A Tragedy Starts a Movement: One Ring at a Time

Editor’s Note: To learn more about the Float it Forward campaign visit

On October 5, 2022, a young father of two drowned just 10 feet off a dock on Lake Norman, in Cornelius, North Carolina. One person tried to save the drowning man, but was unable to reach him. It was a tragedy all too common as nearly 4,000 deaths each year are due to drowning.

There to witness this loss of life was 13-year-old Cade Redmond, whose house sits right next to where the incident happened. Shocked by what he saw, Redmond wondered how such a thing could happen so quickly and he was determined to learn more. What he found was that, unlike on boats or by pools, there are no rules or regulations for docks to carry floatation devices, and looking around he realized rescue rings were not on any of his neighbor’s docks. A ring might have saved a life.

Despite having the regular busy life of a teenager, Redmond took on the challenge to get life rings in people’s hands. “It was my reaction to hearing people say after the drowning if they’d had something to throw, they probably could have saved him. I took that to heart and thought I should make something out of it. I wanted to save lives,” Redmond said. He launched the Float it Forward campaign in response and in just a few months his efforts have snowballed.

Cade Redmond came up with the Float it Forward campaign.

Buy One, Give One
The concept is simple. He asked dock owners to buy a life ring for their own dock and also purchase one for a friend. With his mother Elise’s assistance, the duo began taking orders and delivering life rings around Lake Norman. Their efforts caught the attention of local and state policymakers who have vowed to introduce a bill calling for mandatory life rings on public docks and access points. The Lake Norman Marine Commission’s Safety Council already had a “Love Where You Lake” campaign to build safety awareness around the lake, so adopting Redmond’s initiative was a perfect fit. The lake police have jumped on the idea of doing duck races to raise awareness of boating and water safety. The races are the draw and while people are at each event they can learn about the importance of flotation. “The police keep saying that flotation saves lives and the duck floats are now out there quacking the message,” Redmond said.

As any teen knows, if an idea is picked up by social media it can grow quickly beyond a local effort. Redmond took his message to Instagram and created the @theDevotedFloat page, which has been rapidly gaining followers. He asks his audience to Float it Forward, but also requests they send fun photos that show them with a life ring to make the safety message entertaining.

The message is not only that people need to have life rings available, but the goal is to also teach people how to properly throw life rings. “Early on I didn’t know how to throw a ring until I saw it on a video. I thought it was like throwing a frisbee, but you don’t want to hit someone in distress with the ring. Now that I know how to do it, I want to pass that information to others,” Redmond said. Videos on how to throw a ring will be complemented by online video contests for “best throw” to make safety a bit more fun.

A Message of Safety Goes Viral
His work has attracted the interest of social media influencer, Aaron Stasiak, aka The Qualified Captain. The message of safety often doesn’t resonate with young people, the hot doggers, and hipsters who won’t read a pamphlet, so the goal is to put out something creative where the audience learns without realizing they’re learning. That’s the underlying basis for The Qualified Captain.
Stasiak was working for Bradley Creek Marina in Wilmington, North Carolina, when he began witnessing the mishaps of boaters who had no training or experience. He began filming these experiences and sharing them online, at first as a joke, but then to warn people what can happen if safety is ignored.

The videos on Instagram and Facebook went viral and now, close to a million followers later, Stasiak has a wide platform to use to tout boating safety. The success of The Qualified Captain was recognized this past year by the Sea Tow Foundations’ Boating Safety Advisory Council. The council created a special award designation, “Top Social Media Boating Safety Influencer,” to tout the distinguished performance of The Qualified Captain, highlighting that while others have had success with “boating gone wrong” videos, only The Qualified Captain has tied those videos to boating safety education.

Members of the Cornelius Police Department, including officer George Brinze (left), are supporting the Float it Forward campaign.

Redmond, one of Stasiak’s followers, appreciated those efforts and reached out to share his concept. He wanted to see if there was a way the two could work together. “Cade sent me information and I had a conversation with him and knew he was making a good point that we needed to spread. Local docks and ramps are missing life floats, and they should be made aware of why they need them,” Stasiak said. The two are hoping through using the platform of The Qualified Captain, their message will spread to both dock owners and to government officials who they believe should be implementing rules for the placement of life rings on public docks and access points. “We want people to realize what can happen on the water. They may laugh when they see it but at the end of the day these mishaps happen and you need to keep yourself aware of the potential dangers on the water,” Stasiak said.

With the speed at which social media outreach spreads, both Redmond’s Float it Forward and Stasiak’s The Qualified Captain are gearing up to be busy taking orders for life rings. To help speed the process of getting rings in hands, West Marine has stepped in to partner on the project as the ring supplier. They hope to create custom floats with their logos, so anyone who sees the float will be reminded of their educational efforts.

Reflecting on why Redmond wanted to jump into the world of marketing, sponsorship, and public relations he said, “You don’t know you need a life ring until something horrible happens. I want there to be a life saved by this, for people to see this is a real issue that can be solved. Such a simple act can save lives.”