Diver mate's death inspires life vest

SMART FABRIC: A prototype of the Revival Vest, created by Victoria University design graduate James McNab.
SMART FABRIC: A prototype of the Revival Vest, created by Victoria University design graduate James McNab.

The death of a Whangarei man who blacked out while diving was the inspiration behind an inflatable life vest that is now a finalist in an international design competition.

Jacob Beck-Jaffurs was spear fishing with friends in Tauranga Harbour in March last year when he lost consciousness and sank to the ocean floor.

James McNab, an industrial design graduate and close friend of Mr Beck- Jaffurs, used his mate's death as inspiration to design an inflatable life vest.

Triggered by a body's movements, it has the potential to save lives or allow for bodies to be more easily found as they would float rather than sink to the ocean floor.

The 22-year-old's Revival Vest is one of 15 finalists in an international design competition, the James Dyson Award.

Mr Beck-Jaffurs, a medical student who lived life to the full, according to friends and family, was aware of the risks of diving and took safety precautions, but on the day he died he pushed himself too hard and blacked out, Mr McNab says.

"He never returned to the surface; well, not consciously, anyway," said the Whangarei man, now living in Tauranga. If Mr Beck-Jaffurs had been wearing the Revival Vest, it might have been a different story.

Using smart fabric technology, which reacts to bodily signals, Mr McNab designed the vest to inflate in certain situations. "It monitors respiration, bodily signs such as heartrate, and muscle movement and contraction.

"When you black out under the water, your body becomes limp and that's a trigger for the life vest to inflate."

The vest, which is light and flexible to allow movement, inflates in the front and back of the chest. More air goes into the front so that the person ends up floating on his or her back, and a supporting "cushion" around the neck is designed to keep the mouth out of the water.

Mr McNab, a Victoria University graduate, said the opportunities were endless. "Fishing, kitesurfing - it could be used for so many water sports."

Although it is just a prototype, with investors on board Mr McNab is hoping to make it a reality.

The competition winner will be announced in two weeks. Fairfax NZ

The Dominion Post