Title:
Lightweight personal rescue tube flotation device
Kind Code:
A1


Abstract:
A compact lightweight personal flotation device is described that permits a user to swim with little drag or encumbrance following deployment, said flotation device comprising a streamlined inflatable float, one or more inflation means such as an oral inflation tube or a compressed gas cartridge/inflator system, a tether to secure the float to the user's body or clothing, and an optionally detachable line attaching the two ends of the float to allow the float to be looped over the body of the user and used hands-free in the manner of a life ring.



Inventors:
Tellew, John (La Jolla, CA, US)
Application Number:
11/137976
Publication Date:
11/30/2006
Filing Date:
05/25/2005
Primary Class:
International Classes:
B63C9/08
View Patent Images:
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Primary Examiner:
VASUDEVA, AJAY
Attorney, Agent or Firm:
Donald W. Meeker (Newport Beach, CA, US)
Claims:
What is claimed is:

1. An inflatable personal flotation device comprising: an elongated inflatable float tapered at one or both ends for streamlined passage through water in an inflated condition; a means for attaching a line to each end of the float; an optionally detachable line attached between the two ends of the float which, when looped over the body of a user, allows the float to be used as a life ring; at least one means of inflation; an optionally detachable tether, attachable at one end to the float and at the other end to the user's body or clothing, the tether being sufficient for the user to tow the inflated device while swimming.

2. The device of claim 1 wherein one means of inflating the float is a manual inflation device, such as an air pump.

3. The device of claim 1 wherein one means of inflating the float is an oral inflation device.

4. The device of claim 1 wherein one means of inflating the float is a system consisting of a compressed gas storage device, a user-actuable inflator, and an actuation means.

5. The device of claim 1 wherein one means of inflating the float is a chemical gas generation system.

6. The device of claim 1 further bearing a single handle to allow the user to hold the device securely at an end of the device distal to a point of a tether means attachment.

7. The device of claim 1 wherein the whole device can be folded or rolled to form a compact, stowable package.

8. The device of claim 1 wherein the tether means consists of a rope, cord, or webbing fitted with a loop or other fastening device at a point intermediate between the two ends, such that the tether can be fastened simultaneously to the user and to both ends of the float, the section of tether linking the ends of the float functioning as the line which can be looped over the body of a user, allowing the float to be used as a life ring.

9. The device of claim 1 wherein the tether means is attached to a user by a band or strap which may be worn around a body part of a user.

10. The device of claim 9 wherein the band or strap is secured by a hook-and-loop fastening material.

11. The device of claim 1 wherein the tether means is attached to a user via a user's swimsuit, wetsuit, or other garment.

12. The device of claim 1 wherein the tether means is attached to a user via a belt or harness.

13. The device of claim 1 wherein the tether means is attached to the user by means of a loop formed in the tether itself, the loop then fitting around the user's body or extremity.

14. The device of claim 1 wherein the tether means is attached to a user via a garment worn expressly for the attachment of the tether means.

15. A system consisting of the device of claim 1 and a carrying case or pouch fastenable to the user's body or clothing and capable of carrying the uninflated device when folded or rolled.

16. The system of claim 15 wherein a compressed gas storage device, a user-actuable inflator, and an actuation means constitute one means of inflation, and wherein the device can be actuated and inflated directly from the carrying case or pouch, without need for prior removal of the device from the carrying case or pouch.

17. The system of claim 15 wherein the tether means is attached to the carrying case or pouch.

18. The device of claim 1 wherein a weight at or near the end of the float to which the tether is attached causes the distal end of the float to rise out of the water when the float is pulled by the tether.

19. The device of claim 18 wherein the weight consists of the inflation means.

20. An inflatable personal flotation device system comprising (a) an inflatable personal flotation device according to claim 1, and; (b) a garment bearing a pocket or other attachment means of sufficient size and construction to contain the uninflated folded device.

Description:

BACKGROUND OF THE INVENTION

1. Field of the Invention

The present invention relates to personal flotation devices and particularly to a compact lightweight personal flotation device that permits a user to swim following deployment, said flotation device comprising a streamlined inflatable float, one or more inflation means such as an oral inflation tube or a compressed gas cartridge/inflator system, a tether to secure the float to the user's body or clothing, and an optionally detachable line attaching the two ends of the float to allow the float to be looped over the body of the user and used hands-free in the manner of a life ring.

2. Description of the Prior Art

The standard inflatable life jacket or life vest, such as that disclosed in U.S. Pat. No. 2,128,423 by Manson, provides sufficient buoyancy in water to keep the user afloat. It fits about the user's torso in the manner of a garment and includes expandable compartments inflated by oral inflation tubes or by the pulling of ripcords to open valved pressurized gas cartridges. Although the effectiveness of such jackets is indisputable, life jackets are only effective when they are worn. According to United States Coast Guard statistics, hundreds of preventable drownings occur each year in the United States alone because the victims—mostly as the result of boating accidents, but also from swimming or watersports accidents—were not wearing or carrying personal flotation devices at the time of their accidents. While relatively lightweight inflatable life vests now exist, even these are hot and uncomfortable to wear over clothing (e.g., for fishermen and boaters), thus discouraging usage.

For swimmers, surfers, divers, and others voluntarily in the water, existing personal flotation devices are too bulky to be carried conveniently in the uninflated state. Furthermore, existing personal flotation devices—typically life vests—impede swimming motions by the user once the inflation device has been deployed, thereby limiting the user's ability to swim to safety.

A lifeguard's rescue tube is a flotation device towed by a swimming lifeguard used to rescue others. Inflatable rescue tubes are known but these are bulky and heavy even when uninflated, and are not suitable for use as self-rescue devices for swimmers. A rescue tube has the ability to float both the lifeguard and the person being rescued.

The prior art discloses numerous inflatable flotation devices which are intended to be compact and easily carried in the uninflated state, and which are for self-rescue of swimmers or people who have accidentally fallen into a body of water. These all fall short of their intended use for one or more of the following reasons: 1) They are not truly compact; 2) they are too complicated to manufacture or operate reliably; 3) They impede swimming once deployed; 4) they require the user to hold onto the float at all times.

U.S. Patent Application #20040142613, published Jul. 22, 2004 by Barden, is for an inflatable buoy that may be worn by a person, such as a swimmer, and used as a flotation aid and beacon in an emergency situation. The buoy has securing means for being secured to a forearm of a person, an inflatable balloon that when uninflated is disposed on the securing means and when inflated is separate from the securing means, a tether anchoring the balloon to the securing means, and a gas dispenser that, when activated, inflates the balloon with gas. The buoy also has a pair of handles for gripping by a person as well as a pop-up flag. In another embodiment of the invention, the buoy may be used as an air beacon whereby the balloon is filled with gas that is lighter than air and the balloon can float to a height determined by the length of the tether.

U.S. Patent Application #20040033740, published Feb. 19, 2004 by Jones, is for a flotation device which can be brought into use during an emergency to assist somebody to stay afloat in water. A flotation device can be carried by a person undertaking water sports. It includes a carrier carrying a float, and the float itself. The carrier is in the form of a pouch or holder which can be attached to the arm or leg of the swimmer. The float is normally in a deflated, non-buoyant state held by the carrier. When the swimmer wishes to bring the float into use, he pulls it out of the carrier and inflates it.

U.S. Pat. No. 4,551,106, issued Nov. 5, 1985 to Prager, is for life preserving equipment in the form of an elongated housing having an open side and a cover for said housing hinged at one end thereto, an inflatable member having a compressed gas cartridge including a diaphragm within the member including a cartridge puncturing pin and cooperating lever and levers carried by the housing and cover and operable upon opening of the cover to actuate the cooperating lever and force the pin into the diaphragm to permit the discharge of gas into the member for inflation thereof and a cord tethering the member to the housing.

U.S. Pat. No. 4,810,219, issued Mar. 7, 1989 to Anderson, provides a life saving device comprising an inflatable flotation assembly. The inflatable flotation assembly includes a compressed gas cylinder stored inside a split housing the parts of which are held together by a releasable pivot on one end and an interlocked pivoted arm at the other end which engages a flexible tab aligned against the gas cylinder. The arm overlies the housing to engage the releasable pivot and when unclasped from this engagement will rotate to pierce the cylinder by deflecting the tab. Thereafter the expansion of a flotation bladder separates the housing while the arm remains interlocked to the tab to control the rate of gas release into the bladder by the angular inertia of the arm around its pivot. The bladder may be tethered against subsequent loss by a line tied to the housing and the housing may, in turn, be affixed to the body of the user by a belt or wrist strap.

U.S. Pat. No. 6,004,178, issued Dec. 21, 1999 to Liu, shows a life saving device that can be attached to the body of a user including an attachment strap, a housing, an inflation sac, a rope, a pressure release device and a compressed air cylinder. The attachment strap is attached to the user's body. The housing accommodates the inflation sac, the rope, the pressure release device and the compressed air cylinder. An upper cover of the housing is popped off when the inflation sac is being inflated. The inflation sac envelops the compressed air cylinder and most of the pressure release device with a press element of the latter partly projecting from an opening of the inflation sac. When the press element is pressed, a steel ball stopping the compressed air cylinder is pushed away so that compressed air escapes from the cylinder through a tubular body and an air outlet of the pressure release device into the interior of the inflation sac to form a life ring. The rope is provided to allow the user to pull back the inflation sac if it floats away from him/her.

U.S. Pat. No. 5,820,431, issued Oct. 13, 1998 to Biesecker, claims a deployment mechanism for a pocket-sized, emergency flotation device that folds into a carrying case, which is the size of a cellular phone or camera. It can be carried upon a person in a shirt pocket or clipped to a waistline belt. The flotation device inflates into a diamond-shaped collar, which is useful in preventing deflation of the device; it uniquely separates the flotation balloon into four separate compartments or cells, each of which is substantially sealed from adjacent compartments to prevent or reduce deflation of the adjacent cells through puncture or other mishap to one of the cells. The carrying case has a body and a detachable, arch-shaped cover, constructed so that a tether can be inserted into the cover and the device automatically activated merely by pulling the cover from the body.

U.S. Pat. No. 5,738,557, issued Apr. 14, 1998 to Biesecker, puts forth a pocket-sized, portable, emergency flotation device that folds into a carrying case, which is the size of a cellular phone or camera. It can be carried upon a person in a shirt pocket or clipped to a waistline belt. The flotation device inflates into a diamond-shaped collar. A tether line is affixed to the inside of the case and the collar. The diamond shape of the flotation collar is uniquely constructed, so as to provide sufficient buoyancy to keep the user's head afloat. The diamond shape is also useful in preventing deflation of the device; it uniquely separates the flotation balloon into four separate compartments or cells, each of which is substantially sealed from adjacent compartments to prevent or reduce deflation of the adjacent cells through puncture or other mishap to one of the cells. The unique sealing construction is operative by the simple means of an approximately sixty-degree construction angle at the apex seam between the lobes. The acute angle between the divided lobes of the balloon effectively seals from each other the individual compartments on each lobe of the collar. Thus, full deflation is prevented, should one of the compartments become punctured.

U.S. Pat. No. 5,813,891, issued Sep. 29, 1998 to McNamee, describes a life-saving aid comprising an elongate inflatable tube provided with an automatic inflation device arranged to release CO2 gas to inflate the tube when immersed in water or manually triggered. When inflated, the tube forms an elongate substantially linear cylinder sufficiently rigid to at least support its own weight when held horizontally from a proximal end. The tube is compact when deflated, is throwable, has significant tensile strength, and is designed so that after inflation and use, gas may be readily excluded via oral inflation tube by releasing the valve and rolling the tube from distal end toward proximal end.

U.S. Pat. No. 5,466,179, issued Nov. 14, 1995 to Jeffrey, Sr., describes a self-inflating flotation device comprising a pouch adapted to be worn about the waist of a user until needed. The device includes an inflatable chamber therein. A compressed air cylinder is coupled to a one-way valve in fluid communication with the interior of the chamber for quickly and easily inflating the chamber.

U.S. Pat. No. 6,676,467, issued Jan. 13, 2004 to Filsouf, discloses an airbag to be worn by swimmers for safety. The airbag device comprises a plastic inflatable airbag, an air filling tube for filling or draining air, and an air check valve. The airbag is inflated by the wearer's breath, or in an alternate embodiment, an electrical air pump or compressed gas cartridge or gas generated by a chemical reaction. The airbag is worn around the lower abdomen (for the male wearer) or placed on the ribs or breast (for the female wearer). The airbag is worn underneath the swimming apparel and is practically invisible to an onlooker. The airbag can be made in smaller sizes to be worn in other parts of the swimmer's body (such as the neck) along with the main airbag for enhancing buoyancy. When the swimmer is not inside the water, the safety airbag can be comfortably deflated allowing the wearer to perform other tasks such as walking or eating, with ease. The safety airbag is fastened firmly encircling the body with a secure fitting around the wearer's abdomen and/or waist, therefore avoiding slip offs.

U.S. Pat. No. 6,231,411, issued May 15, 2001 to Vinay, indicates a fashionable emergency flotation aid. The fashionable life saving device utilizes the look of casual clothing such as shorts, pants, bathing suits or skorts to disguise inflatable chambers, a gas canister and safety devices including a manual inflation tube, thereby providing a subtle way to ensure safety in and around the water. When inflated, the chambers rest under the users arms, but are safely attached to his waist or the lower part of his body for security and safety.

U.S. Pat. No. 5,702,279, issued Dec. 30, 1997 to Brown, concerns an inflatable swimmer's safety belt, life preserver/life vest. A first belt of the invention is substantially hollow and worn about the waist and is able to be filled with a compressed gas from a cartridge coupled with it so as to unfold and expand outwardly under action of the compressed gas which fills it. A second belt of the invention, of conventional construction and also worn about the waist, underlies the first belt and is tethered to it. As the first belt is filled with compressed gas, its length increases to form a tube riding under the armpits and holding a wearer vertically in the water as a life preserver, thereby allowing the wearer to be able to swim about. Couplings are provided on the first belt for maintaining its configuration while allowing the tube to be slid over the arms to the shoulders and neck area in continuing to hold the wearer vertically, but as a life vest, keeping the head of the wearer out of the water. The tether prevents the tube from coming loose and floating away.

U.S. Pat. No. 5,368,512, issued Nov. 29, 1994 to Brown, illustrates an inflatable swimmer's safety belt. A first belt of the invention, which is substantially hollow and worn about the waist, is able to be filled with a compressed gas from a cartridge coupled with it and actuable by a pin whose placement is controlled by a pulling open of a belt buckle or by a pulling on an included lanyard. A portion of this first belt is secured in overlapping relationship so as to unfold and expand outwardly under action of the compressed gas which fills it. A second belt of the invention, of conventional construction and also worn about the waist, underlies the first belt and is tethered to it. The end result is to increase the length of the first belt when filled with the compressed gas, thereby forming a tube riding under the armpits in holding a wearer vertically in the water, yet still allowing him or her to be able to swim about, while the tether prevents the tube thus formed from slipping over the shoulders and head of the wearer.

U.S. Pat. No. 3,935,608, issued Feb. 3, 1976 to Freedman, provides an article of clothing having a pocket portion containing an inflatable envelope, and a compressed fluid container for inflating the envelope whereby, upon inflation, the envelope is forced out of the pocket portion, the article of clothing being particularly suitable during times of emergency in the water when a wearer of the clothing enters the water and requires an immediate additional buoyancy aid.

U.S. Pat. No. 3,828,381, issued Aug. 13, 1974 to Prager, claims an emergency water safety device designed primarily for protection of individual persons on or in the water, the device consisting of a capsule to be worn by a swimmer, the capsule containing an inflatable bladder and compressed gas cylinder. A pull on the outside of the capsule is operated by the swimmer when in danger of drowning. The pull activates a mechanism that releases the gas into the bladder, which when inflated opens the capsule so to float upon the water. The bladder is secured to the capsule by a tethering cord, so when inflated, it will not float away from the capsule worn by the swimmer.

U.S. Pat. No. 3,134,993, issued Jun. 24, 1964 to McCoy, describes an air inflating attachment for the upper part swimsuits or the waistband of swim trunks. The attachment may be inflated by mouth or by use of releasing the contents of a compressed gas cartridge cylinder. A flexible air line used for inflating the attachment is concealed when not in use.

The aforementioned art fails to provide a compact inflatable personal flotation device that can be used for hands-free flotation in the manner of a life ring, yet which, in the inflated state, allows a user to swim with little interference or drag while towing the device with the tether, and thus effect true self-rescue.

SUMMMARY OF THE INVENTION

An object of the present invention is to provide a compact inflatable personal flotation device that can be used for hands-free flotation in the manner of a life ring, yet which, in the inflated state, is streamlined in shape and configured such that a user can swim with little interference or drag while trailing the float behind via a tether and thus effect true self-rescue.

A related object of the present invention is to provide a compact inflatable personal flotation device which, when folded or rolled, can be carried on a bathing suit, wetsuit, or clothing without impeding normal activity but which can be easily deployed to provide flotation to the user.

Yet another object of the present invention is to provide a compact inflatable personal flotation device which, when folded or rolled, is carried in a pouch or carrying case, the entire assembly being of such size, weight, and construction that it can be conveniently carried by a clothed user on the user's belt or via another attachment means, the assembly being configured such that the device can be easily deployed to provide flotation to the user.

Still another object of the present invention is to provide a system consisting of a compact personal flotation device, as described above, and a swimsuit, wetsuit, or other garment constructed to carry the folded or rolled device, optionally bearing a means to securely tether the device to the garment.

Thus, the present invention comprises an inflatable personal flotation device that permits a user to swim with little drag or interference following deployment, said flotation device comprising a streamlined inflatable float, one or more inflation means such as an oral inflation tube or a compressed gas cartridge/inflator system, a tether to secure the float to the user's body or clothing via clips or straps, and an optionally detachable line running between the two ends of the float to allow the float to be looped over the body of the user and used hands-free in the manner of a life ring. The inflated flotation device, by virtue of its streamlined shape, can be trailed via the tether behind a swimmer engaged in normal swimming motion, without impeding the swimmer's motion and with very little drag, particularly when the device is tethered at or near the waist of the swimmer.

In one embodiment, drag is minimized further by the attachment of a weight to the front of the float (i.e., the end to which the tether is attached), causing the rear of the float to rise out of the water when the float is pulled by the tether. The weight in this case is preferably the inflation means, particularly when the means is a compressed gas cartridge/inflator assembly.

The swimmer can at will pull the tethered flotation device to himself to provide flotation. With the optionally detachable line attached at both ends of the float via clips, the user can loop the line across his shoulders, in which position the user can hang from the float hands-free, the float thus acting in the manner of a life ring.

In one embodiment the tether is fitted with a loop or clip at an intermediate point along its length such that it can be attached to both ends of the float, in addition to attaching at its distal end to the user's clothing or body (via a strap). The tether in this case fulfills as well the role of the optionally detachable line.

The inflation means consists of at least one of the following: a manual inflation pump; a compressed gas cartridge coupled to a user-operated cartridge inflator; an oral inflation tube; or a chemical gas generation system. Preferably, the inflation means consists of both a compressed gas cartridge/inflator and an oral inflation tube.

The device can be tethered to one swimmer and used to provide flotation to a second swimmer in need of rescue, thus allowing the first swimmer to tow the second swimmer to safety. In this usage, the device is playing the role of a lifeguard's rescue tube. The second swimmer can loop the float over his body in the manner of a life ring using the optionally attached line, or the second swimmer can hold the attached line. In an alternate embodiment, the device can be fitted with a separate rope or webbing handle to facilitate the second swimmer's handhold.

For a swimmer to carry the uninflated device, it is preferably attached to the swimmer's swimsuit or wetsuit or strapped to the body, preferably around the waist or across the shoulders or chest. The device can simply be folded to carry in a pocket on the swimsuit or wetsuit, or can be carried in a pouch or carrying case, especially if strapped around the waist, shoulders or chest. The end of the tether is attached preferably to the waist or to the swimsuit or wetsuit via a grommet or strap affixed to the swimsuit or wetsuit. Alternately, the tether attaches to a limb via a hook-and-loop (e.g. VELCRO®) band similar to those used on surfboard or bodyboard leashes. For attachment to a limb, the preferred attachment point is the upper arm and the preferred tether is a coiled tether, in the manner of a body board “biceps leash” attachment. The tether can be attached to the user's body by forming a loop in the tether itself and wrapping this loop over a suitable body part.

For a clothed user who is an unintentional swimmer, such as a boater or fisherman who has fallen into the water, the folded device can be carried in a pocket, in a fanny pack, or preferably in a pouch or carrying case constructed to hold the device. The pouch or carrying case can be strapped to the body, or is preferably mounted to the user's belt or attached to the waistband of his pants. The preferred pouch is constructed such that the device can be deployed without first removing it from the pouch, in a manner similar to that used for existing inflatable personal flotation device fanny pack assemblies. In one means of achieving this, the pouch is constructed of nylon fabric with break-away sides held together by hook-and-loop fasteners, and the actuator cord for the device's compressed gas inflator would hang outside of the pouch, allowing the user to deploy the device by pulling the actuator cord. For a pouch or holster that is securely attached to the user's belt, the preferred attachment of the flotation device's tether would be to the pouch itself. Alternately, the tether can be separately attached to the user's belt or to a limb via a hook-and-loop band similar to those used on surfboard or bodyboard leashes. The tether in these embodiments can be a coiled cord or a retractable cord on a reel.

An advantage of the present invention is that it provides effective hands-free flotation to a user in the manner of a life ring following deployment, yet it can be carried conveniently on a bathing suit, wetsuit, or other clothing without impeding normal activity.

Another advantage of the present invention is that following deployment it can be towed by a swimmer with little drag or interference with the swimmer's motion, thus allowing for true self-rescue by the swimmer.

Another advantage of the present invention is that it is simple to operate, test, and re-use, thus facilitating consumer acceptance of the device.

BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS

These and other details of the invention will be described in connection with the accompanying drawings, which are furnished only by way of illustration and not in limitation of the invention, and in which drawings:

FIG. 1 is a perspective view of the personal rescue tube flotation device of the present invention showing the flotation tube in the folded uninflated position having a carbon dioxide cartridge inflator and an oral tube inflator attached to the fabric face of the flotation tube;

FIG. 2 is a side elevational view of the personal rescue tube flotation device of FIG. 1 showing the flotation tube in the folded uninflated position having the carbon dioxide cartridge inflator and the oral tube inflator attached to the fabric face of the flotation tube, a line attached by clips to the grommets at the ends of the flotation tube, and the tether attached between a grommet at one end of the flotation tube and a strap at the other end for attachment to the user's limb or body;

FIG. 3 is a top plan view of the personal rescue tube flotation device of FIGS. 1 and 2 with the flotation tube in the inflated state;

FIG. 4 is a partial elevational view of the personal rescue tube flotation device of the present invention mounted in a pocket on the back of a man's swimsuit with the tether attached to a grommet in the swimsuit;

FIG. 5A is a partial elevational view of the personal rescue tube flotation device of the present invention mounted in a pocket on the back of a woman's one-piece swimsuit with the tether attached to a grommet in the swimsuit;

FIG. 5B is a partial elevational view of the personal rescue tube flotation device of the present invention mounted in a pocket on the back of a top of a woman's two-piece swimsuit with the tether attached to a grommet in the swimsuit;

FIG. 6A is a partial elevational view of the personal rescue tube flotation device of the present invention mounted in a pouch on a belt of a fully dressed user and an enlarged perspective view of the pouch showing a belt loop on the pouch;

FIG. 6B is a partial elevational view of the personal rescue tube flotation device of the present invention mounted in a pouch hooked over the waist of the pants of a fully dressed user;

FIG. 7A is a side elevational view of a swimmer with the personal rescue tube flotation device of the present invention mounted in a pocket in the back of a swim suit having the tether attached to a strap around an upper arm of the swimmer;

FIG. 7B is a side elevational view of a swimmer using the personal rescue tube flotation device of FIG. 7A with the flotation tube inflated and trailing the swimmer in the water with the tether attached to a strap around an upper arm of the swimmer;

FIG. 8 is a side elevational view of a swimmer using the personal rescue tube flotation device of the present invention with the flotation tube inflated and trailing the swimmer in the water with the tether looped around the waist instead of the upper arm for trailing the float for a long distance;

FIG. 9A is a partial plan view of the personal rescue tube flotation device of the present invention having an alternate handle attached to the grommet at one end of the inflated tube;

FIG. 9B is a partial plan view of the personal rescue tube flotation device of the present invention having an alternate handle attached to the surface of the inflated tube;

FIG. 10 is a top plan view of the personal rescue tube flotation device of the present invention in the inflated state showing an alternate embodiment in which the tether and line are integrated;

FIG. 11 is a top plan view showing a swimmer in the water using the inflated rescue tube with the attached line as a pseudo-life ring.

DETAILED DESCRIPTION OF THE INVENTION

The following description of the preferred embodiments of invention 20 refers to FIGS. 1-11. Those familiar with the construction of existing inflatable personal flotation devices will appreciate that the materials and methods of assembly of the present invention are entirely in accord with accepted materials and methods currently used in the field.

Inflatable bladder 30 is constructed of two sheets of a lightweight waterproof and gas-tight fabric such as polyurethane-coated nylon or PVC-coated nylon or polyester, such sheets cut to provide a streamlined shape for the resulting bladder following inflation, as shown in FIG. 3. Two holes are cut near the end of one of the sheets, then oral inflator 28 and a flange for gas cartridge inflator 24 are fitted to the holes and welded or glued in place. The oral inflator 28 is fitted with a check valve. For some gas cartridge inflators, the entire inflator rather than a flange is attached at this stage. Following attachment of the inflators, the two fabric sheets are welded or glued together along the border, resulting in bladder 30, which will become a float when inflated. Extended flattened areas at each end are also created during the welding process, and in each of these areas a hole is cut. Grommets 31A and 31B are attached, such grommets being constructed of brass or other suitable corrosion-resistant materials. Those familiar with the art will appreciate that the fastening role played by the grommets at each end could also be performed by other means of attachments, such as rubber or polymeric end caps, bonded at each end of bladder 30, and shaped to include a ring attachment.

Inflator 24 is then attached to its flange (if not attached entirely earlier), and an appropriate threaded compressed gas cylinder 21 is screwed onto the inflator 24. Since gas cylinder 21 and inflator 24 will become very cold during the inflation process, these are preferably covered by an insulating material such as closed-cell polyurethane foam to insulate these surfaces from the user.

FIGS. 2 and 3 show tether 25B attached to grommet 31A, while line 25A is attached at both 31A and 31B. The attachments at 31A and 31B are via clips 14 constructed of nylon, brass, stainless steel, or other suitable material, such that 25A and 25B can be removed and reattached.

25A and 25B are constructed of rope, cord, or webbing, and will typically be lightweight waterproof rope such as nylon parachute cord, or an elastomeric material. They may be coiled in form, and tether 25B may be optionally wound on a small reel for storage. The length of 25A can be fixed or adjustable, and is preferably about 3 to 12 inches (8 to 30 cm) greater than the length of bladder 30. The length of 25B can be fixed or adjustable, and is preferably about 6 to 12 feet (1.8 to 3.7 meters).

The distal end of tether 25B terminates in one of two attachments. In the first attachment variation 25B is attached to a hook-and-loop strap 29B such as that used in a typical body board or surf leash or swim fin tether, as shown in FIGS. 2 and 3. This allows the user to strap the tether to a limb or, by pulling 25B through the closed loop of 29B, form a larger loop that can be slung around the waist or across the shoulder or chest. In the second attachment variation (FIGS. 4, 5A, 5B, 6A) the tether terminates in an attachment to a garment or to a carrying pouch, which attachment is typically a grommet 29A, preferably via a clip or simple knot, as described below.

The preferred overall length of bladder 20 in the uninflated state is approximately 35 inches (90 cm) and the preferred width is approximately 9.5 inches (24 cm) at the mid-point, giving an inflated volume of approximately 8 liters. Gas cartridge 21 is preferably a 16 gram threaded carbon dioxide cylinder, which is appropriately sized to inflate the device with the above dimensions and provide approximately 17 pounds of buoyancy, sufficient for flotation of a typical adult. The weight of the device 20 with these dimensions, and as shown in FIGS. 2-3, is approximately 9-13 ounces (260-370 grams), when constructed of 7.5 ounce polyurethane-coated nylon and fitted with a 16 gram carbon dioxide cylinder, a Halkey-Roberts 840 model inflator (Atrion Corporation), a hook-and-loop strap 29B, and with line 25A and tether 25B constructed of nylon parachute cord. Device 20 can be made larger or smaller, and can use larger or smaller-capacity compressed gas cartridges, as needed.

FIG. 1 shows the uninflated device 20 folded accordion style, also showing the cord 22 used to actuate the inflator 24. The device 20, as folded in FIG. 1, is stored in a pocket or pouch by first rolling or folding it further, such as performing a single additional fold along an axis midway between gas cylinder 21 and oral inflation tube 28. FIG. 2 shows an elevational view of the folded device 20, in this case with line 25A and tether 25B attached. 25A and 25B are coiled next to the folded bladder 20 for storage, optionally on a reel.

A preferred means of carrying the uninflated device 20 is via a pocket or other attachment on a swimming suit, wetsuit, or other garment. This is illustrated in FIGS. 4, 5A, and 5B, which show three variations of swimming suits constructed to carry the folded uninflated flotation device 20. FIG. 4 shows a pair of men's swimming trunks to which a pocket 15A has been affixed, the pocket 15A sized and constructed to hold device 20 (inside pocket 15A and thus not visible in the drawing) securely during swimming. Grommet 29A serves as the means of attaching tether 25B to the swimmer, preferably via a clip or simple knot, and in this variation there is no strap 29B. FIGS. 5A and 5B analogously show women's one piece and two piece swimsuits, respectively, bearing pockets 15A for carriage of device 20 (inside pocket 15A and thus not visible in the drawings), in both cases also bearing grommet 29A for attachment of tether 25B. The function of grommet 29A can be taken over by a suitably constructed strap or loop. A swimmer may attach tether 25B directly to his body via strap 29B, as shown in FIG. 7A, rather than attach it to his swimsuit via grommet 29A.

It can be appreciated by one familiar with the art that the swimsuit top of FIG. 5B represents not only the top of a women's two piece swimsuit, but also a vest or singlet worn by either a man or woman for the purpose of providing a means of carrying device 20.

It can further be appreciated that many variations in the placement and construction of the pocket 15A are possible, FIGS. 4, 5A, and 5B showing just three of these possible arrangements. It can further be appreciated that many existing men's swimsuits bear pockets sufficient to carry device 20. It can further be appreciated that the uninflated device 20 can be detachably attached to a garment by means other than a pocket, such means including hook-and-loop fasteners.

FIG. 6A and the enlargement show an additional preferred means of carrying undeployed device 20. In this variation, device 20 is folded and stowed in pouch 15B, which is carried preferably on a belt via belt loop 27B as shown in the enlargement. In this embodiment, the tether 25B is preferably attached securely to a loop or grommet (not shown) in the pouch 15B itself, via a clip or simple knot. Pouch 15B is preferably constructed such that actuator cord 22 protrudes from the pouch, allowing the user to deploy the device by jerking the cord 22. Pouch 15B is further preferably constructed in a break-away fashion using materials such as nylon fabric and hook-and-loop fasteners, allowing the device to be deployed (inflated) without first removing it from the pouch. Such construction is well known to those in the field, and has been used successfully for inflatable life vests stored in fanny packs, for example.

In FIG. 6B a related preferred means of carrying the undeployed device 20 is detailed, showing pouch 15B carried on the waistband of a user's shorts or swimming trunks, via a clip 27C or other suitable mounting device such as hook-and-loop fasteners. With this means tether 25B is preferably a coiled cord or a cord on a reel and is preferably attached via strap 29B, since the pouch 15B is not securely attached to the user's body. Strap 29B is preferably attached to the user's upper arm or waist or to the user'belt, if one is worn.

An additional preferred means of carrying the folded or rolled device 20 is to store it in a pouch or carrying case, as described above, said pouch or carrying case being securely attached to a strap which is slung around the shoulder or worn about the waist in the manner of a belt (not shown).

In an alternate preferred embodiment of device 20 (FIG. 10), line 25A is deleted, its role taken over by a modification of tether 25B. In this variation, a loop 32 is created in tether 25B at an intermediate point along its length. One end of tether 25B is attached to grommet 31B, while the loop 32 is detachably attached to clip 14 at 31A, resulting in attachment of 25B at both ends of the bladder 30. Clip 14 can alternately be mounted on the loop 32.

For a swimmer carrying device 20 in a pocket 15A of a swimsuit 50 while in the water 10, a normal swimming motion can be attained, as shown in FIG. 7. In this figure the tether 25B is attached via strap 29B to the swimmer's upper arm, but the attachment can also be via any other accessible location such as a different part of a limb, strapped around the chest or shoulder, or fastened around the waist.

The device 20, when carried in a swimsuit pocket 15A as in FIGS. 4, 5A, and 5B, is preferably deployed by removing the device from pocket 15A, then inflating it using either the oral inflation tube 28 or the inflator actuator cord 22. In the latter case, the user grasps the folded or unfolded device in one hand at or near the inflator 24 while pulling firmly on the cord 22 in the other hand, inflation occurring in a matter of seconds following puncture of the cylinder seal by the inflator.

The device 20, when carried in a pouch 15B as in FIGS. 6A and 6B, is preferably deployed by jerking inflator actuator cord 22. In the case in which pouch 15B is constructed of break-away materials, the user need not remove the device 20 from pouch 15B prior to deployment. In the case in which pouch 15B is not of break-away construction, the user deploys the device by pulling it out of pouch 15B, then deploying as described above for the case of carrying in a swimsuit pocket 15A.

Following deployment of the device 20, the user may continue to swim with little interference as shown in FIG. 7B. Here, the device 20 is trailed behind at a distance determined by the length of tether 25B, which must be sufficient to avoid kicking the device while swimming. It is possible to swim effectively with the strap 29B attached at the upper arm or with tether 25B looped across a shoulder. The preferred means of attachment during swimming is at or about the waist or hips, as shown in FIG. 8. Thus, preferably, the swimmer will attach the end of tether 25B at or near his waist or hips prior to undertaking extended swimming, regardless of the initial position of attachment.

It will be appreciated by those knowledgeable in the field of hydrodynamics that device 20, as shown in FIGS. 7B and 8, will tip upward at the rear when towed by tether 25B attached to 31A at the front end of device 20, due to the weight of cylinder 21 and inflators 28 and 24. This tipping, depending on the weight and configuration of the inflators or other weights attached to the bladder 30, serves to elevate most of the length of the float 30 out of the water. The combination of the streamlined shape of bladder 30 and the elevation of the rear of the bladder 30 results in the swimmer feeling very little drag from the towed device while swimming. When the device 20 is towed via an attachment at 31B, most of the length of the bladder 30 is in the water; however, due to the streamlined shape of bladder 30, there is still little drag to impede the swimming of the user.

When the user wants to rest and float comfortably with the float, the user pulls the device to him using tether 25B, then loops the line 25A (which may alternatively be formed from part of the tether 25B as described above) across the shoulders with the bladder 30 placed across the chest. The user can drape his arms over the bladder as shown in FIG. 11 to use the device in the manner of a life-ring. By leaning back, the user can hang hands-free suspended from the float in a face up position.

FIGS. 9A and 9B show the placement of optional rope or webbing handles 11A and 11B, respectively, which are constructed of rope or webbing. These could be fitted to assist in using the device to rescue others, in the manner of a lifeguard's rescue tube.

With such a handle, or even without one, a swimmer can use the device 20 as a flotation device, while being towed via tether 25B by a rescuing swimmer.

When flotation is no longer needed, the reusable device 20 is deflated through the oral inflation tube 28, typically by depressing the check valve and squeezing bladder 30 until all gas is expelled. The device is then rinsed off with fresh water, dried, re-armed with a new compressed gas cartridge if needed, then refolded according to the manner of FIGS. 1 and 2.

To create the lightest and most compact device possible, the device 20 can be constructed with only the oral inflation tube 28, omitting the gas cartridge/inflator assembly (21, 22, and 24). This lowers the weight considerably, while still providing the user with a flotation means that can be deployed conveniently.

It will be appreciated that many variations on the above preferred embodiments are possible, without changing the essential nature of the streamlined personal rescue tube concept.