VOR organisers have added a new man-overboard sonar detection device to its Notice of Race for 2008-09 12/1/07

In light of the growing concerns over safety at sea in the some of the world’s high-profile ocean yacht races, Volvo Ocean Race organisers have added a new man-overboard detection device to its Notice of Race 2008-09.

Launched at the London Boatshow, the new self-initiated digital-sonar alarm known as the Mermaid id is the brainchild of Matt Hazell – managing director of First Light Solutions. Hazell designed the product for the BBC’s Dragon’s Den programme and in doing so secured £100,000 funding from ‘business angel’ Richard Fareleight in August last year.

The Mermaid id is still very much in its testing/development phase which means that VOR organisers hope to be very much involved in ensuring the product is designed to specifically meet the needs of the competitors of the VOR. In the new VOR Notice of Race the Mermaid id will be mandatory for all crews taking part in the next race.

Talking to yachtingworld.com about the reasons why they decided to go for unproven product, Andy Hindley – VOR Race Director – commented: “I saw this new product on the television and decided to investigate further. It just happened to be at the time we were writing the new Notice of Race and looking at new safety equipment on the market and to be honest there’s not very much around that we were aware of that was anything dramatically different to what we already have. We decided that this was something we definitely needed to fill this gap which exists in the MOB alerting market.”

So what makes this new device stand out above other similar MOB alerting systems on the market? Its unique quality is the fact that uses sonar signals meaning that it works underwater and responds through carbonfibre structure. It’s also a reactive system, which means it only works when the MOB hits the water and it never needs recharging.

Many other systems work on a proactive basis, where the pendant and sender receiver constantly talk to each other, such as the popular MOB i-lert using dedicated signals through airwaves so that loss of signal sets off an alarm on the boat.

Hindley continued: “?we also really liked the idea of not having to recharge the pendant units because this is not always something professional sailors wants to do. If you give them a unit that has a shelf life of years they never have to take it out of their pocket or need to worry about whether it is charged or not.”

The onboard electronics aboard the VOR boats will the same as the consumer version of the product but the personal beacons will be ultra light and designed and shaped to fit into clothing and will be tweaked slightly to protect the unit from continued dampness. Hindley said: “In order to prolong battery power in wet conditions the pins that activate it are in a slightly different position and are slightly more protected which adds about a second to the detection time.

“We are going to give each crewmember four pendant units specifically-designed and shaped to fit into specially-designed pockets on their clothing. So they’ll have one in their trousers, jacket, survival suit, and they have a fourth unit they’ll be able to swap when they are wearing shorts and t-shirts.”

Riccardo Anzil, First Light’s technical director, will head the final stages of testing which will take place on the Solent soon and Marine Track, with their many years of technological expertise and experience, will help to produce the ultimate life-saving device. Hindley concluded: “Within the evaluation period we need to ensure the detector is refined sufficiently enough to cope with the speeds at which the VOR yachts are travelling and to increase the power of the ID pods so they can transmit further.”

Chatting about the Mermaid id Charlie Mills – managing director of Ocean Safety – said: “There are other similar devices on the market but as far as I understand this is the first system using sonar and it’s also a tracking device. Since we’ve not actually played with one of these and don’t know how it really works, I can’t comment on its performance but I believe that if Andy Hindley thinks it’s good then it probably will be.”

According to First Light Solutions the cost of the Mermaid id has yet to be decided although they confirm the price “will be competitive”. They also confirm that the product will be on the market later this year available at most chandleries.