Seeing a tragedy from his living room window, John Weinel’s “idea factory” kicked into gear. Being a mechanical engineer by trade, he asked, “Why doesn’t anyone make an inflatable device for snowmobiles?” His neighbor took a drive across a Twin Cities lake to show off a new snowmobile to his father-in-law. He never made it. But, from that accident, the company John started, Nebulus Emergency Floatation Device, took flight.

Nebulus is the latest company to join forces as a partner with the National Professional Anglers Association. The NPAA mission is to preserve and protect the sport of fishing while increasing the professionalism of its members.

Initially, Weinel approached the University of Minnesota mechanical engineering Capstone program, a joint industry and senior-level course. “With the idea, the students began a 5-year quest for the perfect product that would keep snowmobiles and ATVs afloat when they broke through the ice,” he said. “They are judged and graded by corporation executives for creating real-life products.”

Student research showed that approximately 60 people drown annually in North America when their machines break through ice. The number is increasing with more ATVs in use each year. “In fact, ATV drowning deaths now exceed those of snow machines,” he said. Nebulus units have been involved in 125 life-saving incidents since the first save in 2006. There are about 7,000 units in use today. “The name came from one of the students,” Weinel said.  “Nebulus is an expanding gas cloud in space.”

NPAA executive director Pat Neu said, “This partnership with Nebulus has taken on a new sense of importance to everyone, especially with the recent death of NPAA member and guide Jim Hudson whose snowmobile went through Lake Superior ice. A Nebulus can save your life, and I encourage all who drive on the ice to think seriously about investing in a device that has been proven to save lives – yours!”

In the course of their testing, prototype devices were installed on snowmobiles, and with the water patrol present, they drove into open water. Word spread quickly, and in a few years, every Minnesota State Trooper carried a Nebulus device.  Most sheriffs’ departments possess several.

Weinel said a Nebulus (only 17.5 by 11 by 5 inches) inflates with two CO2 canisters, and the polyurethane-coated nylon float is about four by six feet square. “It supports 1000 pounds and remains inflated for days,” he said.  Buoyed by the water, a 625 pound snowmobile actually weighs 225 pounds. “The Nebulus would support that machine and several people until rescue could reach them,” he said. Two models were developed – one built into the seat and one attached to the outside of the machine.

They are manufactured in Lakeville, Minnesota, and the raft is designed for multiple uses. The company, for a fee, will replace the CO2 canisters and repack the Nebulus. Units sell for about $500 each.  More information can be found at

Logo courtesy National Professional Anglers Association

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