Last updated 3/8/2023 at 5:33pm | View PDF

Why did you invent FlagGuard?

Erin McLaughlin's life changed the day her daughter was nearly hit by a personal watercraft while tubing in the lake at her family's summer getaway. While her daughter escaped injury, McLaughlin was haunted by the thought of what could have happened.

The relief of knowing her own daughter was OK wasn't enough for McLaughlin. In the months following the incident, she began working on a device that would make children more visible in the water. Her goal was to prevent others from suffering a similar, scary experience - or worse.

"I knew in my heart that my idea was something I had to pursue, even if it failed," she said.

In 2018, two years after the family's near-miss experience, McLaughlin unveiled FlagGuard. Designed to attach to a life vest, the patented device automatically erects an orange flag when a child enters the water. As the device hits the water, the plastic chamber fills. The pressure from the water pushes the flag up and over the user's head. When the user gets out of the water, the water drains from the chamber, allowing the flag to retreat into its chamber.

The mother of six said she hopes her invention will help prevent some of the hundreds of deaths and thousands of injuries that result from water sport accidents each year.

FlagGuard is sold online and by at least 20 retailers nationwide. It was recently introduced at the Chicago Boat Show, where supplies of the product sold out.

"It's been really, really well-received," McLaughlin said.

FlagGuard will gain additional attention when it's featured in the May issue of the U.S. Coast Guard's magazine. The issue focuses on water safety, McLaughlin said.

The original FlagGuard fits children and women who wear a size small, but McLaughlin said people of all sizes will soon benefit from the extra protection it provides. Larger sizes currently are in development.

FlagGuard has put McLaughlin's real estate business on the back burner as she works full time to market, develop and even ship her product.

"I'm really a one-man shop," said McLaughlin, but she does enjoy support from her husband and children, all of whom help out in one way or another. One son helps with deliveries of large orders, while other members of her family help with marketing, social media and other aspects of the business.

As swimming season approaches, McLaughlin said she's busy spreading the word about FlagGuard and how it can help save lives this summer.

"We're going to do more boat shows," she said, and call on marinas, harbors, sailing schools, boat captains, rental companies and other water-related businesses all over the country.

McLaughlin said she knew nothing about product development or entrepreneurship before embarking on FlagGuard, and it hasn't been easy. But if her work saves a single life, it will all have been worth it, McLaughlin said.

"I really want to make a difference," she said.

- by Sandy Illian Bosch

Author Bio

Sandy Illian Bosch is a contributing writer to The Hinsdalean


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