The Life of a Lifebuoy


Blogs written by Lava

The Life of a Lifebuoy 24 May 2016

It has been 160 years since the Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI) first started using the lifebuoy. Now it is a commonplace fixture on all boats and coastal areas.

With many using a crude cork belt or jacket to keep seafarers safe, it was Thomas Kisbee, a British Naval Officer, who invented the modern ring-shaped lifebuoy. His invention, dubbed the Kisbee Ring, would go on to save many thousands of lives.

Kisbee’s original invention, made from cork, was a ring that would be kept on board and thrown into the water in case of a ‘man overboard’.  The person could then be pulled to safety with the attached rope.

The Breeches Buoy

This was the greatest, but not the only lifesaving device that Kisbee invented. The ‘Breeches Buoy’ was a rather bizarre alternative that included the traditional ring with an insert that provided a leg harness (or breeches) that kept the user in place. 

The floatation device was just one part of the Breeches Buoy. The main function was to transport the user to safety via a zip line. The line would be launched from safety to the wreck via a kite system, or fired from a gun.

Unlike its more successful older brother, the traditional lifebuoy, the Breeches Buoy is rarely used today. It has, however, become a regular event at some Sea Scout regattas.  As part of the event, teams of Sea Scouts compete in a timed rescue from a simulated crow’s nest on land.


The lifebuoy is now a requirement on coastlines and any areas where there is a risk of drowning.  As they are vitally important life-saving tools, the act of tampering with a public lifebuoy can even come with a fine of up to £5,000 or indeed a prison sentence.


The lifebuoy has seen various upgrades and innovations since its inception.  Now brightly coloured and often decoratively painted, some lifebuoys are fitted with lighting that helps the stranded victim’s visibility. Some even have salt-water switches that automatically switch on the safety lamps when in contact with saltwater.

Innovation is key when it comes to saving lives, and this is where The Lava Group is helping to prevent drownings with our new Sentry Lifebuoy monitoring system.  Sentry reports a daily status on whether the lifebuoy is present within its enclosure. It also sounds an alarm immediately in the event that the lifebuoy is removed or when the unit is tampered with. The monitoring system can be accessed via a web interface from a PC, laptop and even mobile devices.

Like Thomas Kisbee 160 years ago we would like to use our innovations to help save lives on ships and coastal areas worldwide.