Student co-invents lifejacket with family friend

IUS Horizon

Ben Hughes, business management sophomore

For the past year, Ben Hughes, business management sophomore, has been working with a partner to create a new type of lifejacket, “The Bob.”

“It is a lifejacket upside-down,” Hughes said. “You put it on like shorts, and it has a backrest so you can lean back.”

Hughes said he and his co-creator, Mike Schnatter, 46, came up with the concept a little more than a year ago. The idea came about after Schnatter saw a few people at a lake flipping their lifejackets and wearing them like shorts.

“Schnatter came up with the idea, and we went for it,” Hughes said. “We had an attorney do a patent search, and we could not find that anyone had done anything like it before.”

Hughes said they went ahead and developed an outline and started making prototypes. He said there are vast differences between the traditional lifejacket and their new lifejacket.

“It has more floatation, so if someone passed out while wearing it, it would roll you onto your back,” Hughes said.

Schnatter said the new lifejacket is more versatile than others.

“It allows you to move freely because your arms are free to move,” Schnatter said.

Schnatter said they also took into consideration how comfortable the new lifejacket would be to wear during development.

“The traditional lifejacket is really uncomfortable because you have to keep pushing it down while in the water,” Schnatter said. “With ‘The Bob,’ it is around your waist, and there is a backrest sewed into the jacket.”

Schnatter said the name for “The Bob” came about when people kept asking them how the new lifejacket worked.

“People were asking, ‘How do you float in it?’” Schnatter said. “I told them that if you jump in head-first then you’ll bob right back up, and the nickname just stuck.”

Schnatter said their partnership did not spring up overnight, and there were several reasons he chose Hughes to be his partner in this.

“We had spent a lot of time together last year because we worked together for three months, so I got to know him really well,” Schnatter said.

Before they worked together, Schnatter said he has known Hughes since he was 4 years old and has been a family friend for more than 18 years.

After Hughes graduated high school, they began working together for the Hughes family business, Hughes Group.

When Schnatter came up with the idea, he said he went to Hughes first.

“I wanted somebody who I could trust,” Schnatter said. “While he is only a 19-year-old kid, he does not act like a kid at all. He is very grown-up.”

Schnatter said Hughes was very receptive to the idea of creating a new type of lifejacket.

“He loved the idea from the moment I explained it to him,” Schnatter said. “He did not have any doubts that it would work out.”

Schnatter said despite the fact he came up with the concept, it has been nothing but teamwork to make it a reality.

“I had the initial idea, but everybody put their two cents in,” Schnatter said. “Ben and I did it all, and we have had a good working relationship.”

It has taken nearly a year, but Hughes and Schnatter are in the final stages of creation for “The Bob.”

“We are sending it off to the Coast Guard to get it approved which should take two months,” Hughes said. “They have to do multiple tests before they can send it back, so we have to wait.”

Once they get the life vest approved by the Coast Guard, they will be able to go national with their product. Schnatter said the Coast Guard will be ensuring it is safe to use.

“We wanted to work out all the bugs before we went nationally,” Schnatter said.

However, they have begun promoting “The Bob” at several different shows like the Louisville Boat Show.

“We only had a demo for last year’s show, but this year at the Louisville Boat Show, we will have them for sale,” Schnatter said.

They have also developed an informative website,, for people who want to find out more about “The Bob.”

People who want to purchase “The Bob” can also buy them on the website for $45 a piece plus shipping. Sizes range from S to XXL.

Schnatter said there have been ups and downs during the development, but all-in-all it has been a great experience.

“We stuck with it,” Schnatter said. “We all worked well together.”