply circuit, whether inside or outside of the flotation device of the invention.

In FIG. 2 is shown an interior receptacle 10, formed in this embodiment by a lateral cylindrical wall 10A and a bottom 10B, with anchoring means 7 which cooperate with said fastening grooves 4 of said exterior receptacle 1 in order to fix in position said interior receptacle in combination with the rest of said fastening means, which is to say said lug crown 3 and said positioning lugs 5. On the other hand, said interior receptacle 10 is also provided with a mooring clasp 11 designed to be immobilized in said locking means 17, particularly within said locking guide 17B, including said clasp 11 with the function of a base in the shape of a T.

Said mooring clasp 11 includes a mooring halyard 22 which is not visible in this figure.

As is shown in FIG. 3, said interior receptacle 10 is closed with closure means formed by a cover 30 which includes a perimetral projection 35, and said interior receptacle 10 houses inflatable means 20 (joined to said mooring halyard 22, not visible in this figure) and expulsion means formed by a piston 12 and tiles 13.

Said cover 30 is joined to the walls of said interior receptacle 10 by means of low-resistance screws 31.

FIG. 3 also shows feeding means which comprise tubing 15 for letting fluid in from the exterior to the inside of said interior receptacle 10 and a hose 21 which is disposed on the inside of said inflatable means 20 with one end connected to the inlet of said inflatable means 20 in order to direct the fluid directly to its dome.

Said tubing 15 is represented as straight rigid tubing, but it is also possible for said tubing to be flexible tubing of longer length that would remain coiled during use, for example in a spiral, in the space that is present between said exterior receptacle 1 and said interior receptacle 10.

In this latter case, the ends of said tubing 15 could be connected to both bends connected in a detachable, fixed or even integral manner to said exterior receptacle 1 and said interior receptacle 10, respectively.

Optionally, said hose 21 is provided with reinforcement (not shown), for example a helicoid metallic reinforcement, which prevents it from being crushed and consequently being blocked, or at least makes this more difficult.

The inlet of said inflatable means 20 is closed with sealing means which comprise a plug 14 and a cord 16 which joins said plug 14 to the bottom of said interior receptacle 10.

Both the bottom of said interior receptacle 10 and the cover 30 and the piston 12 have reinforcing ribs to which no reference has been assigned, as they are not essential to the invention.

Now referring to FIG. 4, shown there is the group formed by said exterior receptacle 1 such as is represented in FIG. 1 and the subgroup of components that are represented in FIG. 3. Said group is shown here already installed in the hull of a ship.

It is shown in this figure that the exterior receptacle 1 has been supported on the hull 8 of the ship in such a manner that said line 6 is inside the ship, at most touching the plane of the surface of the hull but never passing it; that the protruding part of said exterior receptacle 1 has been trimmed to be level with the hull 8 of the ship; that said interior receptacle 10 has been fastened to said exterior receptacle 1 using said fastening means 3, 4, 5; that said perimetral projection 35 has also been tried to be level with the hull 8 of the ship; and that the cover 30 has been filled with hardenable mass 37 until it is streamlined with the hull 8 of the ship.

It should also be pointed out that said tubing 15 is inserted in said non-return valve 2.

As will readily be understood, the flotation device of the invention shall be provided in a conventional manner with the relevant joints of which only a sealing ring 9 is shown in this embodiment as an example.

Moving on to FIG. 5, shown there in schematic view is the flotation device of the invention after its activation, connected by means of said non-return valve 2 to an external fluid source 40 (which is normally a container of pressurized liquid).

As can be seen, in this condition, the inflatable means 20, expelled and inflated, remain moored to said exterior receptacle 1 by means of said mooring halyard 22 and said mooring clasp 11, which bear the tension. In this manner, the mooring tension in said inflatable means 20 is eliminated, and the resistance of the connection between said inflatable means 20 and the rest of the device of the invention is increased, hence reducing the risk of said inflatable means 20 coming loose.

Said inflatable means 20 are provided with a safety valve 23 in such a manner that, if the pressure inside said inflatable means 20 rises above a maximum threshold (due, for example, to the partial sinking of the vessel), said safety valve 23 opens and permits the expulsion of fluid until a pressure below said maximum threshold is reached.

On the other hand, in order to prevent the inflatable means 20 from being at a pressure lower than a minimum threshold (for example if, after a partial sinking of the vessel and the subsequent expulsion of fluid from said inflatable means 20, the vessel is refloated and said inflatable means 20 lose pressure upon approaching the surface), said non-return valve 2 is calibrated to always supply fluid when the pressure is below said minimum threshold.

In this manner, the pressure within the inflatable means 20 is always maintained within an optimum range.

With respect to the method of activation, once the non-return valve 2 is open, the fluid enters under pressure through said tubing 15 and pushes said piston 12. Said piston 12, in turn, pushes said tiles 13 which, in their course, break the cover 30 with said hardenable mass 37. Said cord 16 is calibrated to tension at such a distance that said piston 12 has still not reached the end of said internal receptacle but has expelled essentially all of the inflatable means 20 to the outside. In this moment, the plug 14 pops out, opening the fluid inlet to said inflatable means 20 and permitting said inflatable means 20 to inflate.

In this manner, the same fluid circuit used for the expulsion of the inflatable means 20 is also used for the inflation of said inflatable means 20.

FIGS. 6 and 8 conjointly form a second embodiment of the flotation device of the invention, which is additionally illustrated by means of FIGS. 7, 9 and 10.

For this second embodiment, only the points of distinction with respect to the already discussed first embodiment will be indicated in the following, with the purpose of avoiding unnecessary redundancies.

Here, in accordance with the possibility pointed out previously, the tubing 15 is a flexible tubing having a certain length which would remain coiled during use, for example in a spiral, in the space present between said exterior receptacle 1 and said interior receptacle 10.

The ends of said tubing 15 are coiled externally and connected to both bends connected in a detachable, fixed or even integral manner to said exterior receptacle 1 and said interior receptacle 10, respectively.

With this configuration, during the mounting of the device, the operator connects said tubing 15 to said exterior receptacle 1 and to said interior receptacle 10 separately by means of the coil of the tubing 15 in the respective bends, and then introduces said interior receptacle 10 into said exterior receptacle 1.

This method of mounting eliminates the need for providing the inlets of said exterior receptacle 1 and said interior receptacle 10 with highly precise tolerances in order to achieve perfect mutual alignment, even permitting said inlets to be misaligned among themselves and/or disposed at decentralized points in relation to the bottoms of said receptacles 1, 10.

Moreover, the inlet of said inflatable means 20 is closed by means of sealing means which comprise a group formed by a mechanical shunt device 50 and direct-fill tubing 52 (in place of the plug 14 of the first embodiment) and a cord 16 which joins said mechanical shunt device 50 to the bottom of said interior receptacle 10.

Said direct-fill tubing 52 is connected at one end to said mechanical shunt device 50 and at the other end to the fluid inlet to said inflatable means 20. In this case, the mechanical shunt device 50 directs the entry of fluid toward the space present between said interior receptacle 10 and said piston 12 until the pulling of the cord 16 is achieved, the pulling of which actuates said mechanical shunt device 50 such that it directs the entering fluid to said direct-fill tubing 52 so that the fluid enters directly into said inflatable means 20.

Finally, said locking means 17′ comprise a recess 17A′ arranged in the lateral wall of said exterior receptacle 1, a groove 17B′ which covers the exterior of said recess 17A′ and a shoe 17C′ with an H-shaped cross-section. Said recess 17A′ extends from the free edge of said exterior receptacle 1 initially in the axial direction and finally in the transverse direction, thus forming two portions which form a 90° angle between them.

In this second embodiment, during the mounting of the device, the operator aligns said mooring clasp 11 with said recess 17A′ and slides said interior receptacle 10 inside said exterior receptacle 1. Subsequently, said mooring clasp 11 remains immobilized in said locking means 17A′ by virtue of the insertion of said shoe 17C′ into said recess 17A′. Specifically, said shoe 17C′ is inserted into said recess 17A′ in such a manner that the central portion of the H-section slides along said recess 17A′ and the wing portions of the H-section overlap with the external and internal face of said exterior receptacle 1, respectively. Once the device is mounted, said groove 17B′ can be closed by means of a rigid cover joined to said groove 17B′, for example by means of bolts.

In all of the foregoing, the present invention has been described and illustrated in accordance with some embodiments thereof. Naturally, in keeping with the principle of the invention, the embodiments and the constructional details can be varied over a broad range with respect to what has been described and illustrated without going beyond the scope of the present invention.

Specifically, for the sake of illustration and not of limitation, the valve means can be disposed at another point upstream or downstream from the location indicated above, or they can be constituted by a plurality of individual valves which produce the required effects.

In the same manner, the inflatable means can also have an asymmetrical geometric shape, that is, with the joint between the mooring halyard and the inflatable means shifted with respect to the longitudinal axis of the latter, or have a geometrical shape with one horizontal section that has a predominant face, or even both of these things. In this manner, in the activated state, a specific surface of the inflatable means tends to remain in contact with the external surface of the ship, cargo container or floating structure to be protected, which prevents the halyard and the hose 21 from getting tangled or at least makes it more difficult, and allows for lighter inflatable means, since they would only need to be reinforced partially (by said specific surface) in order to tolerate the friction. Moreover, the sealing means described and illustrated here (purely mechanical) may be substituted by electronic assemblies of the type which used Hall sensors, for example, calibrated to open the inlet to the inflatable means when a predetermined displacement of the piston is produced.

The geometric form of the inflatable means may of course be modified without this implying an alteration of the invention. In the same manner, the components of the flotation device represented as single pieces in the specific embodiments described may be modular or vice-versa: for example, the interior receptacle which is described in the embodiments as being formed by a cylindrical lateral wall and a bottom could very well be formed by a single piece.

Finally, the flotation device of the present invention may include any accessory devices that improve the efficiency of the device, in addition to a module for detecting hazardous situations and/or a module for controlling the already-mentioned activation, which even make possible the remote and independent activation of each one of the flotation devices of the present invention mounted in the ship, cargo container or floating structure.

In this respect, the flotation device of the present invention may comprise: a motor-driven compressor which feeds fluid to the inflatable means in the event that the pressure in them needs to be increased and the pressurized fluid container used initially as an external fluid source is not being used due to depletion, breakdown, etc.; and/or at least one moisture sensor on the interior of the interior receptacle in deactivated condition to facilitate the monitoring of the preservation of the inflatable means; and/or at least one pressure sensor in activated condition which allows for measurement with sufficient notice in situations such as the depletion of the pressurized fluid source; and/or at least one device for destroying the inflatable means which can be actuated in the event that the maintenance of said activated inflatable means represents a risk or an inconvenience; and/or an inflation group using a motor-driven compressor to supply pressurized fluid to the inflatable means over an extended period as necessary; and/or even a top-refillable buoy which permits pressurized fluid to be fed to the inflatable means from outside the ship, cargo container or floating structure, optionally through the safety valve provided that its configuration is adequately planned.

Even additional loose inflatable means which, by virtue of the flotation device of the invention, can be joined together using plungers should be understood as accessory devices. In such situations, the plunger is submerged with additional empty and folded inflatable means, and they are moored to the mooring halyard and then secured to the opening for passing the fluid from the piston in substitution of the already unfolded inflatable means, proceeding them to inflate it. Such additional loose inflatable means can be connected not only in substitution of those already unfolded but also as a supplement to them, although the opening for passing the fluid from the piston must be configured appropriately beforehand, and the structural limitations of the design of the ship, cargo container or floating structure to be protected must have been confirmed.