Title:
Flotation systems, products, and methods
Kind Code:
A1


Abstract:
A person and a buoyant component can be attached while the buoyant component is detachably mounted on a boat. Also, flotation systems can include buoyant components with head openings and shoulder structures with arm openings. Also, a flotation system can further include a lanyard structure and an attachment structure connected to the lanyard structure and capable of attachment to a person, with the lanyard structure being sufficiently long to allow a range of motion when the buoyant component is fixed in position, such as mounted on a boat. Also, a flotation system can further include one or more detachably mountable structures allowing detachable mounting on a boat. The mounting can be sufficiently detachable and the lanyard structure sufficiently strongly connected to the person and the buoyant component and sufficiently short in length that, if the person goes overboard, the buoyant component detaches from the boat and goes overboard too.



Inventors:
Lanehart I Jr., Jesse (Carrollton, VA, US)
Application Number:
11/446906
Publication Date:
06/14/2007
Filing Date:
06/05/2006
Primary Class:
International Classes:
B63C9/08
View Patent Images:



Primary Examiner:
AVILA, STEPHEN P
Attorney, Agent or Firm:
LEADING-EDGE LAW GROUP, PLC (RICHMOND, VA, US)
Claims:
What is claimed is:

1. A method comprising: attaching a person and a buoyant component while the buoyant component is detachably mounted on a boat near a deck area of the boat.

2. The method of claim 1 in which the act of attaching the person and the buoyant component includes: attaching a lanyard structure with a first part connected to the person and a second part connected to the buoyant component, the lanyard structure having sufficiently great length between the first and second parts that the person has a range of motion on the deck area.

3. The method of claim 2 in which the buoyant component's mounting to the boat is sufficiently detachable and the lanyard structure has sufficiently strong connections to the person and the buoyant component and sufficiently small length between the first and second parts that, if the person goes overboard from within the range of motion, the buoyant component detaches from the boat and goes overboard connected to the person by the lanyard structure.

4. The method of claim 2 in which the act of attaching the lanyard structure includes attaching the first part of the lanyard structure to the person.

5. The method of claim 4 in which attaching the first part of the lanyard structure to the person including putting a belt around the person's waist.

6. The method of claim 2 in which the act of attaching the lanyard structure includes attaching the second part of the lanyard structure to the buoyant component.

7. The method of claim 1, further comprising: before attaching the person and the buoyant component, detachably mounting the buoyant component to the boat.

8. A method of using a flotation system that includes a buoyant component with a head opening defined therein and with one or more shoulder structures connected to the buoyant component, each shoulder structure having a respective arm opening through which an arm can be put; the method comprising: when one is in water sufficiently deep that one cannot stand and with the buoyant component held by at least one of one's hands, moving so that one's head passes through the head opening; and for at least one of one's arms, putting the arm, while raised, through the respective arm opening of one of the shoulder structures to hold the buoyant component in place.

9. The method of claim 8 in which the flotation system includes a lanyard structure that connects one's person to the buoyant component, the method further comprising, before moving so that one's head passes through the head opening: using the lanyard structure to pull the buoyant component toward one's body.

10. The method of claim 8, further comprising: after putting the arm through the arm opening, moving the arm downward.

11. The method of claim 8 in which the flotation system has two shoulder structures attached to the buoyant component, the act of putting the arm through the arm opening being performed concurrently for both of one's arms.

12. A flotation system comprising: a buoyant component that has a head opening defined therein; and one or more shoulder structures connected to the buoyant component, each shoulder structure having a respective arm opening; the buoyant component being structured and each of the shoulder structures being positioned relative to the buoyant component so that one's head is held out of the water by buoyancy when one's head extends through the head opening and at least one of one's arms extends through the respective arm opening of a respective one of the shoulder structures.

13. The flotation system of claim 12 in which the flotation system includes two of the shoulder structures, positioned so that each of one's arms can extend through the respective arm opening of the respective shoulder structure.

14. The flotation system of claim 13 in which the buoyant component further has, for each of the shoulder structures, a respective pair of loop openings defined therein; the pairs of loop openings being on opposite sides of the head opening; each of the shoulder structures including a respective loop extending through the respective pair of loop openings.

15. The flotation system of claim 14 in which each shoulder structure's respective loop includes strap material.

16. The flotation system of claim 12, further comprising a lanyard structure connected to the buoyant component, the lanyard structure being capable of attachment to one's person.

17. The flotation system of claim 16 in which the lanyard structure includes a belt that can be attached around one's waist.

18. The flotation system of claim 12 in which the buoyant component includes a piece in which the head opening is defined, the piece including at least one of closed-cell foam and hollow blow-molded semi-hard plastic.

19. A flotation system comprising: a buoyant component that one can wear to remain afloat in water in which one cannot stand; a lanyard structure with a first part connected to the buoyant component and with a second part, the lanyard structure extending a length between the first and second parts; and an attachment structure connected to the second part of the lanyard structure, the attachment structure being capable of attachment to one's person; the length between the first and second parts being sufficient that one has a range of motion when the buoyant component is fixed in position.

20. The flotation system of claim 19 in which the length is sufficient that one has a range of motion on a deck area of a boat when the buoyant component is mounted on the boat near the deck area.

21. The flotation system of claim 19 in which the buoyant component has a head opening defined therein; the flotation system further comprising: one or more shoulder structures connected to the buoyant component, each shoulder structure having a respective arm opening; the buoyant component being structured and each of the shoulder structures being positioned relative to the buoyant component so that one's head is held out of the water by buoyancy when one's head extends through the head opening and at least one of one's arms extends through the respective arm opening of a respective one of the shoulder structures.

22. The flotation system of claim 19 in which the attachment structure includes a belt that can be attached around one's waist.

23. The flotation system of claim 22 in which the lanyard structure includes a rope and the attachment structure includes a clasp connected to the rope and detachably connected to the belt.

24. A flotation system comprising: a buoyant component that one can wear to remain afloat in water in which one cannot stand; a lanyard structure with a first part connected to the buoyant component and with a second part; an attachment structure connected to the second part of the lanyard structure, the attachment structure being capable of attachment to one's person; and one or more detachably mountable structures on the buoyant component, the detachably mountable structures allowing the buoyant component to be detachably mounted on a boat.

25. The flotation system of claim 24 in which the lanyard structure extends a length between the first and second parts, the length being sufficient that one has a range of motion on a deck area of the boat when the buoyant component is detachably mounted on the boat near the deck area.

26. The flotation system of claim 24 in which the buoyant component has a head opening defined therein; the flotation system further comprising: one or more shoulder structures connected to the buoyant component, each shoulder structure having a respective arm opening; the buoyant component being structured and each of the shoulder structures being positioned relative to the buoyant component so that one's head is held out of the water by buoyancy when one's head extends through the head opening and at least one of one's arms extends through the respective arm opening of a respective one of the shoulder structures.

27. The flotation system of claim 24 in which the attachment structure includes a belt that can be attached around one's waist.

28. The flotation system of claim 24 in which each of the detachably mountable structures includes a mating component that mates with a counterpart component on the boat.

29. The flotation system of claim 28 in which each mating component and its counterpart component both include hook-and-loop fastening material.

30. A product comprising: a container; a flotation system in the container, the flotation system including: a buoyant component that one can wear to remain afloat in water in which one cannot stand; a lanyard structure with a first part that can be attached to the buoyant component and with a second part that can be attached to one's person; and a set of one or more fixed mounting structures that can be attached to a boat; for at least one of the fixed mounting structures, a respective detachably mountable structures on the buoyant component, the detachably mountable structures allowing the buoyant component to be detachably mounted to the fixed mounting structure when the fixed mounting structure is attached to a boat.

31. The product of claim 30 in which in which the lanyard structure extends a length between the first and second parts, the length being sufficient that one has a range of motion on a deck area of the boat when the buoyant component is detachably mounted to the fixed mounting structures near the deck area.

32. The product of claim 30 in which the buoyant component has a head opening defined therein; the flotation system further including: one or more shoulder structures connected to the buoyant component, each shoulder structure having a respective arm opening; the buoyant component being structured and each of the shoulder structures being positioned relative to the buoyant component so that one's head is held out of the water by buoyancy when one's head extends through the head opening and at least one of one's arms extends through the respective arm opening of a respective one of the shoulder structures.

33. The product of claim 30 in which the parts further include: an attachment structure that can attach the second part of the lanyard structure to one's person.

34. The product of claim 30 in which the fixed mounting structure and the respective detachably mountable structures both include hook-and-loop fastening material.

Description:

This application claims priority from U.S. Provisional Application No. 60/749,452, filed Dec. 12, 2005 and incorporated herein by reference.

BACKGROUND OF THE INVENTION

The present invention relates generally to flotation of a person.

A wide variety of flotation devices and techniques have been developed, particularly to protect people from drowning when boating. Although some flotation devices are designed to be thrown to a person who is already in the water, others are designed to be worn on a boat in case one unexpectedly goes overboard.

U.S. Pat. No. 5,588,892 is one of many patents that have been issued on flotation devices, and describes examples of devices that can be worn similarly to vests. U.S. Pat. Nos. 6,537,119 and 6,638,126, describe examples of flotation devices that include a buoyant collar or member with a neck opening through which a person's head extends.

It would be advantageous to have improved techniques for personal flotation.

SUMMARY OF THE INVENTION

The invention provides a variety of embodiments, including methods, flotation systems, and products. In general, each embodiment involves a buoyant component.

These and other features and advantages of exemplary embodiments of the invention are described below with reference to the accompanying drawings.

BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS

FIG. 1 is a perspective view of a person wearing a flotation system while being supported in a body of water by a buoyant component of the system.

FIG. 2 is top view of components of the flotation system shown in FIG. 1.

FIG. 3 is a perspective view of components of an alternative implementation of a flotation system.

FIG. 4 is a schematic diagram showing how a product that includes a flotation system similar to that in FIG. 3 can be installed on a boat.

FIGS. 5A and 5B together are a series of cartoon-like scenes illustrating installation and use of a flotation system like those in FIGS. 1-4.

FIG. 6 is a schematic perspective view showing a person's range of motion while attached by a lanyard structure to a buoyant component as in FIGS. 1-5B.

FIG. 7 is a cutaway view showing a person sitting in a boat while attached by a lanyard structure to a buoyant component as in FIGS. 1-5B.

FIG. 7A is cutaway view similar to that in FIG. 7, showing the person going overboard and the buoyant component detached from the boat.

DETAILED DESCRIPTION

In the following detailed description, numeric values and ranges are provided for various aspects of the implementations described. These values and ranges are to be treated as examples only, and are not intended to limit the scope of the claims. In addition, a number of materials are identified as suitable for various facets of the implementations. These materials are to be treated as exemplary, and are not intended to limit the scope of the claims.

As used herein, the term “flotation” refers to buoyancy-based support of a person in a liquid such as water, whether in an indoor or outdoor pool of any kind or in an ocean, lake, river, stream, pond, or any other body of fresh- or saltwater. The term “person” refers generally to one's body together with other items ordinarily worn on one's body, including clothing, jewelry, eyewear, and so forth. A device that can support a person solely by flotation is referred to herein as a “personal flotation device” or “flotation device”, whether or not it satisfies any particular criterion; in other words, a flotation device may not meet requirements of the U.S. Coast Guard or other agencies. A “flotation system” is a combination of two or more parts or components that together can function as a flotation device; one component can, for example, be a “buoyant component”, meaning a component that is buoyant in water.

The implementations described below address problems that frequently arise with flotation devices. One important problem is that people seldom wear flotation devices. In general, most flotation devices must be worn in order to be helpful when one is unexpectedly thrown overboard, but studies have shown that people typically do not wear flotation devices, even when legally required. Another set of problems relates to putting on flotation devices when in the water. Furthermore, the implementations address problems in attaching flotation devices to a person's body while on a boat.

In the implementations described below, flotation systems or parts or components of flotation systems are referred to as “attached” to persons or to other things or vice versa, and operations that are performed that “attach” flotation systems or parts or components of flotation systems to persons or to other things or vice versa; the terms “attached”, “attach”, and related terms refer to any type of connecting that could be performed in the context. In contrast, the more generic term “connecting” includes not only “attaching”, but also making other types of connections such as between parts formed as a single piece of material by molding or other fabrication.

FIG. 1 shows person 10 supported in water 12 by flotation system 14. FIG. 2 is a top view of flotation system 14, further illustrating features shown in FIG. 1.

Flotation system 14 illustratively includes closed-cell foam component 16, a buoyant component that a person can wear to remain afloat in water in which the person cannot stand. Component 16 is illustratively rectangular and box-shaped, measuring approximately 12″×24″ with a thickness of 2-3″, but could have any other suitable shape and dimensions. It is contemplated that component 16 will be sufficiently large to provide approximately 18 lbs. of flotation. In general, component 16 could be provided in different sizes suitable for differently-sized people. Flotation system 14 could include any other appropriate type of buoyant component, such as a semi-hard, hollow, lightweight plastic component formed by a roto-molding or blow-molding process, as from Sterling Technologies of Erie, Pa. Also, component 16 could include fabric filled with inherently buoyant material, such as Styrofoam® or could be an inflatable structure.

Component 16 has opening 20 defined in it, which could, for example, be a result of cutting or otherwise removing material from component 16 or could result from molding or otherwise producing component 16 to have opening 20 defined in it. Opening 20 is illustratively circular and approximately 10″ in diameter, but could have any size or shape that allows the head of person 10 to easily pass through it.

Attached to component 16 are straps 22 and 24. Straps 22 and 24 illustrate closed loops threaded through loop openings 30, examples of shoulder structures that can be connected to a buoyant component. Between each of straps 22 and 24 and component 16 is a respective arm opening through which the arms of person 10 are shown extending in FIG. 1. FIG. 1 also shows, however, that straps 22 and 24 could, in alternative positions 26 and 28, have respective arm openings on the opposite side of component 16, so that flotation system 14 could be worn with either side of component 16 upward. Straps 22 and 24 are merely one example of shoulder structures that could be used, and shoulder structures could be connected to a buoyant component in a wide variety of ways other than by using straps that extend through loop openings 30 as illustrated in FIGS. 1 and 2.

As illustrated in FIG. 1, component 16 is structured and each of straps 22 and 24 are positioned relative to component 16 so that the head of person 10 is held out of water 12 by buoyancy when the head extends through head opening 20 and at least one of the arms of person 10 extends through the respective arm opening of the respective one of straps 22 and 24. FIGS. 1 and 2 also illustrate structure 40, connected to component 16 and also capable of being attached to person 10.

Structure 40 includes spring-actuated snap hook 42, an example of a clasp, clamp, or other part of structure 40 that can be connected to component 16. In the illustrated example, hook 42 is connected to component 16 by being attached to strap 24, but a part of structure 40 could be connected to component 16 in any suitable way. In particular, hook 42 could alternatively be connected to the part of strap 24 on the either side of component 16, with connection on one side being shown in FIG. 1 and connection on the other being shown in FIG. 2. Similarly, snap hook 44 is part of an attachment structure that can be attached to person 10. In general, an advantage of spring-actuated snap hooks as illustrated is that they are strong, inexpensive, and easily and quickly attached and detached.

In the illustrated example, the attachment structure also includes belt 46 which can be attached around the waist of person 10. Belt 46 includes ring 48, so that hook 44 can easily be attached to and detached from belt 46 by connecting to ring 48, thus connecting belt 46 to structure 40.

Although illustrated as part of structure 40, belt 46 could take many different forms, and is but one example of how structure 40 could be attached to person 10. Belt 46 could be the trouser belt ordinarily worn by person 10 but fitted with a strong loop such as a brass ring, a key ring, or the like, to accommodate snap hook 44 or another clasp or clamping device on structure 40; this technique may be appropriate in situations in which person 10 is wearing clothing with a belt that is not covered by a jacket and is therefore easily accessible. In another approach, structure 40 could itself include a suitable length of line that can be wrapped around the waist of person 10 and snapped, clasped, clamped, or otherwise attached to itself by snap hook 44 or other clasp or clamping device; this approach may be appropriate in emergency situations, for example, but may be too cumbersome for everyday use. Alternatively, belt 46 could be a separate belt, advantageously designed to be universally functional, lightweight, appropriate in strength, durable in outdoor use, and structured with ring 48 or other part to accommodate snap hook 44 or other clasping or clamping device. Belt 46 could be provided in more than one size, to accommodate differently sized waists; in each size, however, belt 46 could be adjustable in length, as would be possible, for example, for a webbed belt with plastic interlocking buckles at its ends.

Rather than attaching structure 40 to the waist of person 10, it could conceivably be attached to any other appropriate part of the body of person 10. Other parts may, however, be disadvantageous. For example, attachment to an arm, a leg, or the neck would be cumbersome and would have an abnormal appearance for typical boating situations, while a belt around the waist is neither cumbersome nor abnormal. Also, as described below, flotation system 14 is designed to be put on easily and quickly donned by person 10 after falling into water 12, which might be difficult if structure 40 were tied or otherwise attached to a wrist or ankle, thus interfering with the natural movement of one's arms and legs to keep from sinking and to grasp component 16.

Structure 40 is an example of a “lanyard structure”, meaning a structure that includes a rope or other line-like part and can be used to connect things on a boat. Structure 40 could be implemented in a wide variety of ways. In a simple implementation, structure 40 can include one or more strands of nylon rope or another appropriate line.

As shown in FIGS. 1 and 2, structure 40 can have a length between snap hooks 42 and 44 that is substantially longer than necessary when flotation system 14 is being worn by person 10. As explained in greater detail below, the length of structure 40 can be long enough to allow person 10 a range of motion when component 16 is fixed in position, such as by being mounted on a boat. For the purpose of mounting, flotation system 14 also includes Velcro® strips 50 and 52, examples of detachably mountable structures that allow component 16 to be detachably mounted on a boat.

Strips 50 and 52 are but one example of a wide variety of detachably mountable structures that could be on component 16 for detachable mounting to a boat. Hook-and-loop material such as from Velcro® is an especially convenient fastening material, especially if structured to withstand the effects of water, humidity, sun, and other environmental factors present on a typical boat. Various mechanically mounted structures could also be used, such as suction cups on component 16, a hook on component 16 to hang over the inside of a boat, or knobs or other protuberances from component 16 that can be attached to spring clamps on the inside of a boat that extend horizontally to allow component 16 to be pressed between two arms and to be pulled out when structure 40 is pulled. Also, component 16 could be attached directly to the inside of a boat using adhesive of a type that would break when component 16 is pulled upon by structure 40. In general, component 16 must be held firmly enough against the boat so that wind will not blow it from its position.

A prototype flotation system similar to that shown in FIGS. 1 and 2 has been successfully implemented and tested. But many other implementations would come within the scope of the invention.

FIG. 3 shows an alternative implementation to that shown in FIGS. 1 and 2. Flotation system 54 illustratively includes component 56, a blow-molded, hollow, water-tight, buoyant box dimensioned similarly to component 16 as described above, and with opening 58 similar in size to opening 20, above. Component 56 also includes protruding knobs 60 and 62, formed in the same blow-molding operation that produced component 56. Compared to a closed-cell foam implementation, a blow-molded implementation, such as with techniques mentioned above in relation to FIGS. 1-2, is expected to be advantageous: It will be less expensive for mass production quantities, it will look better due to rounded exterior surfaces, mounting structures such as knobs 60 and 62 can be easily formed as part of the blow-molded structure, and manufacture will be easier in other respects because several operations that would be necessary to cut or otherwise shape a piece of closed cell foam or to attach other parts to it would become unnecessary.

At each corner of component 56, one of knobs 60 is formed, illustratively extending outward from component 56 in its lengthwise direction. Each of knobs 60 has a hole through it, so that straps 64 and 66 can be attached as shown, such as by knotting. As can be seen, the positions of arm openings in straps 64 and 66 do not depend on orientation of component 56—the arm openings will be available regardless of which side of component 56 is upward.

Knob 62 similarly has a hole in it for knotting or other attachment of line 68, part of the lanyard structure of flotation system 54; the remainder of the lanyard structure can be implemented as described above in relation to FIGS. 1 and 2. Knob 62 is illustratively shown at one of the sides, extending laterally outward from component 56. As with knobs 60 and straps 64 and 66, orientation of component 56 does not affect the freedom of movement of line 68, due to the positioning of knob 62.

FIG. 4 illustrates in greater detail how a flotation system similar to system 54 could be installed for use on a boat. As shown, the flotation system can be packaged in the form of product 70 with box 72 holding unassembled parts or components of the flotation system as well as other components necessary for installation. Box 72 is merely an illustrative container, and various other types of containers could be used.

Product 70 includes Velcro® strips 80 and 82, examples of fixed mounting structures that can be attached to a boat. As illustrated by the arrows with the adjacent circled numbers “1”, the installation process can begin by mounting strips 80 and 82 on the inner side of gunwale 84 above deck 86. Strips 80 and 82 could be mounted to gunwale 84 in any appropriate way, such as with an adhesive backing or other appropriate attachment. Similarly, as noted above, strips 80 and 82 are but one example of many different types of fixed mounting structures that could be used.

Once strips 80 and 82 have been attached, subsequent installation operation includes mounting component 56 on gunwale 84, as indicated by the arrow with the adjacent circled number “2”. For this purpose, strips 80 and 82 must be positioned with the same spacing as strips 90 and 92 on component 56. When mounted on gunwale 84, component 56 is out from underfoot.

Comparing components 56 in FIGS. 3 and 4, one can see that component 56 in FIG. 4 could be obtained by turning component 56 in FIG. 3 upside down and positioning it with knob 62 and line 68 to the rear of box 72 and therefore not visible. Alternatively, the two could be alternative implementations, with component 56 in FIG. 4 being attached similarly to component 16 in FIGS. 1 and 2. If attached similarly to component 16 rather than component 56 as in FIG. 3, another installation step, which could be performed before, between, or after the operations described above, is to connect snap hook 42 of structure 40 to component 16, such as by attaching it to strap 24. Here again, snap hook 42 could be attached to any other appropriate part of the flotation system for connection to the buoyant component, possibly including an additional component (not shown) specially designed for this purpose.

FIGS. 5A and 5B (not drawn to scale) show a series of cartoon-like diagrams illustrating in greater detail how a system like flotation systems 14 and 54 could be installed and used. Each diagram depicts a scene in which person 10 is installing or otherwise interacting with a flotation system 100, which could be implemented as described above or in any other suitable way. Flotation system 100 includes buoyant component 102 with head opening 104 and also includes lanyard structure 106.

In scene 110, which can occur after strips 80 and 82 or other fixed mounting structures have been attached to gunwale 84, person 10 mounts buoyant component 102 on gunwale 84, such as by positioning strips like strips 50 and 52 or strips 90 and 92 against strips 80 and 82. Then, in scene 112, person 10 connects structure 106 to component 102, such as by attaching snap hook 42. Then, in scene 114, person 10 attaches structure 106 to him- or herself, such as by putting on belt 46. As noted above, the operations shown in scenes 110, 112, and 114 could occur in any appropriate order, after which person 10 is not wearing component 102 but is remotely attached to it by structure 106.

FIG. 6 illustrates the situation that exists after the operations in scenes 110, 112, and 114. As can be seen, person 10 is attached to one end of structure 106. The other end of structure 106 is attached to component 102, which is detachably mounted on gunwale 84. Structure 106 has a length such that person 10 has a range of motion on deck 86, the outer boundary of which is indicated by line 120. Although structure 106 can have any appropriate length, in many situations it will suffice if person 10 can move roughly 6′ from a seated position—for further movement or when docked, person 10 could detach structure 106, such as by detaching snap hook 44. As a result of the range of motion, person 10 can move about on deck 86 to perform various activities, such as fishing over the side of the boat, stowing or retrieving gear in a nearby part of the boat, or moving to a nearby seat or other position on deck 86. Deck 86 is illustrative of a “deck area”, meaning a deck, bottom, or other floor-like part of a boat on which a person can walk or otherwise move about the boat.

Scene 130 in FIG. 5A illustrates a situation like that shown in FIG. 6, but with person 10 about to be thrown overboard from deck 86 over gunwale 84 and into water 12. As shown in scene 132, structure 106 can extend to its full length as person 10 falls toward water 12, at which point component 102 begins to detach from gunwale 84 due to the force exerted by the weight of person 10 through structure 106. As shown, if person 10 goes overboard from within the range of motion permitted by structure 106, component 102 is sufficiently detachable from gunwale 84 and structure 106 has sufficiently strong connections to person 10 and to component 102 and a sufficiently small length, such as between snap hooks 42 and 44, that component 102 detaches from gunwale 84 and goes overboard connected to person 10 by structure 106. Then, as shown in scene 134, component 102 is completely detached from gunwale 84 and follows person 10 into water 12.

Scene 140 illustrates how person 10 can manually pull on structure 106 in order to pull component 102 through the water toward person 10. When component 102 is close to person 10, person 10 can manually grasp component 102 and move it so that the head of person 10 passes through head opening 104, as shown in scene 142. Person 10 can then, with bended arms, locate the arm openings 150 and 152, such as those provided by straps 22 and 24 or straps 64 and 66. By straightening and extending the arms, person 10 can move the arms through the arm openings, as shown in scene 146.

Finally, as shown in scene 148, person 10 can lower the arms to hold component 102 in place on the shoulders and around the neck of person 10. In this position, the bulk of the body can hang substantially straight down, supported by the straps or other structures that extend under the armpits. Component 102 is effectively locked in place across the shoulders because the natural position of the arms at rest keeps each of the straps in position without further effort. The head is positioned approximately straight up above the surface of water 12.

FIGS. 7 and 7A illustrate two scenes depicting another implementation in which flotation system 100 as in FIGS. 5A-6 is used in boat 200, a small boat with gunwale height of approximately 2 feet and beam width of approximately 6 feet. Such boats are appropriate, for example, for fishing or other recreational purposes. Although device 100 includes features described above in relation to FIGS. 5A-6, lanyard structure 106 may be shorter than would be appropriate on a larger boat, to ensure that buoyant component 102 is detached from boat 200 if person 10 goes overboard. In addition, person 10 will generally sit on seat 202 rather than walking around as in FIGS. 5A and 6.

In FIG. 7, person 10 is sitting on seat 202 and fishing. Meanwhile, person 10 is wearing belt 212, which is connected to component 102 by lanyard structure 106. Because of the small size of boat 200, structure 106 lies slack in the bottom of the boat, but is sufficiently short to detach component 102 if person 10 goes overboard.

In FIG. 7A, boat 200 has tipped and person 10 has lost balance and is about to go overboard. As a result, structure 106 has tightened and detached component 102 from its mounting to boat 200, and component 102 will follow person 10 overboard. Once in the water, person 10 can use structure 106 to retrieve and wear component 102, as described above in relation to FIG. 5B.

A flotation system implemented as described above is particularly advantageous compared with flotation devices that must be worn in order to be useful. With the implementations described above, a person can be attached to the flotation system yet be free to move around an area of the boat. Then, if thrown overboard, the person will be followed into the water by the flotation system's buoyant component and will be able to retrieve it and wear it while in the water.

Use of flotation systems implemented as in FIGS. 1-7A illustrates examples of a method that includes attaching a person and a buoyant component while the buoyant component is detachably mounted on a boat near a deck area. In specific implementations, the method can also include attaching a lanyard structure with a first part connected to the person and a second part connected to the buoyant component, and the lanyard structure can have a sufficiently great length between the first and second parts that the person has a range of motion on the deck area. The method can also include, before attaching the person and the buoyant component, detachably mounting the buoyant component to the boat.

Use of flotation systems implemented as in FIGS. 1-7A also illustrates examples of a method of using a flotation system that includes a buoyant component with a head opening defined therein and with one or more shoulder structures connected to it. Each shoulder structure has a respective arm opening through which an arm can be put. The method includes, when one is in water and holding the buoyant component by at least one hand, moving so that one's head passes through the head opening. The method also includes putting a raised arm through the respective arm opening of one of the shoulder structures to hold the buoyant component in place.

Flotation systems implemented as in FIGS. 1-7A illustrate examples of flotation systems that include a buoyant component with a head opening and one or more shoulder structures connected to the buoyant component, each with a respective arm opening. The buoyant component is structured and each of the shoulder structures is positioned relative to the buoyant component so that one's head is held out of the water by buoyancy when it extends through the head opening and at least one arm extends through the respective arm opening of one of the shoulder structures.

In specific embodiments, the flotation system includes two shoulder structures, positioned so that each arm can extend through the respective arm opening of one of them. The flotation system can also include a lanyard structure connected to the buoyant component and capable of attachment to a person.

Flotation systems implemented as in FIGS. 1-7A also illustrate examples of flotation systems that include a buoyant component that one can wear to remain afloat in water in which one cannot stand, a lanyard structure, and an attachment structure. The lanyard structure has a first part connected to the buoyant component and a second part to which the attachment structure is connected. The attachment structure is capable of attachment to a person. The length of the lanyard structure between the first and second parts is sufficient that one has a range of motion when the buoyant component is fixed in position.

Flotation systems implemented as in FIGS. 1-7A also illustrate examples of flotation systems that include a buoyant component that one can wear to remain afloat in water in which one cannot stand, a lanyard structure, an attachment structure, and one or more detachably mountable structures on the buoyant component. The lanyard structure has a first part connected to the buoyant component and a second part to which the attachment structure is connected. The attachment structure is capable of attachment to a person. Detachably mountable structures allow the buoyant component to be detachably mounted on a boat.

The implementations described above in relation to FIGS. 1:-7A also illustrate examples of a product that includes a container and a flotation system in the container. The flotation system includes a buoyant component, a lanyard structure, and a set of fixed mounting structures that can be attached to a boat. One can wear the buoyant component to remain afloat in water in which one cannot stand. The flotation system also includes, for at least one of the fixed mounting structures, a respective detachably mountable structure on the buoyant component. These structures allow the buoyant component to be detachably mounted to the fixed mounting structure when it is attached to a boat.

The exemplary implementations described above have specific dimensions and are made with specific materials and components, but the invention could be implemented with any appropriate dimensions and with a wide variety of materials and components. Some examples are set forth above.

The above exemplary implementations involve particular positioning of components, but the components could be arranged in many other ways within the scope of the invention. For example, the positioning of the knobs in FIG. 3 could be different than shown.

The above exemplary implementations have specific combinations of components, but the invention could be implemented with other combinations, such as with additional components.

In the above-described implementations, flotation systems are used in a particular way, but flotation systems could be installed and used in various other ways, such as with different sequences of steps or operations.

While the invention has been described in conjunction with specific exemplary implementations, it is evident to those skilled in the art that many alternatives, modifications, and variations will be apparent in light of the foregoing description. Accordingly, the invention is intended to embrace all other such alternatives, modifications, and variations that fall within the spirit and scope of the appended claims.