Glow-in-the-dark rope a lifesaver at sea, Halifax maker says

Matthew Moore is no stranger to the Atlantic Ocean where he spent many days fishing for fun as he grew up in Halifax. But he has also seen just how treacherous the sea can be.

When he was 20, he lost a friend to it. The man had been working as a deckmate on a fishing vessel and drowned during a nighttime sail back home after the crew’s catch.

That tragedy instilled in Mr. Moore a keen interest in marine safety. He serviced lifesaving appliances such as life rafts and lifebuoys (personal flotation devices with a buoyant rope attached) on the East Coast before moving to New Zealand to run a marine-safety company for several years.

Imagine a ‘man overboard’ situation at nighttime, says Matthew Moore of Canada Rope and Twine Ltd. Protocol calls for a lifebuoy to be thrown to the fallen crew member. But when it’s pitch black, that kind of device can be hard to see. (Handout)

“Drowning is the third leading cause of [unintentional injury] death in the world,” Mr. Moore says. “When you’re out on the vessels and oil rigs, you really get a full understanding of safety products.”

When Mr. Moore heard about a Swiss-made synthetic, luminescent fibre, a light bulb went on. He secured the sole rights to that material and, along with his father, developed a buoyant rope that glows in the dark. With it, he’s hoping to propel his company, Canada Rope and Twine Ltd., to commercial success while saving lives at the same time.

Called Night Saver Rope and purportedly 10 times stronger than standard buoyant rope, the yellow, orange, and pink glowing product can be used in a variety of marine settings, Mr. Moore explains. In any of them, imagine a “man overboard” situation. Protocol calls for a lifebuoy to be thrown to the fallen crew member. But when it’s pitch black out, that kind of device can be hard to see.

A key potential market for the product is the commercial fishing sector. Loss of life on fishing vessels is on the Transportation Safety Board of Canada’s watch list, meaning it considers the number of related accidents and deaths as unacceptably high. The average number of fatalities is about one a month.

“Most of these fatalities happen during dusk and nighttime,” says Mr. Moore, 33. “The rope almost acts as an umbilical cord for a man overboard or a person in distress.

“Maritime safety since the Titanic has evolved over time, but that’s for daytime; we always look at daytime factors when we make scenarios and regulations but haven’t really emphasized much on nighttime, which is surprising since that’s when most fatalities occur,” he says. “You want a visual reference back to safety.”

There’s an interesting parallel to Mr. Moore’s venture. His immersion in safety at sea is intertwined with his family’s history in the maritime industry. His grandfather began working for a marine company in the 1960s in Denmark that produced sea-worthy rope and later brought that braided-rope manufacturing to North America in Halifax. In the 1980s he started his own company, with 75 employees working 24/7 in a former bowling alley making cord products for all sorts of boats. Mr. Moore’s father was involved in the business, too, until the family moved on in the late 1990s.

Canada Rope and Twine Ltd. has secured the rights to a Swiss-made synthetic luminescent fibre, seen here on creels, that is made into a buoyant rope that glows in the dark. (Handout)

Mr. Moore will be manufacturing the rope in Halifax and hopes to have it to market within six months. The math sounds promising. By law, every vessel has to have a certain number of lifebuoys with buoyant rope attached. He says that, according to figures from the Fisheries and Aquaculture Department of the United Nations, there are 61,170 vessels in North America’s commercial-fishing industry alone, with an average of five lifebuoys on each. That’s 305,850 lifebuoys.

He hasn’t finalized prices yet but estimates the rope will cost about 10 per cent more than existing products. He says that even if the company can sell to 5 per cent of the North American commercial-fishing sector, it could amass $900,000 in sales in its first year.

Mr. Moore sees many other places where the nontoxic rope could be used: on oil rigs, cruise liners, the Coast Guard, kayak clubs, and for cave and underwater diving. Then there are potential land-based uses: farms or outdoor festivals where you need a visual safety reference in the dark.

“It could be used for anything with unsafe terrain,” he says. “If you’re hosting an event at night, you might as well have it blocked off.”

Ryan Ford, program manager at Fish Safe BC, the safety and emergency-preparedness training association for commercial fishermen in that province, says that although he hasn’t seen or tested the rope himself, its luminescence could make it a useful safety tool in marine workers’ arsenal – provided it passes other tests.

“We talk a lot about rope degradation,” Mr. Ford says. “[UV] light, salt water: all these things have an impact on rope durability. …When we’re talking about rope safety we talk about what kind of rope failures are you looking at? When rope breaks down, we have horrendous injuries. We’ve had limb amputations, decapitations. … It’s awful stuff when we’re talking about ropes and fishing, because when you put a lot of tension on a rope and you’re standing in the wrong place and that thing breaks, it’s just like a gun going off.

“I can’t see many downsides to it [the Night Saver Rope], but rope construction itself will be important,” he adds. “My big concern would be what are the properties of that rope and how will it withstand salt and UV light and react in terms of tangling?”

Gail Johnson
Special to The Globe And Mail
Published November 25, 2016


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