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Old 05-11-2014, 14:05   #1
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Why don't liferaft repacks use...

A stray thought came to me yesterday. Rafts, and everything including the pyros in them, go bad without much effort. A lot of them offer the option to have the raft "vacuum" sealed in a pouch so that in theory, water and bugs can't get in. OK, that's a start.

But why not eliminate oxidation and moisture from the sealed bag, by using oxygen absorbers or inert gas? Wine lovers can buy cans of argon gas, to displace the air in opened wine bottles. CO2 or nitrogen from a big tank are even cheaper and commonly available. And almost everything in a "pouch" in the supermarket has sachets of oxygen absorber, which looks like silica gel, but it isn't. The packets have a mix of wood dust and powdered iron, which react with oxygen to "rust" and bind up all the oxygen in the pouch. They work the same way as handwarmer packets, just at lower temperatures.

So why isn't anyone using the same common industrial approach with life rafts? Or did I just miss the memo? Flush the pouch with inert gas, to get the bulk of the oxygen and moisture out, and then toss in the oxygen absorbers before sealing it up, to ensure the rest of it gets bound up.

No moisture, no oxygen...everything should be better preserved, no? At damned little cost, five or ten bucks, twenty tops.
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Old 05-11-2014, 14:25   #2
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Re: Why don't liferaft repacks use...

My guess is the bag, if they even use one it would not hold a vac. It would take a mighty bagging machine to seal a raft up really well and hold vac for a few years.

That's it?, Iron and sawdust? So we can make our own?
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Old 05-11-2014, 15:12   #3
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Re: Why don't liferaft repacks use...

Even a "space bag" holds vacuum pretty well. Sometimes you get a leaker but most that I've met will stay puckered up for years, and that's despite having the big seal on one end. As to sucking the air out, all you need is a household vacuum cleaner. You don't want a pure vacuum, that would put stresses on the fabric as well.

So "vacuum-ish" bagging? No big deal, plenty of them offer that already.

Iron powder and wood dust, pretty much. You can find the recipes online, but they're pretty cheap to buy. They come in vacuum-sealed bags, oddly enough.(G) The trick is to figure out where you want to use them, then open the bag and use them ALL so they don't have to be re-stored in another airless container.
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Old 05-11-2014, 15:32   #4
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Re: Why don't liferaft repacks use...

My guess is the following factors:

1. Rafts are sold by commercial, profit oriented businesses (Why spend money on new gear to insert inert gas/items and additional training of personnel etc?)
2. No consumer demand for added steps and expense
3. Another thing that could go wrong/bad. "If it aint broke, why fix it?"
4. Rafts are filled with "minimal" requirement meeting (but not better) stuff for compliance with SOLAS or other regulations.
5. Raft owners will be back in a few years anyway to get the raft serviced to meet regs or race rules.
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Old 05-11-2014, 16:59   #5
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Re: Why don't liferaft repacks use...

Don't forget that pyro flares and battery flares go bad with time, no oxygen is required. The explosives in flares contain their own oxygen so there is no way to keep them from aging, and batteries even in a vaccume will over time corrode.

I would also be hesitant about long term storage of rubber under a hard vaccume. The volatiles can boil off and make the rubber brittle even without oxidation. I don't know that this couldn't be designed around, but at what price?

Finally there is the rational position that anything that is intended to save someone's life should be inspected from time to time just to ensure nothing has gone wrong, or to update it to new best practices. So even assuming the raft was completely sealed I think you would still wanted it opened every few years.
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Old 05-11-2014, 17:12   #6
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Re: Why don't liferaft repacks use...

Hello sailor, Sounds like you are talking about repacking. And a distinction must be made between high, and med/low quality rafts. I'd like these horror strories, of which I myself have seen, to start naming names. I think we will find the failures are of the medium to low quality. Anyways, the gel dry packs seem to me could have their own risks.
Repacking faculties are supposed to fill and repack raft in a controlled environment. From the air that inflates the raft to the hands that touch the rubber when unfolding and folding. Keeping moisture out of the tubes is paramount. some do offer vacuum packing. Sorry if I am mis understanding your post. I'd give winslow a shout, they may be able to answer your question more scientifically. rafts@winslowliferaft.com
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Old 05-11-2014, 17:20   #7
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Re: Why don't liferaft repacks use...

Greg-
Even Olin says that moisture and moist air degrade their pyros faster. So it isn't a question of whether the flare will decay all by itself, but hermetically sealing it in a dry gas will prevent the additional attacks from more oxygen and moisture.
And I'm not suggesting a "hard" vacuum at all. When you suck vacuum with a vacuum cleaner, as opposed to an HVAC vacuum pump, you're just exhausting the excess air from the bag. Same thing as pressing down on a ziplock bag to get all the excess air out.
There's no downside, unless of course you'd prefer a standard of mediocracy. Ask any Egyptian mummy. Less air, less moisture, all kinds of good things can happen. And in this case, the cost is really minimal, since the rafts are often being "pouched" already.

Steady-
Those raft owners might NOT be back in a few years. That depends on whether they needed their raft, and whether it was intact, or had been replaced by bricks. (As actually documented by the USCG in one case.)

It is an industry ripe for disruption, I guess. Especially for the unregulated pleasurecraft users.

Ocean Girl-
Repack, yes, but why not originally pack them that way as well?
The canister full of bricks was documented some time ago, maybe a decade? Along with widely discussed results of the USCG shutting down one repack station. It definitely is not the norm, far from it. But they also had no way to tell just how many other times this had happened. I would suppose that if you went to a Safety At Sea conference (and boy have their prices gone up since that started!) or queried the USCG, someone might have notes and specifics for you. Or could chase them down.

And then there's a Big Name liferaft company that was being discussed online, two years ago? People were sending in orders, and getting no reply, no rafts, no phone answered, months and months later. I can't find that one with the SEARCH button, but I know it happened. Anyone remember which company that was?
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Old 05-11-2014, 18:03   #8
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Re: Why don't liferaft repacks use...

Quote:
Originally Posted by hellosailor View Post
...And then there's a Big Name liferaft company that was being discussed online, two years ago? People were sending in orders, and getting no reply, no rafts, no phone answered, months and months later. I can't find that one with the SEARCH button, but I know it happened. Anyone remember which company that was?
Givens. E.g.:

Quote:
"As a follow-up to a recent Marine Safety Alert regarding improper servicing of Givens Life Rafts, Coast Guard Marine Safety Office, Providence, is publicizing the findings of life raft examinations to raise awareness of this serious safety hazard. Recently Coast Guard inspectors examined 19 liferafts from fishing vessels and pleasure boats serviced by Jim Givens Survival Company. All 19 of the liferafts examined had deficiencies. Three rafts were taken out of service and two were condemned. Sixteen rafts had missing equipment. Five carbon dioxide (CO2) cylinders on rafts had problems. Seventeen of the rafts contained items which were expired at the time of the last servicing. One raft had dry rot and tears in the fabric that had been glued back together. Problems with the CO2 cylinders - which are required to inflate the rafts - included two cylinders that had not been tested in seven years, and one that weighed half its required weight. Some of the missing items included sea anchors, radar reflectors, flares, medical supplies, flashlights, food, water, drinking cups, can openers, whistles, bailers, jackknifes, repair kits, heaving lines, instructions and hand pump parts - rendering pumps inoperative. Expired items included Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacons (EPIRBs) and other batteries, flares, medical supplies, food and water. On one raft, all but three of the 72 required water bags were missing, broken or expired. Many other items, such as oars, interior and exterior lighting and hand held pumps, were inoperative and required repairs or replacement.
The foregoing was just a taste of the beginning. It got worse. Much worse.
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Old 05-11-2014, 18:20   #9
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Re: Why don't liferaft repacks use...

New rafts are packed in an controlled environment, they are pressure tested along certain check points with dry compressed air. You can have them vacuum packed. Winslow will shape the pack to whatever shape or form you wish within certain perimeters. It's pretty cool.
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Old 05-11-2014, 18:41   #10
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Re: Why don't liferaft repacks use...

Some life-raft companies have lost the plot.. Require repacking EVERY year... at a cost of some 700usd a year. This is excessive and not cost effective as I took my LR to the authorised dealer and they repacked it so badly it burst its own vacume bag on the drive home... After a lot of shouting they did turn up and repack it with another vac bag but I was not impressed.
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Old 05-11-2014, 18:53   #11
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Re: Why don't liferaft repacks use...

Repack service stated in this practical sailor article that most life rafts ( non commercial) coming in for repacks, come in with expired papers. A large portions years into expiration.

I'm of the mind to buy a good quality raft, repack it once, then buy a new raft when it comes time to repack it again. That's about 6 years between purchases, not bad.

They also say rafts last much longer in hard cases then in soft valises.

Life Raft Inspection, an Inside Look - Practical Sailor Article
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Old 05-11-2014, 19:07   #12
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Re: Why don't liferaft repacks use...

Quote:
Originally Posted by Ocean Girl View Post
Repack service stated in this practical sailor article that most life rafts ( non commercial) coming in for repacks, come in with expired papers. A large portions years into expiration.

I'm of the mind to buy a good quality raft, repack it once, then buy a new raft when it comes time to repack it again. That's about 6 years between purchases, not bad.

They also say rafts last much longer in hard cases then in soft valises.

Life Raft Inspection, an Inside Look - Practical Sailor Article
Well as a decent liferaft for my boat in a hard case with aut release starts at around 5k USD not a cheap option !
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Old 06-11-2014, 06:31   #13
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Re: Why don't liferaft repacks use...

Excerpted from “Practical Sailor”, February 2013:

“... Many raft owners are unaware that a fiberglass hardshell case—seemingly impervious to weather—has drain holes in the bottom. These holes eventually allow moisture to enter the case and wreak havoc. Take a wave over the side, and there is a good chance that your raft canister will absorb a bit of water. One way to add an extra-layer of protection is to have the raft vacuum-bagged before it is packed into a soft valise or hardshell case. This practice, still relatively new, has been shown to help prevent deterioration caused by moisture. Unfortunately, no method is bulletproof...

... At LRSE, the estimated cost of repacking a non-vacuum bagged, four-person to eight-person leisure-class life raft is $500, plus another $300 to $350 for the vacuum-packed model.

While most leisure-class life rafts today are vacuum-packed, Harvey said that Switlik owners are given the option of foregoing this process because the materials used in its raft are not as vulnerable as others to moisture...”

Life Raft Inspection, an Inside Look - Practical Sailor Article

OOPS - I see Ocean Girl beat me to it.
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Old 06-11-2014, 11:44   #14
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Re: Why don't liferaft repacks use...

We bought a used a used 4-man Mitsubishi liferaft in a hard container in NZ in 1987. Took it to Suva, Fiji to an industrial-area repacker at a cost of about US$80. Had it repacked there in 2000 (only other time we did) plus had some reflective tape applied to the raft canopy, as we saw being done to another raft. Bit of a language problem - we thought the tape price was per foot - turned out it was per inch! Still came in at under $200, plus they let us get into the raft, and add extra items. Not sure if they're still there. Sold that boat a few years ago, still have raft...
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Old 06-11-2014, 13:19   #15
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Re: Why don't liferaft repacks use...

Yargh, $300+ for a large Seal-A-Meal and a coupla Spacebags. Piracy, I calls that.

There is some point that "contents" like food, water, batteries, have finite lives. Best addressed the simplest way, put them in a ditch bag or a separate pouch attached to the raft, not mixed into it. And while there's more to worry about with the inflation bottle needing testing, that's also terribly overconservative. I've seen extinguishers leak (rarely) but low-pressure inert-gas bottles need a hydro test, really NEED it, about as often as my unicorn needs new pink sparkly ribbons.

I've seen car tires take UV damage and dry rot in six years, but then again, WW2 warbirds have been recovered with the original tires still serviceable!

I think we just need to get Fisher-Price into the liferaft game.

BTW, when PS mentions hazmat shipping rates? UPS, USPS, and FedEx each have different hazmat rules. If you call any of them and get transferred to the hazmat department, you may also get different opinions that don't match their PRINTED hazmat guides. All of which may change from time to time. So, a trip online to find the PRINTED rules for each carrier can save you from having to pay any hazmat fee at all. And a motor freight carrier may be even cheaper--if you have a commercial account or drop off at their depot. Greyhound and other major bus companies also usually have parcel delivery, but only to their own stations, someone has to pick it up.
Ocean Girl, I suspect that if anyone could get a firm grip on what used rafts sell for? You'd be on the right track. Buy a new one, sell it either in two years or after one repack, and move on. Instead of letting them devalue to nothing in ten years anyway.
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