November 19, 2007 Over 50 deaths per year in the US and Canada are attributed to drowning when snowmobiles and ATVs (All Terrain Vehicles) crash through thin ice. In an effort to significantly reduce the risk of such tragedies occurring, the University of Minnesota in partnership with JTW Associates have developed the Nebulus Emergency Flotation Device - a self-inflating shell that deploys quickly and allows a water or ice rescue to be performed by one person without waiting for back up.

The Nebulus Emergency Flotation Device looks much like a life raft on a plane or ship and provides temporary flotation for submerged snowmobiles and ATVs as well as up to three riders. It is designed to be manually inflated by an emergency first responder or the rider when the recreation vehicle breaks through ice. Contained in a compact soft, rugged shell that is easily attached to any vehicle, the Nebulus Device uses two pressurized carbon dioxide (CO2) bottles to inflate an enclosed lift bag. Deployed when the rip-cord is pulled, the device’s inflated lift bag is capable of providing temporary flotation for up to 1,000-pounds of the submerged vehicle and riders.

“Thin ice is not easily identified on frozen lakes and rivers often used by recreational snowmobile and ATV riders,” said John Weinel, president and CEO of JTW Associates. “The Nebulus Emergency Flotation Device was developed to be fast-deploying and easy-to-use. The device also allows submerged vehicles to be easily recovered as they are tethered to the deployed raft, resulting in a more environmentally responsible and cost effective vehicle recovery.” Currently over 1200 devices are in service with Emergency Responders in the US and Canada as a safety tool during rescue efforts. The Nebulus device is attached to snowmobiles and ATVs when patrolling lakes and rivers.

Video of the device in action is available at Nebulus.

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