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A rescue buoy or rescue tube or torpedo buoy is a piece of lifesaving equipment used in water rescue. This flotation device can help support the victim's and rescuer's weight to make a rescue easier. It is an essential part of the equipment that must be carried by lifeguards. It further can act as a mark of identification, identifying an individual as a lifeguard.
The rescue tube is usually made of vinyl, and is buoyant enough to support the full weight of a rescuer and several victims. The tube has a long leash that the lifeguard wears around the body to tow the tube along while swimming a long distance. The rescue tube is usually red, but can come of a variety of colors. Rescue tubes often have the words "Guard" or "Lifeguard" printed on them. The tube may also have clips, so that it may be wrapped around a person.
The rescue buoy is a hollow plastic rescue flotation device. It is referred to also as a Torpedo Buoy, because of its shape; and is often called a "Torp" for short by lifeguards. Because of its rigidity, it is slightly more hazardous in surf conditions. However, the rescue buoy generally has more buoyancy than a rescue tube, allowing the rescuer to assist multiple victims. There are several colors and sizes available commercially. The rails, or sides, or the buoy have handles allowing victims to grab on. Like the tube, the buoy is connect by a rope to a strap the rescuer wears. This allows them to swim while towing the buoy and victim. The buoy may also be connected to a landline device, which allows individuals onshore to pull the rescuer and victims back to shore.
Early versions were constructed of aluminum, wood, cork, and fiberglass, with rope rails.
Walters Torpedo Buoy
The Walters Torpedo Buoy was invented in 1919 by Henry Walters of the American Red Cross Volunteer Life Savings Corps.
World War II rescue buoy
During World War II, at the instigation of German Generaloberst Ernst Udet, large buoys were deployed in the English Channel for downed Luftwaffe flyers. Each included a 43-square-foot (4.0 m2) enclosed cabin and a radio transmitter. One can be seen in the British films One of Our Aircraft is Missing (1942) and We Dive at Dawn (1943).