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Old 06-01-2013, 16:13   #1
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Self Inspection of Life Raft

I get so much info from this forum, I thought I'd post about how we inspected our "new to us" life raft.

First some background. We're pilots and sailors, so the life raft is to serve two purposes. One for over-water flights in case of ditching the airplane and second to carry on the boat if we ever go further than from Oriental to Ocracoke or Cape Lookout!

We've borrowed a small Survival Products life raft a couple of times for use in the plane on flights to the Bahamas. They're small and nice for the airplane - but reviews show them to be pretty bare-bones.

Now comes the power of Ebay - I bought a Hoover Industries 6 man raft. I know they're out of business and certification is difficult or impossible. I did get a quote of $325 from a company in Charleston, SC to re-certify it (plus parts costs, of course, if they could get the parts).

After some research, here and other sites, we decided to dig in and investigate that nice yellow bundle. This baby weighs 37 lbs.


We simply started removing items from the snapped tote. Carefully...didn't want to discharge the canister in the living room!!

No worries, as the previous owner had disconnected the CO2 bottle from the raft. I guess that makes sense because he did ship it to us......good to check these things out for yourself!

Everything seems to be in order. The raft was last inspected in 2005, so we knew it needed attention.



Everything appeared in good condition. The CO2 bottle and fittings looked like new. I weighed the bottle and it was exactly as it should be.



The emergency water rations were dated to expire in 2009. These are the little silver packs on the right. One of them was leaking slightly.

The pack to the left contains a nice flashlight that worked fine, a Swiss army knife, a mirror, a emergency patch kit for the raft, a water dye packet and a sponge for sopping up water in the raft. All were in excellent shape.



Everything is tied to the raft itself, so you wouldn't lose any of it if it's actually deployed.

In a separate compartment, there are misc. medical supplies, a flare (outdated), survival instructions and the orange canopy.



A view of the orange canopy



The canopy "poles" and the emergency beacon.



Let me discuss the floating emergency beacon....the beacon looked to be in excellent shape - the battery exp date was 2009 but it did appear to be functional still. But it's heavy. And the new battery sells for about $500. Yes, you read that right, $500!

We already have 2 very nice, new life vests that we wear in the plane while over water and will be wearing in heavy weather on the boat. In the pocket of each life vest is a new ACR ResQLink personal epirb. So, we already feel like we're covered on that front. So, we're probably toss the heavy beacon.

So, the only real thing left to do is inflate it and make sure it holds air!

The raft has two tubes - and a nice valve for each. (The raft comes with a nice little bellows hand pump for inflation while "underway" - but we opted for a quicker inflation). We rigged a tube taped to a mating fitting - then just used a leaf blower to inflate.



And there she is - holding air just fine!



We'll leave it inflated a day or so, but we're pretty happy with the process. We'll pack it back up sans emergency beacon and have it ready for our next flying or sailing adventure!
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Old 06-01-2013, 16:51   #2
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Re: Self Inspection of Life Raft

Agree with your comments re the Forum.

I guess why we are compelled to get these items inspected is to satisfy 'others'.

Those others being Race Committee's, Insurance companies,Lawyers etc. It's a strange thing to think we prepare our boat for all contingencies and just accept the stamp on the raft.

Good pic's
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Old 06-01-2013, 17:04   #3
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I think protocol is to inflate with dry nitrogen. The moisture from ambient air cannot be helpful for longevity. And definitely not to be test inflated with the CO2 as it is acidic.
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Old 06-01-2013, 17:07   #4
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Re: Self Inspection of Life Raft

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Originally Posted by daddle View Post
I think protocol is to inflate with dry nitrogen. The moisture from ambient air cannot be helpful for longevity. And definitely not to be test inflated with the CO2 as it is acidic.
Test inflations at annual service are, in general, carried out with air, generally via a filtered compressor.
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Old 06-01-2013, 17:17   #5
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Re: Self Inspection of Life Raft

Cheers for the post.

Yeah, it is strange how with liferafts it is accepted as the "done thing" for others to do a job many are capable of DIYing simply for the Stamp. Fair enuf if that stamp actually needed - but otherwise?

I have never self serviced a liferaft - but on my to do list (if I ever get one!), I figure if it is ok for folks to self pack a parachute it is ok to DIY a liferaft - plus in both you get the comfort of knowing personally it was done right, and not simply hoping it was and risking discovery to the contrary when too late to complain!
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Old 06-01-2013, 17:36   #6
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Re: Self Inspection of Life Raft

Speaking as somebody who works in the liferaft industry, I have mixed feelings about "self-certification" of liferafts. On the one hand, I acknowledge that it is a terribly expensive exercise to keep your liferaft in-survey with accreditation, but on the other hand, unpacking, testing and repacking a liferaft is as easy as it, perhaps, sounds. The guys who service your liferaft have to undergo detailed training on each and every type of liferaft that they service and must carry current accreditation from the liferaft manufacturer (and keep that accreditation by servicing a certain number of liferafts over a given period). A liferaft service and overhaul manual can run to hundreds of pages.

The way a liferaft is folded for packing is crucial. You can literally explode a liferaft during inflation if it is correctly folded (I can say that with certainty!).

It is a quandary. Perhaps a solution might be to produce a service manual aimed specifically at Owner Self Certification (for non commerical private applications, obviously). The problem with this type of solution is that, in many cases, manufacturers will sell the liferaft at a loss, but recoup their margin with inflated service costs (not unlike computer printers / cartridges).

'Tis tricky
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Old 06-01-2013, 17:57   #7
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Re: Self Inspection of Life Raft

friends do this every two years,and use talcum powder when repacking to avoid wear.
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Old 14-01-2013, 13:40   #8
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Re: Self Inspection of Life Raft

Thanks for posting this! I have an older Winslow 8-person raft and I planned to inspect it before departing for another ocean voyage. I'd like to hear the concerns & techniques involved. I bought it new, so know it's always been in a cool, dry, dark place. Need to check the supplies though! Planned to video and photo extensively to make sure the re-packing is the same.
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Old 23-04-2013, 13:01   #9
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Originally Posted by Weyalan View Post
Speaking as somebody who works in the liferaft industry, I have mixed feelings about "self-certification" of liferafts. On the one hand, I acknowledge that it is a terribly expensive exercise to keep your liferaft in-survey with accreditation, but on the other hand, unpacking, testing and repacking a liferaft is as easy as it, perhaps, sounds. The guys who service your liferaft have to undergo detailed training on each and every type of liferaft that they service and must carry current accreditation from the liferaft manufacturer (and keep that accreditation by servicing a certain number of liferafts over a given period). A liferaft service and overhaul manual can run to hundreds of pages.

The way a liferaft is folded for packing is crucial. You can literally explode a liferaft during inflation if it is correctly folded (I can say that with certainty!).

It is a quandary. Perhaps a solution might be to produce a service manual aimed specifically at Owner Self Certification (for non commerical private applications, obviously). The problem with this type of solution is that, in many cases, manufacturers will sell the liferaft at a loss, but recoup their margin with inflated service costs (not unlike computer printers / cartridges).

'Tis tricky
Here's an idea since you work in the industry...write the above manual under a psuedonym...digital format of course...I bet a lot of CF members would buy it. I certanly would.

Any suggestions for proper repacking/folding or is that very model specific?
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Old 23-04-2013, 13:09   #10
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Re: Self Inspection of Life Raft

As another working in the life raft servicing industry I can state that almost every life raft has a specific folding pattern, some of which are very complicated. Even I need the manual, even after 30 years of servicing rafts.
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Old 23-04-2013, 13:53   #11
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Re: Self Inspection of Life Raft

In the UK, at least, the labor charge is not the problem. It's only 150 quid which I gladly pay for the benefit of the skill and practice of the guy doing it. The problem is the cost of the supplies, and especially, canopy light battery, which is absolutely ridiculous.
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Old 23-04-2013, 16:06   #12
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Re: Self Inspection of Life Raft

In a similar vein:
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F
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http://www.searsound.com/pdf/surgery.pdf
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Old 23-04-2013, 16:32   #13
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In the UK, at least, the labor charge is not the problem. It's only 150 quid which I gladly pay for the benefit of the skill and practice of the guy doing it. The problem is the cost of the supplies, and especially, canopy light battery, which is absolutely ridiculous.
I would not mind paying a reasonable fee either, but getting screwed by "marine" vendors gets old.
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Old 24-04-2013, 01:52   #14
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Re: Self Inspection of Life Raft

That stick and canvas canopy is a bit Mickey Mouse. Try getting it assembled in a gale...

A liferaft is emergency equipment, not safety equipment. It may be the only thing standing between you and the guy upstairs. Bobbing about in the ocean is not the best time to wish that you'd spent a bit more cash.
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Old 29-04-2013, 17:16   #15
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Re: Self Inspection of Life Raft

Quote:
Originally Posted by Dockhead View Post
In the UK, at least, the labor charge is not the problem. It's only 150 quid which I gladly pay for the benefit of the skill and practice of the guy doing it. The problem is the cost of the supplies, and especially, canopy light battery, which is absolutely ridiculous.
I agree. If you are getting charged a lot for your service/repack, it is not generally the guy who is doing the service/repack who is getting rich. The manufacturer charges the service technician a "royalty" for each liferaft service... obviously the service technician passes that royalty along to you. The royalty charge varies depending on the size of the liferaft and the manufacturer.

It is definitely common practice, with some industry players, to sell liferafts relatively cheaply (compared to manufacture cost) but recoup through service / royalty charges. One of the major manufacturers (Viking, from memory) were giving away small capacity liferafts for $0 if you signed up for 10 years of annual service. You don't need to be a rocket surgeon to work out that they would get their "pound of flesh" back on those services!

A few cogent facts:
Most liferafts are inflated with a mixture of carbon dioxide and nitrogen. The ratio of CO2 to N2 is very specific and must be accurately achieved during cylinder refill. The ratios are not universal from model to model, so you need to be able to accurately deliver specific weights of these gases (typically to within +/- 5 grams) at high pressure (typically 200 bar).
So, your service station has to either keep the hardware and equipment to be able to do this in-house, or needs to sub-contract it to an outside organisation (Air Liquide, BOC Gas, etc.) Many liferafts have a unique cylinder head, requireing different fittings and processes to fill, so you need specific hardware for most liferafts that you service.

Your cylinder needs to be periodicaly proof tested (like a SCUBA dive cylinder). The liferaf needs to be periodically "gas inflated" (i.e. inflated by pulling the painter and inflating it as one would in an emergency), with associated refilling of cylinders. Initially, your liferaft may need relatively infrequent gas inflations, but as it gets older these will most likely become more frequent (N.B. This is not a money generating exercise by the manufacturer, but a mandatory requirement imposed by approval authorities or SOLAS).
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