Throwable Flotation devices

Throwable Flotation devices for Man Overboard Situations. An Important Fact from the USCG; 70% of all boating fatality accidents result from drowning. Almost 90% of those who drown are not wearing a life jacket!

When a person goes overboard the two most important acts to take are; first to locate them and have a lookout, and second get them some flotation. Once you have them in sight and they have floatation you can work on a plan to get them back aboard.

Oscar Flag indicates a man Overboard, often attached to the man overboard pole on a boat.
Oscar Flag indicates a man Overboard, often attached to the man overboard pole on a boat.


This weeks newsletter we have taken a look at throwable flotation devices so you are able to help the victim survive while you are returning to pick them up.

A minimum requirement by regulation for most boats is a floating cushion, Type IV Standard Buoyant Cushion, seen right. The cushion can be thrown around 25-50ft depending on conditions.

Once you have them close to the boat read the newsletter boarding ladders (how to get a MOB back onto the boat).

Choosing a Throwable flotation device

Important things to consider:

  • Distance thrown
  • Accuracy of throw
  • Is a recovery line attached
  • How much flotation

More considerations

  • When throwing a device aim upwind of the MOB
  • The device will get blown downwind to the MOB
  • If you have an item like the lifesling with line
  • Tow the lifesling behind the boat and circle the MOB
  • Distance thrown is important but so is accuracy.
  • Having a line on a flotation device, is not necessary.
  • You can always get a line to a MOB after he has got some floatation.
  • You can also get a line to the MOB and then flotation.
  • A person in the water soon gets tired.
  • They maybe a bit panicked and expend too much energy
  • With flotation they will be much calmer.

Traditional throwable devices

MOB products, & Rescue lines.

There are two groups here. One is a simple device you throw at the victim. The second are the inflatable Dan Buoy and MOM which are deployed. If you deploy the MOM it automatically inflates. The inflated danbouy can be used as a meeting point.


PLASTIMO HORSESHOE lifering. Again thrown immediately the victim falls overboard. Typically you will add to the horseshoe a whistle, drogue and strobe so the MOB can get attention from the boat.

  • Typical cost $90.
  • no line attached
  • can be thrown 25+ ft
Stearns Inc Rescue Bag

There is no floatation in the rescue bag but you may combine this with a horseshoe life ring, or other form of flotation.


100′ OF ROPE.  Repack able for multiple uses. 3/8″ braided, floating polypropylene rope. 1″ reflective tape. Rescue mate is an example of a throw rope. The bag is throw to the victim, while the bitter end of the line in the bag is tied to the boat or wrist.

  • Typical cost in the $60 range.
  • No flotation.
  • Can be thrown typically 50+ft, less into the wind.
The Lifesling

The Lifesling type of throwable device is and has been one of the most common device for recovering crewmembers.

The Lifesling 2 consists of a floatation collar with 20lbs buoyancy and 125ft of line. The instructions show you how to circle around the victim so they can grab the line and pull toward the flotation device.

  • Cost approx $100.
  • line +flotation.
  • Typically thrown 20-30ft.
Plastimo Inflatable Dan Buoy

Dan buoys are use to help locate victim day or night

Plastimo’s version of an inflatable Dab Buoy has water activated light. Thrown overboard immediately it can provide a visual point for the boat to return to in wavy conditions.

  • Cost around $140.
  • No line.
  • Deployed ASAP.

re the actual victim cannot be seen. Another method to gain attraction is to use a whistle light or strobe and drogue on the lifejacket or Dan Buoy.


Top of the line is SWITLICKS MOM 8 This fully compact and complete device is activated by pulling the pin when the MOB is reported.

Expensive at approx $800, line flotation Dan buoy not thrown but deployed immediately victim falls overboard. If it takes longer than a few seconds to pull the pin the Mom can be too far away.

The MOM 9; has all the items in the MOM 8 and also has a single person liferaft which has also be used as a hoist.

Latest in throwable devices

SOS Dan Buoy

The new SOS Dan Buoy is a throwable pouch that when hitting the water self inflates producing a tall pole for spotting the Man OverBoard (MOB).

The pouch is easy to throw and is condense enough to be fairly accurate – Cushions are flat and light and are easily blown by the wind. This means when someone falls overboard, you can grab the pouch and quickly get it to the MOB. Now you can see where they are while you turn around to pick them up. The pole has its own buoyancy that the MOB can use.


Lifesling have an inflatable version of the lifesling2 which inflates on contact with water. The much smaller size makes it easier to throw further and more accurately. Throwing over 50 ft is possible.

The sling, valise and 125′ of 8mm, multi-filament, yellow polypropylene line are stored in a white compact fiberglass case designed to be mounted on the stern or a pulpit.

Typical cost $199. Line & flotation. Can be thrown 50+ ft. Most Chandlers and online stores carry the Lifesling.



Rescue internationals

This version ResQsling shows the concept in the photo below. The bag with inflatable lifejacket in it is thrown to the MOB victim

Great Tip for a MOB at night

Use a flashlight to locate a MOB at night.

I read in Practical Boat Owner that during a night retrieval of a MOB, the crew were not able to locate the victim, even though they could hear him. The Owner threw overboard a flashlight and the beam became a central location that the victim could swim to and the boat maneuver to. This Glow Torch will float upright.

This is like throwing a lifejacket with a strobe. The strobe helps locate the MOB.


HOW TECHFLOAT WORKS: Holding one end of the line, the entire unit is thrown into the water (throw underhand for best accuracy) and the (24lb) buoyancy aid automatically inflates in just seconds via a patented valve system. The line pays out of the bag as it is thrown, just like our regular heaving line bags.

$195. 24 lbs buoyancy + line. Can be thrown 55-70ft


Incredibly easy to use, the Rescue Stick provides rapid flotation assistance to a person at risk of drowning. Simply remove the baton shaped Rescue Stick from its waterproof bag and throw near the person. Once contact is made with the water it inflates in seconds to a large horseshoe shape keeping them afloat and their head above water until help arrives.

Keeping the Rescue stick ready to hand in a pocket on a guard rail or lifeline, means a crewmember can react quickly to the MOB.

  • 34lbs buoyancy
  • no line
  • can be thrown 100+ft.
  • cost $129

The Life Safer Personal Retriever is a United States Coast Guard (USCG) approved, state-of-the-art, throw able Personal Flotation Device (PFD) developed to enable first responders ashore or afloat the ability to quickly retrieve people from the water or from frozen rivers, lakes and streams.

The Frisbee type device works well. If you purchase one, try practicing your throwing technique as this will mean better throws in anger.

In windy conditions this device will get blown off course.

  • Cost $139,
  • 11lbs buoyancy minimum to keep person afloat,
  • can be thrown 65ft

Professional Throwable & rocket devices

These devices are more expensive and can be dangerous to use, but their power is what needed for Professional seafarers, whether the Coast Guard or Lifeboats or the Navy.


The Balcan Emergency Life Line BELL was introduced in 1973 and was the first line specifically designed to allow all ages to throw it with great accuracy up to its full length of 40 meters, without preparation, very much further than had previously been possible.

Cost around $70. line only. can be thrown 40M is approx 130ft


ResQmax is new generation line thrower, using patented air thrust technology.

As a line deployment device, the ResQmaxâ„¢ can deliver a variety of line types, depending on the application, over distances up to 400 feet.

As a water rescue device, it can deliver an auto-inflating flotation harness and retrieval line to a victim in the water, over distances up to 300 feet.

Line Thrower

Applications For use as pilot line for cables and ropes in rescue operations at sea. Use between ships, from shore to ship or ship to shore, or for rescuing personnel.

Design and function A robust construction consisting of a waterproof plastic container, incorporating an integral handle and trigger mechanism, with a solid fuel rocket and 300 m of line.

General The IKAROS-LINE is approved globally and meets the latest SOLAS 74/96 regulations.

Line Thrower Video Demonstration (turn down the sound)

Speedline 250

Speedline 250 is a line-throwing apparatus, allowing to pass a 250 meter line quickly and accurately between 2 vessels or from the shore to a vessel. Combined with the optional buoyant head, it is ideal to rescue swimmers.

Speedline 250 consists of a weatherproof plastic casing with handle and trigger assembly. It contains the striker, the rocket and a 275 m line.

Weight : 3.9 kg.

Designed for the most extreme weather conditions.

Final Thoughts

Each of these products have their own merits. Since they are not expensive compared to the downside I would get more than one. There is no magic pill so one device will not cover every situation.

I would get a good throw line, which can be used for docking as well. How many times have you fell short of the dock and a dock line was too heavy and short to throw to someone.

Then a couple of the throw stick devices and store the on the rail for quick access.

An inflatable device with a line would also be recommended, this way you can have several products at hand.

Warning, Make sure if you use any of the self inflating devices you get them inspected every year or two and have spare canisters available. Also flying with canisters can be a problem.

Look for separate safety news on getting the victim back aboard. Its one thing to get them close to the boat, but as I discovered another thing to get them aboard and this can be very tiring.

Also look for safety news on Personal locator beacons (PLB’s). These can help you find the MOB is trying conditions, like those where you loose sight of the victim at night in large waves.

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