Gear test: Personal Retriever - Soundings Online

Gear test: Personal Retriever

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We are all familiar with throwable devices designed to be used in crew-overboard situations. If you have had the occasion to practice with or actually use one in an emergency situation, you likely are aware of the difficulties that can be involved in their deployment.

We are all familiar with throwable devices designed to be used in crew-overboard situations. If you have had the occasion to practice with or actually use one in an emergency situation, you likely are aware of the difficulties that can be involved in their deployment.

 I have found that throwable cushions provide buoyancy but can’t be thrown accurately or with much reach. Life rings are heavy and hard, and can create additional injuries if they hit the person in the water. And rope throw bags provide no buoyancy and cannot be easily and rapidly redeployed if necessary.

 

 Life-Safer Inc. of San Diego has developed Personal Retriever, a device that addresses these issues and enables a rescuer to provide assistance from up to 100 feet away without entering the water.

After working with the Personal Retriever for several months, I believe it is a simple yet highly effective rescue device that, with a little practice, can be accurately deployed to a person in the water by anyone. It is thrown in a similar fashion to a Frisbee, and as it spins the attached line unspools from the integral reel. Once the buoyant disc is in the hands of the victim, he or she can be pulled back to the boat or dock.

The Personal Retriever is a 3-inch-thick, 17-inch-diameter disc constructed of soft, expanded polyethylene foam and with a propylene base. The base serves as storage for the 100 feet of 3/16-inch, 650-pound polypropylene line when not in use, and it controls the line payout while in flight. The disc also incorporates a balance ring to improve flight characteristics. The complete unit weighs 1-1/2 pounds.

The Personal Retriever is designed to be quickly and accurately thrown out to 100 feet, and if required it can be recovered and rethrown without rewinding the line. The ability to rapidly redeploy the disc is an important consideration when there is more than one person in the water. It provides 11.24 pounds of buoyancy, which is sufficient to keep a conscious person afloat as during the recovery, according to Life-Safer.

As with any new tool, it is important to become familiar with its use. The Personal Retriever is packaged with two pages of comprehensive yet simple instructions for deployment, what to do if the disc misses the target, and how to stow the disc. I also received a video from Bob Boergesson of CLC Associates in Southold, N.Y., the East Coast distributor for the product. Boergesson is a rescue professional, and reviewed the finer points of using the Personal Retriever. Life-Safer seems to have made a conscious effort to ensure that its device is used properly, and a copy of the video is provided with each purchase.

The unit can be deployed in less than five seconds by simply loosening the rope, retaining strap, and allowing three to five coils of line to pay off the spool. Grasp the disc in your hand, trapping the rope under your fingers to prevent further unspooling. Target the disc’s trajectory directly in line with the person in the water, bring the disc back across your body and, using a stiff arm, throw the disc over the top of and beyond the person. After the disc lands, pull it toward the person in the water. It requires some practice to accurately deploy the Personal Retriever, but it can be quickly mastered. I set up a family competition for distance and accuracy as a way to have everyone become familiar with its operation.

The Personal Retriever has several advantages over other water rescue devices, in my opinion. A rescue throw bag requires an underhand toss, so deployment over rails and high gunwales can be difficult. To redeploy a throw bag with any reach on the second attempt, it needs to be restuffed with its line, a time-consuming and awkward operation. With the Personal Retriever, just pull the line back, drop it at your feet and relaunch. After several hours of testing in the backyard, the foam disc has several indentations from impact with trees and rocks, but it has sustained no damage that would affect its operation.

Life-Safer recommends storing the Personal Retriever to be thrown with the right hand, because of the prevalence of right-handed people. To deploy it left-handed, pay out the line in a clear area at your feet and throw with the left hand.

The Personal Retriever in April was certified by the Coast Guard for use on all vessels. In addition, it also is an authorized substitute for Type IV 20-inch and 24-inch orange or white ring buoys on commercial vessels, according to Life-Safer.

The Personal Retriever is a well-constructed, user-friendly rescue device that is easily stowed in its protective nylon pouch within reach aboard any vessel. It retails for $129.50, including the detailed instructional video. A reminder on the instruction sheet says that, as with all rescue equipment, “its effectiveness is directly proportionate to an individual’s skill and requires regular practice to maintain proficiency.”

For more information, contact Boergesson of CLC Associates at (631) 484-0845, or Life-Safer Inc. at (888) 222-0373.

www.life-safer.com