Discarded Coke bottle device which could help save lives trialled on north Norfolk coast

The bottle buoy is a flotation device consisting of three empty plastic bottles screwed into a centr

The bottle buoy is a flotation device consisting of three empty plastic bottles screwed into a central core. Picture: RNLI - Credit: RNLI

The RNLI in Cromer will take part in the first UK trial of the so-called bottle buoys.

The bottle buoys were first trialled in the sea in Bangladesh in May. Picture: RNLI

The bottle buoys were first trialled in the sea in Bangladesh in May. Picture: RNLI - Credit: RNLI

Plastic bottles are being turned into potentially lifesaving rescue devices which can be thrown to casualties at sea to stop them drowning.

The flotation device, which was tested by the lifeboat institution's international team in Bangladesh in May, consists of three empty plastic bottles screwed into a central core and could potentially be used worldwide.

Stuart Thompson, from the RNLI's International Development team, said: 'It's one of those ideas that, when you see it, you can't quite believe how simple it is, or why no-one has thought of it before.

'It's a plastic or wooden core which you secure three bottles to. The bottles are empty and sealed, and the air trapped inside gives the device incredible buoyancy – enough to keep a casualty afloat in the water until help can arrive.'


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The bottle buoy is the brainchild of Huddersfield student James Benson, who came up with the idea, built a prototype, and entered an International Maritime Rescue Federation (IMRF) competition.

Originally recreated out of wood by a carpenter in Bangladesh, it is believed a plastic version could easily be injection moulded and potentially mass produced for relatively little cost.

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And, with plastic amounting to around 90 percent of all rubbish floating on the ocean's surface, it is hoped it could also clean up the area's coastline.

With 372,000 people killed by drowning around the world every year, members of the RNLI's International and Engineering teams will trial the bottle buoy in the sea next to Cromer Pier, on Thursday, from midday until 2pm.

Mr Thompson said: 'We have links with the IMRF and since learning about the buoy we been working closely with James to assess how easily it could be mass produced.

'In May we ran some trials with an injury prevention organisation called the Centre for Injury Prevention and Research, Bangladesh. This was part of our international work to improve search and rescue capacity in countries with high drowning rates.

'We found the initial results really encouraging so now we want to put the bottle buoy through its paces a little more. We have tested it in the RNLI Sea Survival Pool at our RNLI headquarters in Dorset, where all of our volunteer lifeboat crew members do their training.

'In the sea at Cromer we'll see if it can be reliably thrown over a distance, how far, whether it can keep more than one person afloat, whether it works with a line attached to aid recovery, and how it fares in different sea conditions.'

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