Personal Safety ID Tag for Watersports

With Hurricane Season ramping up here on the East Coast, lots of people will be hearing the surf hype on websites, the TV, the coconut wireless, etc. Unfortunately, here in Florida, we don’t have the luxury of any channels or coves to transport us safely past the break, and even then, the way our swells break when it gets big are sometimes unpredictable and dicey. This can become a serious danger for all surfers to consider, and really, big surf or small, anywhere in the world, all it takes is a quick, solid bump on your head on the rocky bottom, reef, or from your board to earn you a trip to the local ER.
This waterproof, easily identifiable craft can be an aid in an emergency situation- it needn’t be just for big swells, but for everyday surfing, paddling, or diving as a “just in case”.
About the craft….
Growing up, most of us have had fun with shrinking plastic art (shrinky dinks). You can color a picture on the thin sheet of plastic, pop it in the oven, and get a little plastic piece you can make a charm, magnet or toy out of. For this, we’re going to make our own ID safety bracelet- yeah, this one’s for guys too. Man up, Buttercup.
These days, they sell shrinkable plastic that can go through an inkjet printer, so you don’t have to be an artist with the coloring pencils. If you don’t have the type that can go through the printer USE PENCILS ONLY (trace the image) or you will have problems with ink smudging even before baking.
In addition to the plastic you’ll need a hole punch, cord elastic (1 mm or thicker), and large beads (optional) to use as a comfort/protective strap.
Shrinkable plastic can be picked up at many craft shops, or you can “steal” a sheet from your kid’s stash. Be sure to read the instructions about how to use the shrinkable plastic- you will need to know the shrink ratio, the oven temperature, the approximate baking time, and any other precautions. The side you will print/ draw on will be on the rough side of the sheet, not the shiny, smooth side- this is important!
Think about what information you may want someone to have in case of an emergency and are unable to communicate. You won’t have your wallet on you in the water, so you may want info like:

Your Name
Date of Birth
Medical Conditions
Contact (ICE) Phone Numbers
Depending on where you’re surfing, you many want to have this info in the local language and have your country of origin.
For my example, there’s a sample name, date of birth, ICE (In Case of Emergency) number, and impairment (that one is real). I also included the Star of Life/Cadaceus symbol to indicate this is medical info. You can trace this image in colored pencil, but remember that when the plastic shrinks, the color will intensify, so don’t make it too opaque.

Since I am using this tag on a bracelet, I wanted to keep the area of the tag around 2″ by 4″, to allow enough shrink.
After cutting out your rectangle, oval, etc. tag shape, be sure to round off any corners since they will become sharp in the shrinking process and you don’t want to damage your skin or water equipment. This is a good time to punch holes in the tag with a regular size hole punch- these holes will shrink with the tag. I punched holes on each side so that the tag will lay flat against my wrist instead of dangling like a charm and getting in the way.

Tag before baking
Tag before baking with the corners trimmed and rounded off
For this shrinkable plastic, I set my oven at 325 degrees, put it on a piece of brown lunch bag paper, and onto a cookie sheet. After I popped it in, I watched it the whole time since it only takes a few minutes. Once the plastic has shrunk and flattened out and thickened up completely, it’s probably ready to take out to cool. You can put a slight curve in the tag to fit your wrist better while the plastic is immediately out of the oven- it’s hot, be careful- before it hits the cool air and begins to harden. Refer to your specific shrinkable plastic directions.

Here it is after baking with the tiny holes on each side of the rectangle:

You can see how it’s shrunk to about 1 1/2″ by 3/4″. Now, I need to seal the painted/drawn/inked side, so I’ll use clear spray sealant varnish. Be careful to build up in light coats or your image will smudge.
Next, it’s time to make this into a bracelet.
I’m using 1 mm plastic elastic cord used for kid’s beading projects- do not use the type that is covered in cotton or poly, like for sewing, as those types are a bit weaker and don’t have the same ability to withstand saltwater. I also recommend some rubber or plastic pony beads (large beads) to make the bracelet more comfortable to wear while doing activities and prevent the elastic from wear, but you can just use the elastic if you wish. Double up your length of elastic (use at least a couple of feet for ease of knotting and your wrist size). In this picture, you can see how I started to attach the elastic using a lark’s head type knot:

Starting the bracelet

Since this elastic is slippery, I also put an overhand knot in just to keep the loop from shuffling around. At this point, you’ll want to thread those rubber or plastic beads on the length of the elastic- it’s not for prettiness, it’s for comfort, and using red or blue beads would be an attention getter in an emergency. Do not be too rough with the tag- it’s strong after shrinking, but it’s still a small piece of plastic.
Once those are threaded (I didn’t use beads in my example) tie off to the other hole on the other side of the tag in a similar manner, leaving enough length to stretch the bracelet over your wrist and fit tightly, but DO NOT let it dangle about like a normal bracelet- it’s supposed to be a wrist tag to stay on.
Here’s my example on my wrist, with the words facing down towards my hand, to give you an idea:

Completed tag on wrist- Funky Fresh!

This size tag may be a little large for my wrist, but the size used (2″ by 4″ pre-shrunk) should work for most everyone else. It should be big enough to be readable by an EMT.
These little tags are also handy in non-emergencies- I have made these ID tags with contact info zip-tied to my BCD, reg, and weight bag for SCUBA diving, so I don’t get my stuff mixed up on the dive boats. They have lasted through many, many dives and have held up well.

Consider this as an reusuable alternative to the old magic marker on your arm in rough surf, and most importantly, don’t surf alone or in conditions that are not suited to your current ability.

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