Inflatable castles (also called closed inflatable trampolines (CITs), bouncing castles, bouncy houses, bounce houses, jumping castles, jumpers, bouncy castles, moon bounces, or moonwalks) are temporary inflatable structures and buildings and similar items that are rented for functions, school and church festivals and village fetes and used for recreational purposes, particularly for children. The growth in the use of such devices has led to a rental industry that includes inflatable slides, obstacle courses, and games. Inflatables are ideal for portable amusements because they are easy to transport and store.
Inflatables have been marketed under several names, such as "Bounce House", "Bouncies", "Moon Bounce", "Boingalow", "Astrojump", "Moonwalk", "Jolly Jump", and "Spacewalk".
American engineer John Scurlock is credited as inventor of the modern inflatable tent design, in 1958. Scurlock, a plastics specialist who taught at Tulane University and worked for NASA, later also invented the Space Walk safety air cushion used by stunt performers and fire brigades responding to high-rise fires. According to his family, he was inspired in the late 1950s while designing inflatable tent covers for tennis courts. In 1958 he also founded Space Walk Inc. In the 1980s the family business operated an indoor amusement park, The Fun Factory, in Metairie, LA, but it transitioned to and today continues to rent heavy-duty inflatables for occasions ranging from county fairs to children's birthday parties. The idea to rent inflatables for parties is attributed to Scurlock's wife Frances, who was running a rental business by 1969.
Bob Regehr is also credited for inventing the bouncy house in 1968, under the brand name Moon Walk.
As part of the space-themed toy trend sparked by the space race, 'The Moon Walk', a closed inflatable trampoline with a plastic roof designed for children's safety, was available for mail order in the 1975 Neiman Marcus catalog.
The original bouncy house was essentially an air pillow with a roof, but the hundreds of modern models include inflatable waterslides, basketball gyms, a game in which players attempt to knock each other over with a large inflatable wrecking ball, and characters licensed from multimedia franchises such as Frozen. Thousands of companies now rent inflatable castles in the United States. The market has also diversified to include lighter retail designs. By 2014, the industry was estimated to be worth $100 million.
The world's largest inflatable castle, The Big Bounce America, was certified in 2018 at 1,062.252 square metres (11,433.99 sq ft). It included multiple zones, such as ball pits, a slide, inflatable forests, a basketball court, and a DJ booth. It was designed as an inflatable theme park for all ages, and toured the United States in the summer of 2019 as a traveling festival.
Inflatable bouncy houses, slides, pools, and other large outdoor toys for retail home use became more popular in the summer of 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, providing a means for parents to entertain their children while maintaining social distancing. With schools and daycares closed, parents bought inflatables to occupy their children while working from home.
The surfaces are typically composed of thick, strong PVC or vinyl and nylon, and the castle is inflated using an electric or petrol-powered blower. The principle is one of constant leakage, meaning small punctures are not a problem – a medium-size "bouncy castle" requires a fan with a mechanical output of about two horsepower (about 1.5 kW) and consumes around 2 kW of electrical power, allowing for the efficiency of the motor.
UK and Australian bouncy castles have specifications calling for fully inflated walls on three sides with an open front and foam "crash mats" to catch children who may jump or fall out of the structure.
Modern moonwalks in the US are typically supported by inflatable columns and enclosed with netting. The netting allows for supervision as adults can see in from all sides.
Another type of home-use inflatable has evolved, with a blower pumping in air continuously. Pores in the seams and material allow air to escape as children play, while the blower continues to inflate the unit. This category has emerged as a response to parents who wish to buy an inflatable for home use.
In 2005, the most stringent standards in the construction of an inflatable amusement were adopted nationally in Australia, forming Federal Standard AS3533.4. This was a landmark safety standard bringing the toughest design/construction/operation standards to the inflatable industry of Australia. In 2006 the European Union (EU) followed and introduced similar standards throughout EU called EN14960:2006 which was then updated in 2013 to EN14960:2013.
While bouncy castle manufacturers adhere to voluntary standards, no national safety standards exist in the U.S., although some states such as Pennsylvania and New Jersey require that inflatables pass engineering and safety standards before allowing the equipment to be rented out. In 2017, roughly 25 U.S. states had regulations governing permits, inspections and insurance, although a private investigation by the Pew Charitable Trust has shown significant shortcomings by industry operators and regulators to do their part. North Carolina requires amusements rides, including inflatables, to be inspected annually by the North Carolina Department of Labor (NCDOL). For inflatables to pass inspection, operators in North Carolina are required to have all training records, a current certificate of insurance, and device manuals. Inflatables that are damaged and not safe will not pass inspection until they are repaired.
Inflatable obstacle courses
There are also inflatable obstacle courses that allow for participants to have races/sword fights and compete against one another. These are commonly rectangular in shape, but can also be square if the course is maze-like. Most obstacle courses have two lanes, but some can have three or four. They feature various such as pop-up obstacles, climbing areas, slides, and tunnels. These are the best choice for very large events since participants move through them quickly.
Some inflatables are designed to allow games such as boxing rings, water football, penalty shootouts, basketball, rumbling, tug of war, and gladiator duels. These interactive inflatable games are made out of the same material that a continuous airflow bounce house is made of. Quad tracks are also popular and provide the perimeter for quad bike racing.
Injury and death
Injuries are common. According to Jim Barber, spokesman for the National Association of Amusement Ride Safety Officials, "It happens all the time. These are probably the most dangerous amusement devices they have. You see more injuries on inflatables than almost any other amusement ride you can think of – more than roller coasters." In 2010, "as many as 31 U.S. children per day were treated for injuries sustained in a bounce house, or one child every 46 minutes." An estimated 65,000 children under the age of 17 were injured from 1990 to 2010.
Injuries caused by inflatable rides were rising in the United States, according to a 2012 study published in the journal Pediatrics, which found a 15-fold increase from 1995 to 2010, a trend corroborated in the 2003–2012 period by a 2015 U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission report. Frank Scurlock, son of inventor John Scurlock and manager of bouncy inflatable rental company Space Walk, ascribes the increase to rising non-commercial use of inexpensive retail 'backyard' units, while bounce houses have also become more common overall. Although rising, the number of injuries related to inflatable amusements is small when compared to the more everyday hazards of playgrounds and skateboards, which respectively were linked to an estimated 270,000 and 114,000 injuries in 2012.
In a survey spanning 2003–2013, the most common injuries were fractures, strains, sprains, dislocations, contusions, abrasions, and lacerations. An estimated 88% of the injured were less than 15 years old. Most injuries occur due to falls or collisions with another child. Some severe fall injuries occur after wind lifts bouncy castles skyward. From 2000 to early 2016, there were 64 bounce house accidents worldwide caused by wind, resulting in 271 injuries and 10 deaths.
In May 2001, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission released a bulletin outlining the dangers and recommended safety precautions for operating an inflatable structure. In 2015, after studying the incidents of injury the commission released a revised bulletin for the recommended safety precautions for operating an inflatable device.
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