BoatUS life jacket design competition winners announced

LOUISVILLE, Ky. – The winners of the 2015 “Innovation in Life Jacket Design Competition” were announced today at the International Boat Builders Exhibition and Conference in Louisville. Sponsored by the BoatUS Foundation for Boating Safety and Clean Water and the Personal Floatation Device Manufacturers Association (PFDMA), a team of five judges from the boating, paddling and life jacket manufacturing industry reviewed nearly 250 contest submissions from as far away as Mongolia and New Zealand, and also asked recreational boaters to vote for their favorite design entry.

The goal of the competition was to rethink a 100-year-old design, seek out the newest technologies and design innovations and develop interest in newer, more versatile life jackets. Design entries were judged on the following criteria: innovation, wearability, value/affordability, reliability, versatility and practicality. At stake was $15,000 in prize money.

The winners announced today are:

First Place ($10,000): Michael Garman of Moseley, Virginia, submitted his prototype design that uses two-part expanding foam encased in a comfortable thermal fabric that’s designed to keep the wearer cool. The design uses a smartphone app to submit exact body measurements to the factory where the life jacket is custom molded, offering a perfect fit right out of the box. A heat reflecting fabric can be used on cold days to help keep the wearer warm – or reversed for hot days that combine with an inner fabric mesh to keep the wearer cool. Accessories such as a rear mounted hydration pack – great for paddlers – and custom pocket choices add versatility. A built-in signal mirror and whistle improve safety. Go to for a look.

Second Place ($3,000): Jimi Beach of the two-year-young Aegis Safety Products in Orlando, Florida, took second place with his brand new, soon-to-market, inflatable floatation “Lifeshirt” that blends affordability with comfort and performance. The “actionwear” design looks similar to a sport shirt and is intended for a range of uses from boating to surfing. Offering automatic or manual inflation, a patented design resists inadvertent inflation from rain or splashes but activates instantly when the user’s head or shoulders submerge. Retail pricing is expected to remain consistent with or lower than other PFDs on the market. Lifeshirt is currently undergoing certification for adults and children in a lightweight performance class of personal floatation devices. Go to for a look.

Third Place ($2,000): Jessie Kate Brown of Lafayette, Louisiana, submitted a theoretical design for the “Comfort Flex Life Vest,” a comfortable form-fitting design that increases visibility and inspires user confidence. “Relief cuts” on the side add buoyant material while a new hinge point and a lobster tail-like relief cut on the middle of the back of the jacket allow the wearer to easily bend their body, unlike some current vest-style designs which have one-piece backs. A reflective collar, and an athletic spandex shell and liner increase comfort and wearability.

“Whether a commercial enterprise, an individual inventor-entrepreneur, a student or a group of Scouts, the 2015 Life Jacket Design Competition brought forth a lot of creativity,” said Competition Judge and Image Base Vice President Joe Fogarty. “The entries we chose will not only keep us afloat, but showed thoughtfulness, problem solving and practicality.”

“It was exciting to see that so many of the competitors shared a common goal to create more wearable product for the average recreational boater. Thinking ‘out of the box’ not only meant that the designs need to work, but that they also need to look good and be comfortable to wear,” said Judge Lili Colby, Owner and “chief PFDiva” at paddlesport life jacket manufacturer MTI Adventurewear. “I wouldn’t be surprised to find a number of the finalist’s designs make it to market someday if they can be U.S. Coast Guard approved.”

“The contest truly showed innovation in PFD design at its best,” added Judge Christopher Stec and chief operating officer of ACA|Canoe-Kayak-SUP-Raft-Rescue. “From highly technical entries to simple concepts, there are several new ideas out there that could help boaters stay safer out on the water.”

Additional judges included marine industry consultant, speaker, and former West Marine Advisor Chuck Hawley and Frank Solazzo, a team leader with Leland Limited, which supplies high-pressure gas filled cylinders used in inflatable life jackets.

This is the third time BoatUS Foundation and PFDMA have teamed up for a PFD Design Contest. For more, go to Video available at:

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