Traditional Personal Flotation Devices (PFD) are an important part of water safety, but they can be entirely uncomfortable to wear in or out of the water, especially during activity. While inflatable belts and wristbands provide potentially sleeker, more comfortable alternatives, they still require the wearer to add extra accessories that may or may not be that comfortable. To further improve comfort, startup Aegis Lifeshirt integrates inflatable protection into the shirt you're wearing anyway.

Paddlers, surfers and other water users might be more accustomed to wearing a bikini or board shorts than a shirt, but the shirt seems like a potentially more casual, comfortable way to wear a flotation device than alternatives like the Kingii wristband, Restube waist pack or a traditional foam vest. A shirt also has other advantages, protecting you from the sun, wind and rough surf.

The Lifeshirt design was inspired by a situation in which most people would have never even thought to wear a life jacket. Entrepreneur Rosario Poma found himself frantically watching his son getting dragged out by the ocean current on what was otherwise a fun, beautiful day at the beach. The on-duty lifeguard was able to rescue his son, but the event haunted Poma and prompted him to look for a solution. Poma came up with the basic idea of a light, comfortable flotation shirt and turned to friend and product designer Jimi Beach to see it through.

The Lifeshirt's inflation can be set to automatic or activated manually by the pull handle on the shoulder. The automatic system relies on an integrated sensor to detect submersion and automatically activate inflation. The CO2-cylinder-activated inflation bladder expands around the upper torso and neck to keep the head above water. The design also includes an oral inflation/release valve on the right shoulder.

Aegis Lifeshirt keeps the Lifeshirt as comfortable as possible using carefully selected materials and design solutions. The current design is a form-fitting shirt with an internal moisture-wicking liner, mesh ventilation panels and UPF 50+ fabric. The inflation system is built into the upper-middle back. An integrated waistband ensures the shirt stays in place.

Aegis Lifeshirt tells us that its first Lifeshirt has been approved by the International Standards Organization (ISO) as a Level 50 device. The company has a Level 70 design in the works. ISO classifies Level 50 (50 newtons/11.2 lb of buoyancy) devices as "buoyancy aids" that "require the user to make swimming and other postural movements to position the user with the face out of the water" and differentiates them from lifejackets, which "provide face up in-water support to the user regardless of physical conditions."

In other words, a lifejacket can keep your face above water even if you're unconscious, but a buoyancy aid requires you to actively keep yourself right. Buoyancy aids are designed for near-shore activities like surfing and kayaking.

While the 50 N rating meets ISO standards, it comes up short for others. Florida-based Aegis Lifeshirt admits that its design does not meet US Coast Guard (USCG) vessel carriage requirements for recreational boats and paddle craft as they stand now. Aegis is hoping that the USCG will soon follow through with plans to harmonize its standards with ISO, but that has yet to happen.

"We've stalled the development and launch of Lifeshirt for nearly two years in anticipation of the new North American standard," Jimi Beach, now director of development, said last year. "However, boaters are not regularly wearing the current bulky PFDs and loss of life due to drowning can be directly attributed to this fact. People are practically screaming for an approved lightweight class in North America, one that boaters and paddlers are willing to wear."

Aegis Lifeshirt says that it will still be able to sell its shirts in the US. They just won't be USCG approved.

"Lifeshirt, as a new company, decided to seek ISO approval since this is the system that the USCG will be adopting in the coming years," explains Jim Emmons, Aegis Lifeshirt's director of sales and media relations. "The latest news from the USCG is that the process is taking longer than they expected and that they are now looking forward to an announcement in late 2016 or early 2017."

Aegis Lifeshirt is currently pursuing a global launch and talking with distributors around the world. It has several different shirts planned, including men's, women's and children's styles, and hopes to get its first products to market this year.

The Lifeshirt design has earned a few industry accolades, including receiving "Best of Show" recognition as part of the New Product Showcase at the ICAST 2015 fishing show, where it debuted last July, and being named a finalist in the ISPO 2016 BrandNew Awards.

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