Ulu Adventure produce inflatable lifesavers, including the Guardian II Tow Float and the AquaTrek, that also make life on the water easier, writes Mike Gormley.
I recently met with the founder of Ulu Adventure Ltd, Ben Ridding, and discovered the motivation behind the products he has developed. These are largely intended to help save lives on the water and, of course, to be a very handy item of gear at the same time.
Ben has been through various related evolutions in his life, but all water-based as a life saver, including spells as a lifeguard with the RNLI, an instructor and an expedition leader; all based on the coast, and mostly the rugged north coast of Cornwall where these products were conceived. A while back I reviewed the Ulu AquaTrek 36 ~ a 36-litre waterproof backpack which I use a great deal. AquaTrek dry bags are used in all sorts of professional and sporting applications where kit needs to be carried and kept dry. This includes the sport of aqua trekking, where you carry your kit along the coast path and then get in the water and swim back, keeping dry gear for your return to dry land.
However for this Ulu revisit I first take a look at their Guardian II combined Tow Float and Inflatable Dry Bag. This seems quite a simple thing, but in reality is a well thought out and very useful item of gear which could very easily save your life, or perhaps even another person’s, in the event of an emergency arising. You only need to watch the TV documentary series Saving Lives at Sea, based on actual rescues carried out by the RNLI, to be quickly convinced that a highly visible floating device can so easily enable the rescue services to spot those in trouble.
A swimmer’s head is hard to see at best, even in good calm conditions, but add a bit of a swell, and worse still fading light or even darkness, and the chances of being spotted can be close to zero. Couple with this safety aspect the need when afloat to have a means of communication with you further emphasises the benefits of the aptly named Guardian. A mobile phone and perhaps a mini flare and/or torch can all be kept safe, dry and accessible while you are out for your swim or at leisure on your SUP (stand-up paddleboard) or kayak. The Ulu Guardian can be your ‘grab bag’ containing your standard ‘always to have with you’ items of kit and add to that any other bits and bobs for the trip including possibly a drink and munchy bar. Again, essential to keep things going if you should get into trouble.
The Ulu Guardian II has two inflatable chambers fitted with Boston valves for easy inflation and deflation. These chambers are separate to the main stowage compartment in the middle which means you can open the centre of the dry bag to access any of the items without degrading the floatation aspect by a critical amount; the main compartment can add to the floatation ability, but is not critical to it. The stowage section is sealed in the conventional dry bag roll-top way. It is important to note this is not formally classed as a buoyancy device but it can support about 13kg so is therefore a very useful aid, if needs be.
As well as the ability of the Guardian to be a safety device in an emergency situation, it is a very useful, if not essential, way of helping you show up when in or on the water. As one who gets out in boats sometimes, I have long thought that those swimming or out on a paddleboard really should, always, have some form of hi-vis item on or about them. It’s just common sense really. In even light sea state conditions it is scarily difficult to see someone in the water and this also goes for for a person on a SUP or kayak. So, unless you are a member of the SBS, you really do need to be clearly visible at all times.
Even on a good day on the coastal estuary near me, where the boating channel is one and the same as where swimmers and paddle-boarders are enjoying their leisure time, from my raised vantage point it is very eye-opening. If only those in the water knew just how hard it is to see them, and even more so when others are down at sea level, I reckon many would be off to buy a Guardian that same day.
The Guardian II has two grab loops and an attachment loop on both sides to attach items, as well as the supplied tow strap / swim belt. The float comes with its own formidable 100+ decibel whistle and Ulu also have an inexpensive white safety light (sold separately) said to be visible up to 5km away that can also be attached, which is a great idea.
So, people, be safe on the water. If you do get unlucky and need some helpers to rescue you, and accidents do happen, do what you can to make the job of the rescue services easier. A Guardian II tow float is a very small investment to make to perhaps save your life. The rescuers will thank you and you no doubt will be ever grateful to them. I know some of these people who risk all to save others in trouble. They won’t admit it, but they are extremely brave on some of the ‘shouts’ they undertake, so anything we can do to make their life easier and perhaps help save our own life is, in my view, a no-brainer.
¤ Adventure over and you return to shore with the easy to handle AquaTrek containing your dry kit [©MG]
¤ Carrying kit over the rocks is much easier with a proper backpack like the AquaTrek and as a bonus it is fully waterproof floats too [©MG]
Thanks to Becks for braving the winter sea for my photo session.
[images © Mike Gormley]