Riptides can carry hapless swimmers out into the ocean very quickly – by the time a lifeguard is able swim out to rescue them, it may be too late. Using a Jet Ski to reach struggling swimmers is one option, although such watercraft can be expensive, problematic to store on-site, and difficult to launch for one person. Now, seaside municipalities can get something cheaper and easier for reaching those swimmers-in-distress: an electric remote-control motorized rescue buoy called EMILY.

Designed and manufactured by Arizona-based Hydronalix, EMILY (Emergency Integrated Lifesaving Lanyard) can reportedly be deployed in 30 seconds, and at a top speed of 24 mph (39 kph) is able to reach a troubled swimmer much faster than a human would be able to. It’s propelled by a Jet Ski-style impeller, that sucks water in from the front and shoots it out the back, and is able to flip itself back over if capsized in rough surf.

Once it reaches the swimmer, EMILY's shore-based operator is able to communicate with them via an onboard camera and two-way radio system – on one version of the product, at least. From there, it can transport the swimmer back to shore under its own power or, if a rescue line was attached when it set out, it can be towed back using that line. Aside from getting to those in need faster, sending EMILY to the rescue means that no more people are put in danger – a common problem for rescuers dealing with panicking swimmers.

The first EMILY was built in September 2009, for scientific use by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Since this March, successive versions have been tried out by lifeguards at numerous Southern California beaches.

In its present incarnation, the basic version of EMILY weighs 24 pounds (11 kg), can travel at maximum speed for up to 15 minutes, and has an RF range of up to one mile (1.6 km). One version even has side scan sonar, to help it find mostly-underwater swimmers on its own. For the next version, Hydronalix plans on dropping the platform weight to 20 pounds (9 kg), increasing the top speed to 32 mph (51.5 kph), and giving it the ability to be “drop launched” from up to 30 feet (9 meters).

Even though it's an emergency response tool, getting the maximum speed and range ever-higher is not a top priority for EMILY's designers. "It is important to note that not all missions benefit with more speed or duration," Hydronalix's Anthony Mulligan told us. "High speeds can be dangerous if you hit someone. Also, longer durations mean much more weight of the craft, which can cause more harm."

Buyers would also, of course, have to pay for more speed and range. "To go 40 mph for 30 minutes cost over $10,000 in batteries," he said. "To go 24 mph for 15 minutes costs $1,400 in batteries."

Hydronalix sells EMILYs for US$3,500, which is less than half the average price of a gas-powered Jet Ski.

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