The founder of Whistles For Life

At the very root of Whistles for Life is a passion for rescuing people in times of crisis. This passion all started with Whistles for Life’s founder, Bob Cameron, who is the creator of the Whistles for Life safety whistle and has devoted his life to search and rescue efforts.

Bob Cameron was born and raised in western Oakland, CA. His dedication to Search and Rescue (SAR) was inspired by two big events early on in his life. When he was 14, he heard that two girls went horse riding in the mountains outside of Oakland, but when they returned, there were two horses and only one girl. Bob and his friend knew the mountains very well, as they had spent a lot of time exploring that area, so they decided to help in the search effort. After hours of searching, Bob located the missing girl. As he watched the girl being reunited with her family alongside the deputies on horseback, his excitement for SAR was sparked.

The second incident occurred when Bob was 18 while he was visiting his grandpa in Avola, BC, Canada, a heavily wooded area. One day, he was out exploring the woods and ended up getting lost for three days. Bob made his way back home by following a frozen creek until it met a larger river, and then followed the railroad tracks near the river bank until he came to his grandpa’s ranch. After spending three days and nights in the wilderness becoming frostbitten and hungry, Bob knew that he didn’t want anyone else to have to experience the same thing.

Bob enlisted in the Air Force with the Aircraft Rescue and Air Police division, where he went on countless search and body retrieval operations. He spent three years in the Air Force, and then moved to Idaho. After growing up in Oakland, he longed to live in the mountains and was inspired by a friend who had recently moved to Coeur d’Alene. This is where he decided to begin his career in SAR. He became active with SAR at his local sheriff’s office, and then spent a lot of time near the border of Idaho and Montana as a Special Deputy Sheriff. During this time, he went on hundreds of SAR operations where he reunited families, caught escaping criminals, and sometimes performed more difficult tasks such as body recoveries.

During these rescue operations, Bob and his team often had to split up. As a result, they needed a way to quickly communicate with each other from a distance. Originally, they used an industry standard whistle, but ran into a major problem: there was a bird in that area that made the same shrill sound. At times, they would hear the whistle thinking it was just a bird, while at other times, they would hear the bird thinking it was the whistle. Additionally, the whistle didn’t have a pea to break up its sound, so the high pitch frequency easily got lost in the wind.

Bob’s initial idea to solve this dilemma was to communicate by shooting a gun in the air. Two shots let others know where they were, and three shots meant the message was received. However, ammunition was expensive and depleted quickly. Therefore, Bob decided to design his own whistle that could be used by his team and other SAR professionals, and as a result, Whistles for Life was born.

The first whistle Bob designed was a two-chambered whistle, each with a pea to break up the shrill sound it made so it could be heard over wind, roaring waters, or shaking trees deep in the woods. Bob improved upon this design with his second and current whistle, which combines the benefits of his original design and competitor’s whistles. This whistle has one large chamber with a waterproof pea, and two small pea-less chambers, one on each side of the main chamber. The main chamber creates a loud staccato sound at 120 decibels (dBs), while the two secondary chambers create separate, omnidirectional high-pitched sounds.

Once he had perfected his final design, Bob and his team immediately began using the whistle. Then other SAR teams saw the whistle’s capabilities and effectiveness and began using the whistle as well. Bob’s whistle is now used by safety professionals all over the United States.

The whistle is not the only successful SAR-related product that Bob has invented. While living in Montana, Bob designed a para-foil balloon that could rise above the tree lines to identify lost victims. Following his time in Idaho and Montana, Bob moved briefly to Kirkland, WA, to help the FBI and Boeing engineers design torpedoes used in undersea warfare. His Silver Mylar balloons were implemented within the torpedoes to help identify their location when they surfaced. After this project, Bob moved to Bellingham, WA, where he worked for SAR in Whatcom County for 15 years.

Bob believes so strongly in Whistles for Life because he knows from first-hand experience that sound is the #1 factor in being found. For example, in the 1980s, he went on a rescue mission in Idaho to find a nine-year-old boy and his dog who were lost in the woods. After five days of searching through treacherous terrain, his team was ready to give up. But before they packed up to go home, Bob went to an outlook point over the river bank and shouted the boy’s name one last time. He then happened to hear the quiet reply of the boy, “I’m down here,” and they were able to save him. If that boy had been equipped with a whistle, he could’ve quickly and easily alerted the SAR team that he was in need of help and communicated his location. Aside from survival, this whistle can also be used to improve safety in a variety of situations including during natural disasters, at the workplace, or even when walking home alone at night.

With over 55 years of experience in search and rescue, Bob Cameron’s livelihood continues to revolve around his passion. Bob now lives in Bend, OR with his wife, where he is still surrounded by mountains and water, but slightly warmer temperatures. He continues to volunteer for SAR and the sheriff’s office in that area as well. With a lifetime spent finding lost victims, Bob now works on projects like Whistles for Life to give victims the best chance of being found. He knows that something as small as a whistle could be the difference between death and survival.

Boating safety: 5 things you should have aboard

Whistles for Life is the official whistle for the National Safe Boating Council (NSBC) and their “Wear It” program. This partnership was developed to further promote safe boating practices on lakes, reservoirs, rivers and oceans in an effort to prevent boating and water accidents. With almost 4,500 boating accidents in 2016, continuous education on safe boating habits is extremely beneficial for boaters and essential for the prevention of future incidents. One of these habits is to ensure that your boat has the following vital items aboard in case of emergency or boat failure:

Portable flotation devices
Most states require by law that a portable flotation device (PFD) is on board for each passenger, but it’s always wise to carry more than you will need on your vessel. Even in the states that don’t require a PFD by law, the U.S. Coast Guard requires all children under the age of 13 to be wearing their PFD at all times while on a vessel, unless they are below deck or in an enclosed cabin. Portable flotation devices, such as life jackets, are classified by type by the U.S. Coast Guard depending on their buoyancy. Therefore, make sure that your PFDs are appropriate for your boating conditions and that each one is the right fit for the corresponding passenger.

If you would like to learn more about safe boating and personal flotation devices, check out the National Safe Boating Council’s “Wear It” program here.

Signaling devices
An efficient sound signaling device is now required on every boat on the water. Examples of when these sound-signaling devices need to be used include during times of reduced visibility, while at anchor, or when meeting, crossing, or overtaking other vessels. Attaching a sound device, such as a whistle, to every PFD is also highly suggested in case of an emergency situation in which a passenger is no longer on the boat.

The boating safety requirements for sound-signaling equipment is similar for all vessels, but varies slight depending on size:

  • Under 39.4 feet: needs to be equipped with some “means of making an efficient sound signal,” such as a whistle or horn, but it can’t be a human produced noise.
  • 4 to 65.6 feet: required to carry a horn/whistle that is audible for one-half mile for a duration of 4 to 6 seconds.
  • Longer than 65.6 feet: obligated to have a whistle/horn (audible for one-half mile for a duration of 4 to 6 seconds) in addition to a bell with a mouth diameter of 200mm (about 8 inches) or more.

Visual signaling devices are also required in most states, and highly recommended. Hand flares, flare guns, and light sticks are all generally accepted as sufficient visual signaling devices, and are typically inexpensive.

First aid kit
Keep a well-stocked first aid kit on board to resolve small injuries and support bigger injuries until you can get medical attention. Some common items to include in the kit are: gauze, band aids, latex gloves, scissors, sea sickness medicine, pain relievers, and some sort of anti-infection cream or liquid (such as hydrogen peroxide). If possible, it is ideal to have a kit that is waterproof as well.

Fire extinguisher
It is a good idea to keep a fire extinguisher on your vessel and know how to properly and safely use it. Depending on the size of your vessel, fire hazard conditions, and what state you reside in, it may even be mandatory to carry one on board, so be sure you are aware of the federal and state laws. In addition, only specific types of fire extinguishers are U.S. Coast Guard-approved.

If you do keep a fire extinguisher on your boat, be sure to keep up-to-date on the extinguisher’s expiration date and replace any that have expired.

Portable jump starter and tool kit
Batteries can stop functioning at inconvenient times. Just as a battery can die in cars, it can happen in boats too! Don’t let a dead battery kill your day. Be sure to carry a portable jump starter and/or jumper cables on your vessel.

Carrying a small general tool kit will also help you to fix any problems that may arise on your vessel so you can get back to shore. If you know certain parts or fuses that have a tendency to fail or become faulty quicker than others, be sure to carry spares and the tools necessary to replace them.