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Old 17-03-2012, 17:38   #1
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Life Raft Self-Service

When Winslow told me what they wanted to service my life raft ($1,700 !) I decided to do it myself. So far, I'm glad I did. Fortunately, I've never needed to use it, so I now have the opportunity to get familiar with it.

The raft was originally vacuum packed by Winslow. The vaccum pack bag they use is very tough material (like a thick plastic coated aluminum foil) and it was also in a canister. As result, the raft is in great shape, the CO2 firing head and tank look like new, as does all the emergency gear.

The only exception I've found are the water activated batteries for the automatic lights. These absorbed moisture and are no good (ruptured in fact). That's OK because I don't like this arrangement anyway. These batteries automatically water activate, the lights burn continuously (day or night) and only last for 8-hours, and the batteries cannot be replaced (at least not practically at sea). I'm re-wiring with a serviceable alkaline battery pack and a water proof switch.

Anyone out there have experience with re-arming CO2 firing heads? (MAM Model 3000)?

A few pics attached.
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Old 18-03-2012, 13:48   #2
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Quote:
Originally Posted by belizesailor
When Winslow told me what they wanted to service my life raft ($1,700 !) I decided to do it myself. So far, I'm glad I did. Fortunately, I've never needed to use it, so I now have the opportunity to get familiar with it.

The raft was originally vacuum packed by Winslow. The vaccum pack bag they use is very tough material (like a thick plastic coated aluminum foil) and it was also in a canister. As result, the raft is in great shape, the CO2 firing head and tank look like new, as does all the emergency gear.

The only exception I've found are the water activated batteries for the automatic lights. These absorbed moisture and are no good (ruptured in fact). That's OK because I don't like this arrangement anyway. These batteries automatically water activate, the lights burn continuously (day or night) and only last for 8-hours, and the batteries cannot be replaced (at least not practically at sea). I'm re-wiring with a serviceable alkaline battery pack and a water proof switch.

Anyone out there have experience with re-arming CO2 firing heads? (MAM Model 3000)?

A few pics attached.
How are you going to revacume pack it?
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Old 18-03-2012, 18:46   #3
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Re: Life Raft Self-Service

The original Winslow bag is quite heavy duty and I don't have the gear to do that, but
I have some large household grade vacuum bags I am going to use initially and then try and find someone in my part of the world who can do something more durable. Also ditching the canister and going with a valise which is easy enough to have made here.

The pre-packed safety gear was vacuum bagged in standard "food saver" type bags (which I also have).
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Old 18-03-2012, 21:17   #4
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Re: Life Raft Self-Service

belize, as we have the same surname and the same feelings about repacks, perhaps we are twins separated at birth.<G>

I would suggest NOT using alkaline batteries, I have had them from every major brand (especially Duracell) leak badly before their expiry date. I would suggest the pricier lithium primary batteries, which typically have 4x the energy density, are very stable, and have a 5-year 50% shelf life.

If you want to DIY a heavy grade vacuum bag, check out the roofing supply section at a local hardware store. There are many kinds of heavy duty, waterproof, impermeable "membrane" materials sold by the roll or yard as roofing covers. Silicones, rubbers, all sorts, along with specific adhesives to seal them. Get an inflation valve from a life raft, dingy, air bed....fold up an "envelope" to the size you want...leave a little extra so you only have to slice off and real the end next time around...Voila, no rocket surgery required. Although, if you make it too rugged it won't burst when you need it to inflate. Be careful what you wish for.

Is the raft too big to fit in one of the ultra-large-sized Space Bags? ZipLock also makes some for preserving sides of game, you won't find them in the local grocery store.

Also, do WEIGH the CO2 bottle to make sure it hasn't leaked. Every once in a while I weigh a "perfectly good old" fire extinguisher, only to find the gas has gone away and it is a paperweight.

I keep thinking, I gotta call Goodyear. Or someone. I'm pretty damn sure there's a better way to make rafts, and the repack companies would put a contract on me if I mentioned it.
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Old 18-03-2012, 22:50   #5
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Re: Life Raft Self-Service

I am sure that I could service my own life raft, but I am not so sure that I could repack it in a professional manner. There must be some tricks to the trade.
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Old 19-03-2012, 07:43   #6
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Re: Life Raft Self-Service

OK, folks with no sense of humor should quietly leave the room now.

Once a year, on April Fools Day, Martha Stewart has her Evil Twin Sister do the show. She's honestly done things like show people how to make a Budweiser Tree.

So maybe if someone were to invite HER to show us all how to neatly fold and repack a life raft....

What? The women can even neatly and flatly fold FITTED SHEETS and that's something that just HAS TO involve black magic or space-time distortions. I think she'd love to do it. "Neatly now, first grab the corners of the ballast pockets..."
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Old 19-03-2012, 09:27   #7
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Re: Life Raft Self-Service

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Originally Posted by hellosailor View Post
belize, as we have the same surname and the same feelings about repacks, perhaps we are twins separated at birth.<G>

I would suggest NOT using alkaline batteries,...

If you want to DIY a heavy grade vacuum bag, check out the roofing supply section at a local hardware store....

Is the raft too big to fit in one of the ultra-large-sized Space Bags? ...

Also, do WEIGH the CO2 bottle to make sure it hasn't leaked...

I keep thinking, I gotta call Goodyear. Or someone. I'm pretty damn sure there's a better way to make rafts...
Yes, I would prefer to use lithium batteries, but the installed lights are only 1.5v and expect the 3v of lilithiums would fry the light without also adding a circuit build project to my list. Ultimately, I would like to replace whole light set-up with LED and lithium batteries, but for now will just strip the old damaged batteries out of the installation. At least DIY packed I can easily inspect and change batteries.

Good idea on bag alternatives....my theory is that somewhere in the bowels of Guatemala City is anything you could conceivable ever need...the trick is to find it! Maybe next off-season I will do a little exploring....good opportunity to expand my Spanish vocabulary into a whole new subject area. There are so many services packed away in odd little corners of the City that it would not surprise me to round the corner in some obscure little alleyway and find a full-blown life raft servicing shop. The trick is of course finding the right obscure little alleyway!

Re "Space-Bags" ... that is exactly what I plan to use for now. We have some aboard for storing bedding and such which I think are large enough. They are not very durable, but easy to replace.

CO2 was discharged to make return shipping of the raft to me easier. Also, it was due for a hydro test. So, it is now in the City getting hydro'ed and filled. Externally valve and tank were in excellent condition so I expect the hydro test will be fine. I like the idea of deploying the raft about every two years anyway to inspect it and refiling the bottle (cheap to do...about Q70 (< $10) here).

I agree, I think much of the current industry is just a scam -- especially when you read stories about these high-dollar rafts falling apart after just a few days at sea. I expect that a couple of large diameter GoodYear tubes would even hold up better.
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Old 19-03-2012, 09:30   #8
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Re: Life Raft Self-Service

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I am sure that I could service my own life raft, but I am not so sure that I could repack it in a professional manner. There must be some tricks to the trade.
I looked as I unfolded the raft, should have taken pictures, and the folding was not particularly complicated. As with anything, I expect there are some tricks to trade, but at least I am not trying to get back in the original packaging so I have more leeway.
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Old 19-03-2012, 09:55   #9
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Re: Life Raft Self-Service

When you depoly th raft, use a blower not the CO2 bottle to inflate it. Each time the CO2 is used, it freezes the raft material, stressing it, making a crack and failure more likely in the future. Catch-22.

In the US, diners and restaurants at least used to buy their milk in five gallon plastic bags, loaded into a "milk machine" to dispense it. The bags were always thrown out, but if ask and slip someone a couple of bucks, they'll gladly give them to you. Heavy food-grade plastic, just rinse well and there you go, a spare water blivet or a life raft baggie.
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Old 19-03-2012, 13:29   #10
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Re: Life Raft Self-Service

$1700 is a lot to inspect a life raft. If someone is going to make a viable business out of it I imagine that is what it costs to hire good people. My life raft is also a Winslow. I looked at it and it is 5 years out of service. I don't plan on taking off anywhere for the next four years at least so I am unsure as to what to do. I am going to watch your experiment and see how things go. It really can't be that hard.

Here is a german video on how to do it I just watched it from begining to end and it really doesn't look that hard.
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Old 19-03-2012, 13:40   #11
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Re: Life Raft Self-Service

I'm sure the bottom line is "Well, we BOUGHT a FRANCHISE and we expect to make a return on investment. The business doesn't have many customers aside from the commercial ones, they got no choice. Our insurance is a killer, and hey, we're gonna charge as much as we can, you recreational non-mandatory types can take it or leave it."

Sometimes, that's the way it works. What they often forget to teach in kindergarden is "The world is not a fair place."

And I'm sure the really wealthy turn-key yachties, or their trophy wives, would be terrified to do something so important themselves. Well heck, they're not so far removed from the folks who run down to the gas station to buy cigarettes, and light 'em up while they're gassing up their cars.

At least some folks HAVE the good sense TO BE AFRAID of the words 'some assembly required'.<G>
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Old 19-03-2012, 13:57   #12
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Re: Life Raft Self-Service

Spoke to a couple of raft inspection/certification companies. A big part of the expense is the requirement (manufacturer, USCG, ???) to replace all the little goodies like water and food packs, flares, batteries and such with official USCG certified replacements. From my discussions I don't think these guys are getting rich on repacking rafts for yachties. The big money is in the cruise boats and such.

I am perfectly content to add my own batteries, food, water and safety items and really prefer to do most of that in the ditch bag anyway. After all, how much water and food can you get inside a life raft and still be able to deploy it?

One problem, no matter how good a job you DIY the inspection some places will want to see and "official" repacking certification. Portugal is one place that comes to mind. Without the official looking stickers you may run into problems.

One a side note, I have heard that with a computer and a color laser printer one can make very nice looking looking labels and similar items.
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Old 19-03-2012, 14:56   #13
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Re: Life Raft Self-Service

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One problem, no matter how good a job you DIY the inspection some places will want to see and "official" repacking certification. Portugal is one place that comes to mind. Without the official looking stickers you may run into problems.

Am I to believe from this that there are countries that REQUIRE that you have a life raft?
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Old 19-03-2012, 15:00   #14
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Re: Life Raft Self-Service

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Am I to believe from this that there are countries that REQUIRE that you have a life raft?
Have read comments to that effect in previous threads although in at least one case it wasn't clear if the requirements applied to visiting yachts or only locals.
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Old 19-03-2012, 15:03   #15
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Re: Life Raft Self-Service

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Quote:
Originally Posted by skipmac View Post
Spoke to a couple of raft inspection/certification companies. A big part of the expense is the requirement (manufacturer, USCG, ???) to replace all the little goodies like water and food packs, flares, batteries and such with official USCG certified replacements. From my discussions I don't think these guys are getting rich on repacking rafts for yachties. The big money is in the cruise boats and such.

I am perfectly content to add my own batteries, food, water and safety items and really prefer to do most of that in the ditch bag anyway. After all, how much water and food can you get inside a life raft and still be able to deploy it?

One problem, no matter how good a job you DIY the inspection some places will want to see and "official" repacking certification. Portugal is one place that comes to mind. Without the official looking stickers you may run into problems.

One a side note, I have heard that with a computer and a color laser printer one can make very nice looking looking labels and similar items.
I agree they are not making a killing off us cruisers, but I can do the same job for a very small fraction of the cost and learn something in the process.

If I were currently running an Inspected vessel then I would have no option but to use a commercial facility, but I'm cruising -- I have no legal life-raft carriage requirements anyway. And, I can buy all the little misc bits and pieces for a few dollars.

Even if I return the boat to charter use in Belize I still have no life-raft carriage requirements and certainly no official inspection. Same is true of many other popular charter venues in the world.
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