We keep thinking water safety is obvious and common sense. We think if we just talk about drowning, everyone will have an ‘aha’ moment and start acting appropriately around water. Funding for programs will come flooding in, innovations in the field will multiply to keep people safer, and the world will splash joyfully and safely.
And pigs may fly.
Most of the world does not understand drowning. We have a long way to go to put drowning firmly on the global stage at the same level as other causes. As we continue to work together to build momentum and a cohesive strategy for engaging and communicating, we need to remember that it can’t all be carrot (positive). In some cases we need to be prepared to wield a big stick (negative) to eliminate dangerous ideas and products.
Several years ago I wrote about the need to set standards and regulations before unrealistic rules are set for us. I still stand strongly behind this belief, but I think we need to extend our focus to developing consistent and reasonable laws and regulations around water safety products.
A new product is catching attention across the internet – Kingii. The device is a wristband that counts on the user to activate a flotation bladder that will then lift the person to the surface. In 17 days, they raised $483,901 on Indiegogo. They are on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Pinterest, Tumblr, Google Plus, and StumbleUpon. In the promotional materials, they liken the device to a seat belt or bike helmet, which are the aquatic equivalents of lifejackets. But concerningly, they clearly state that this is a desirable alternative to bulky life jackets that block your tan. Cringing yet? Or maybe just a bit jealous you can’t raise almost half a million dollars for your good idea or program?
I know I’m preaching to the choir here, but in my opinion, with it’s current promotional language, Kingii falls into the category of those vile inflatable arm bands because it gives a false sense of security. Worse, it won’t hold someone’s head above water if they panic, lose consciousness, or are unable to activate the device because of cold, a broken limb, or shock. The concept is great because it reminds people about water safety. It may be a great product for experienced open water swimming and sports where lifejackets are not used. The very act of purchasing and wearing such a device will make someone at least more aware of water safety. The technology is innovative and the inventor holds an impressive number of U.S. Patents. However, the product and the communication need to be in compliance with best practices in water safety. The only way there will be compliance is if there are basic standards that are communicated and enforced, either legally or through orchestrated community pressure.
We need to talk about how we handle such products and ideas. We need to reach out to entrepreneurs who have a good idea but do not fully understand drowning. We need their innovations, but focused in the right direction. We don’t want laws and regulations that kill innovation, make products too expensive for people to buy, or, worst case in my view, scare people away from the water, but we do need to set industry practice in an industry that has very little oversight, and then we need to communicate those standards to industry and the public. We need to set standards before they are set for us by people who don’t understand water safety.
This product was invented because someone drowned, just has happened with other great products that save lives. The motivation is pure. The concept is good. The team has development and business expertise. There is clearly a market, which means we can attract other entrepreneurs to the field of water safety once we raise awareness. But first, we in the drowning prevention community need to take responsibility for directing that energy and creativity in the right direction.