#nevergiveup June 27, 2016
If you grew up anywhere in Florida, you probably remember that one kid from high school who spent every spare minute on or in the water. A popular kid with sun-bleached hair, sun-browned skin, an inexhaustible supply of fish stories, and endless optimism. In other words, a dude.
If you grew up outside Florida, meet Troy Faletra. He was born in Fort Lauderdale, could swim before he could walk, was driving boats before he was old enough to get a driver’s license, and knows the waterways of South Florida as well as he knows the roadways. He graduated from Plantation High School in 1991 and earned his captain’s license from Sea School in Saint Petersburg. He’s been a fishing guide in the Florida Keys and a charter boat captain in Fort Lauderdale.
One typical afternoon in 1998, Troy loaded up his center console and headed offshore for a day of fishing, just as he’d done hundreds of times before. With space onboard being at a premium, he made sure he brought the essentials: food, water, live bait, tackle, and safety gear. At just about nine miles from shore the boat became sluggish, barely moving, and then rapidly starting taking on water. By the time Troy radioed for help and grabbed his mask, snorkel, fins and life vest, his boat was submerged and he was eye level with the surface of the Atlantic Ocean. So, he began to swim. And swim. And swim. As night fell, he kept his eyes on the lights of Fort Lauderdale, which kept him on track and kept him motivated. His earlier call for help had activated the Coast Guard Search and Rescue helicopter and he could see and hear them overhead, but unfortunately they never saw him in the water. So, he just kept swimming.
In addition to basic survival, there’s a lot to think about when you spend hours in the solitde of the ocean. Troy never lost sight of his goal, he drew strength from faith and thoughts of his family, and he kept pushing forward. He also started thinking “next time” he should bring more safety gear than he thought he might need, and a small spark of innovation was ignited. Troy swam for 16 hours and finally reached shore just as the sun was coming up over the horizon. Despite being initially mistaken for a refugee, he was thankful to be on dry land and alive. This second-chance experience bolstered his natural confidence and changed his life.
But like many of us, Troy would eventually experience the panic of a recurring nightmare. While chartering clients in a brand new flat skiff in 2005, the boat began to sink. As he quickly inflated a pool float that happened to be on board, he was suddenly struck with the invention that had been percolating in his mind since his previous ordeal – a self-inflating safety raft, designed specifically to keep boating accident victims on top of the water. Eureka!
First, he spent years on the design, developing a personal flotation device (PFD) that would be small enough to carry on board any size vessel. Then, he perfected the CO2 canisters that would automatically inflate the device when thrown to a person in the water. He invested hundreds of thousands of dollars to get it right and he aptly named the three-pound PFD, Survivor by Throwraft. Next he began to laboriously market it. But everywhere he went, he got turned down. As state-of-the-art as it was, it was not embraced by companies associated with the marine industry. For nine long years, Troy peddled the PFD’s one at a time at fairs, shows, and to individual boat owners. He believed firmly in his product as a life-saving device, he had faith in his mission, and he simply would not give up.
Today, Troy’s company, Throwraft, produces and sells the Survivor and the TD2401 – the smallest throw-able Type IV PDF on the market that is (finally!) approved by the United States Coast Guard, and along with UL/Imanna Labs and the United States Coast Guard, new standards for inflatable throw-able devices have been developed. In the aftermath of his success, Troy continues to search for adventure on the water and innovation as a mariner.
Meet Troy Faletra- one persistent dude.