Nova Scotia

P.E.I. student who’s worked on lobster boats seeking patent for new life-jacket

A 21-year-old university student has received a $50,000 grant to continue developing a new life-jacket he designed specifically for commercial fishermen.

Ben Collings-MacKay is in fourth year at St. Francis Xavier University in Nova Scotia but hails from Montague in eastern P.E.I.. He has been spending most of his summers out on the Gulf of St. Lawrence, fishing lobster. 

But he is also the founder of CM Marine Safety Equipment, which in mid-June was awarded top prize for northern Nova Scotia in the annual Spark Nova Scotia competition meant “to activate early-stage innovation in rural parts of Nova Scotia.”

Collings-MacKay knows first-hand the challenges fishermen face having to wear both an approved life-jacket or personal flotation device and the kind of protective gear that can keep them warm and dry as they handle heavy traps and nets in a physically demanding job.

“My first season, I remember we were setting the gear out in Annandale [off northeastern P.E.I.]. We came back in for a second load and a boat pulled up beside us and this guy jumped off his boat,” he told CBC’s Wayne Thibodeau.

“There was an older man and he was soaking wet. Turns out he got hit by a trap and fell overboard… It kind of put the idea in my head, like ‘Why wasn’t he wearing a life-jacket?’ You know, that could have ended a lot differently that day.”

Ben Collings-MacKay was working on this lobster boat when he came up with the idea for a different kind of life-jacket. (Submitted by Ben Collings-MacKay)

The life-jackets on his own boat were “cumbersome, they were bulky and they’re getting caught on things and getting in the way,” he said. “The vast majority of the time we weren’t wearing them.”

Hoping for ‘seamless transition’

The challenge stayed in his head until last fall, where he had to come up with a business idea for an entrepreneurship class at St. FX.

“The main difference is that the ones that are available now are an external device,” he said. “They go over top of the oil gear. It’s totally separate from it.

“Mine will be integrated into the oil pants. So this way it will be hopefully a seamless transition from normal oil pants to oil pants with a life-jacket integrated into them.”

‘We’ve lost a few fishermen’: P.E.I. crews reminded life-jackets could prevent tragedy

Life-jackets or other kinds of personal flotation devices are mandatory when fishing crews are out on the water, with employers required to provide them. Danny Smith with the Workers Compensation Board and lobster fisher Allan Coady talk about the rules — and how more and more harvesters have been obeying them as the years go by.

He added: “It will also have a couple different safety features, added safety features to keep fishermen alive in the water and be found sooner. You know, it’ll be a lot more flexible and comfortable.”

The prototype he showed for the competition was made with the help of his sister’s sewing machine.

“I kept on running into the problem of people not really being able to visualize what I was talking about, and I’m not the best drawer, so I couldn’t… really sketch it out too well for them,” he said.

Hence the appeal to his sister.

“They all loved it. They loved the fact that, you know, I had… my physical product there with me. And I think that really helped me win it.”

Collings-MacKay didn’t want to describe the device further or share a photo of his design because he is using some of the prize money to work with patent lawyers to apply for a patent. 

He hopes to work with some engineers to create a working prototype to begin testing sometime in 2025.

“The end goal is to for it to save lives…. They’ll be built for fishermen, you know, designed by fishermen. So that’s the whole idea of it.”

See also  Researchers search for lobster traps, nets and other 'ghost gear' lost near N.L. waters

Related Articles

Leave a Reply

Back to top button