Sea safety kit for small boat fishermen - origins and invention history

The sea safety kit for small boat fishermen, put together at SIFFS as part of its sea safety initiatives, has been adopted by two states - Tamil Nadu and Kerala. Most of the equipment in the kit is common sense, like the first aid kit, jack knife, drinking water for emergencies, battery powered lights for navigating at night and signalling but some of them have an invention history that goes as far back as 405 BC . Here are the histories of 8 pieces of safety, survival and rescue equipment recommended for use by fishermen in Kerala and Tamil Nadu.

 The Life Jacket


The most ancient examples of "primitive life jackets" can be traced back to inflated bladders of animal skins or hollow, sealed gourds, for support when crossing deeper streams and rivers.

 Personal flotation devices were not part of the equipment issued to naval sailors up to the early 1800s, for example at the Napoleonic Battle of Trafalgar. It wasn't until lifesaving services were formed that personal safety of boat crews heading out in pulling boats generally in horrific sea conditions was addressed.

 Purpose-designed buoyant safety devices consisting of simple blocks of wood or cork were used by Norwegian seamen. The modern lifejacket is generally credited to one Captain Ward, a Royal National Lifeboat Institution inspector in the UK, who, in 1854, created a cork vest to be worn by lifeboat crews for both weather protection and buoyancy.

 The lifejacket is one of two personal floatation devices in the safety kit for small boat fishermen. Fishermen find them hot in the tropics while in temperate and cold lands, it also serves as protection from the cold. Fishermen have shown preference for lifebuoys as they don’t have to wear them.


The Life Buoy


A lifebuoy or ring buoy also known as a Kisby ring or Perry buoy, is a life saving buoy designed to be thrown to a person in the water, to provide buoyancy, to prevent drowning. Some modern lifebuoys are fitted with a seawater-activated light, or lights, to aid rescue at night.

The lifebuoy usually is ring-shaped or horseshoe-shaped and has a connecting line allowing the casualty to be pulled to the rescuer. They are carried by ships and are also located beside bodies of water that have the depth or potential to drown someone. The Kisby ring, or sometimes Kisbie ring, is thought to be named after Thomas Kisbee (1792 -1877) who was a British naval officer.

The life buoy is a floatation device that fishermen need during a capsize or if one of the crew fall overboard. It is interchangeable, unlike the lifejacket, meaning it can be shared by more than one person in water.

 Radar Reflector

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 Radar reflector is a retro-reflector consisting of three mutually perpendicular, intersecting flat surfaces, which reflects electromagnetic waves back towards the source. Unlike a simple mirror, they work for a relatively wide-angle field of view. The three intersecting surfaces often have square shapes. This is also known as a corner cube.

Such devices are often used as radar targets or markers and are often employed on ships and, especially, lifeboats. These normally consist of three conducting metallic surfaces or screens perpendicular to one another.

NASA has put several corner reflectors, known as the Lunar Laser Ranging Experiment, on the Moon for use in laser interferometry to measure the Moon's orbit more precisely than was possible before.

Small boat fishermen often get in the way of merchant ships while fishing in the vicinity of shipping lanes. FRP and wooden boats are not easily detected on the marine radar and neither do they have an onboard power source to exhibit lights at night so a radar reflector will ensure the boats show up on the ship’s radar. The radar reflector was added to the safety kit to reduce incidents of collisions with merchant ships.



 compass brass.jpg

Prior to the invention of the compass, navigation was always done in sight of land. Compasses were used from 4 BC onwards by the Chinese not in navigation but for harmonisation in Feng Shui. In the 11th century, its use in navigation became widespread and by 1300, the first dry magnetic compass was invented in Europe.

Small boat fishermen often lose their way or get disoriented when out of sight of land particularly at night or during adverse weather conditions like overcast skies or thick fog. A compass is the simplest way to find direction and so it earns its position in the safety kit.

The Rescue Streamer

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Inventor Dr. Robert Yonover with the streamer

The concept of the Rescue Streamer was developed by Dr. Robert YonoverCEO & Founder of SEE/RESCUE Corporation, in 1985. Dr. Robert was frustrated at the limited means available for communicating distress, “I came up with the idea when I was flying in a spluttering Cessna plane high over the Pacific Ocean. I thought the plane had a fair chance of going down, and remembered those horrible stories from people lost at sea—that the rescue planes fly right over them. Coming up with the concept was simple, but it took 11 years to make it work. The technology was finalized and patented in 1993.

Two pieces of the Rescue streamer were imported from Hawaii by the United Nations Tsunami Recovery and Support Team in Chennai for an EU funded sea safety project, implemented by SIFFS, in Tamil Nadu. It is now part of the recommended sea safety kit for small boat fishermen.


Survival Rations

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Survival rations are carried in most lifeboats and other survival craft like the inflatable life raft carried on merchant ships. Their history can be traced back to soldiers’ field rations during the war. Survival rations recommended for ship lifeboats are used in the safety kit for small boat fishermen.

Survival rations were introduced into the small boat safety kit after it was noticed that fishermen drifting from loss of power often went without food or water for days. These rations have a shelf life of five years and consist of dry biscuits that do not induce thirst.

 The Heliograph

The heliograph was first used in 405 BC, when the Ancient Greeks used polished shields to signal in battle. Carl Friedrich Gauss, of Georg-August University of Göttingen, outlined a first design for a predecessor of the heliograph (called heliotrope) in 1810. His device directed a controlled beam of sunlight to a distant station to serve as a marker for geodetic survey work.

Sir Henry Christopher Mance (1840–1926), of British Army Signal Corps, developed the first apparatus while stationed at Karachi, Bombay. Mance was familiar with heliotropes through their use in the Great India Survey. The Mance Heliograph was easily operated by one man, and since it weighed about seven pounds, the operator could readily carry the device and its tripod. During the Jowaki Afridi expedition sent out by the British-Indian government in 1877, the heliograph was first tested in war.

The heyday of the heliograph was probably the Boer War in South Africa, where it was heavily used by both the British and the Boers. The terrain and climate, as well as the nature of the campaign, made the heliograph the logical choice.

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The heliograph remained standard equipment for military signalers in the Australian and British armies until the 1960s, where it was considered a "low probability of intercept" form of communication. Canada was the last major army to keep the heliograph as an issue item. By the time the mirror instruments were retired they were seldom used for signalling. Still, the army hated to see them go as, "They made damn fine shaving mirrors." As recently as the 1980s, heliographs were used by Afghan forces during the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. They are still included in survival kits for emergency signalling to search and rescue aircraft and boats.