New technologies are constantly coming online to improve the effectiveness and capabilities of search and rescue (SAR) organisations. One company doing their part to reinvent the most famous wheel known to maritime SAR – the lifebuoy – is Portuguese technology company U SAFE.

U SAFE is a self-propelled, remotely operated vehicle that can be used to rescue those adrift at sea with a high degree of accuracy while keeping the rescuer and vessel away from danger.  

Founded in 2010 under the Noras Performance umbrella, Founder and President Jorge Noras sought to replace the “obsolete ‘ring on a string’ concept” with a remote-controlled buoy that can operate effectively in every kind of ocean and fresh fish water environment.

A traditional lifebuoy can’t do much aside from keeping someone floating, that is if the throwing was accurate enough,” Jorge said. “The U SAFE is a fast, agile and accurate aquatic robot that can reach the exact spot of a casualty and pilot drive them back to safety.

SAR organisations are constantly looking for ways to decrease time to rescue, either by improving coordination methods or using sophisticated technologies to ensure and improve operational efficiency. Our system does all of that.

Credit: U SAFE

Weighing just 13.7 kg, the U SAFE can reach a top speed of 15 km/h (18 knots) and has a range of up to 1,640 ft. With a sophisticated lithium-ion battery, the system can perform multiple rescues in one full charge. Recent tests also showed that U SAFE can be dropped into the ocean from a height of 40 m without any damage to the shell or internal components.

The system has been supplied to a number of aquatic organisations, including SAR organisations, navies, coast guards, border patrols, ferries, oil refineries, fishing companies and hotel resorts, in countries all over the world, such as Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, India, Indonesia, Mexico, Nigeria, Norway, Portugal, Spain, Taiwan, the United States and Vietnam.

For SAR personnel, being able to operate the U SAFE remotely means being able to effectively undertake a SAR operation while reducing personal risk.

SAR operators can approach hazardous or rocky areas, cold waters or inaccessible places without having to risk their lives to rescue someone. We put safety above all else when we designed U SAFE,” said Jorge.  

U SAFE can also be deployed quickly compared to traditional lifebuoys. The system is always in stand-by mode so it can be instantly controllable the second it touches the water. Having a lifesaving system like this also reduces the risk of people stranded at sea suffering from hypothermia or dying from cold shock,” he added.

Credit: U SAFE

Although the system was designed to be simple to produce and easy to use, Jorge noted that this presents its own challenges.

To make things simple and easy to use is extremely complex. We’ve had to develop top-of-the-line patented technologies, built with high-quality components using cutting-edge manufacturing processes to ensure U SAFE meets the high standards we’ve set ourselves and that our customers expect from us.

U SAFE has already proven to be an effective tool for some national SAR authorities and has demonstrated its effectiveness on multiple occasions. During an incident that involved a father who was trying to save his daughter who had drifted out at sea, the remote-controlled lifebuoy proved particularly useful as it enabled the SAR responders to split into two teams after it became apparent that the father and daughter had drifted far apart. One team used the U SAFE system to successfully locate and save the father, while a team in a traditional rigid hull inflatable boat managed to recover and resuscitate the daughter.  

Going forward, Jorge said that U SAFE will continue to evolve to match the challenges that it is presented with and that he will work closely with the maritime SAR community to do so.

We are innovators at heart and we take great pride in solving real-world problems. This means our minds never stop and we constantly ask for feedback from our users to improve the U SAFE experience.

Much like smartphones, computers or any other technological items that only require a system update to install new features, we have managed to simplify U SAFE to the point that all it needs is a software update to make a new feature immediately available,” he added.

Credit: U SAFE

U SAFE also sponsored this year’s IMRF G5 International Mass Rescue Conference, which took place in June in Gothenburg, Sweden. For Jorge, events like these are vital for the SAR community to come together and learn from one another’s experiences.

After such a long pandemic period, we wanted to get closer to a community that is so meaningful to what we do. Mass rescue operations are unfortunately an ongoing occurrence in SAR, so we wanted to hear from those who deal with them to better understand what is being done to mitigate risk and manage these situations effectively.

What we saw at this year’s G5 was an exchange of experiences and insights regarding real-life situations that are immensely helpful to the SAR community. There is a huge amount of value in getting everyone in the same room to exchange experiences no matter where they are from. It’s fascinating to learn how a situation dealt with in the Netherlands can help another organisation in Malaysia tackle similar circumstances,” Jorge said. 

You can read more about U SAFE and how its lifebuoy technology can help your SAR organisation here: