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Old 01-10-2009, 10:27 PM   #1
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This might be stating the obvious but anyone dropping their life raft in for testing should really hang around and see it opened. It's fascinating to finally see what's inside that big bulky white case on our foredeck!

Most testing stations encourage boat owners to be present when they open the case but you'd be surprised by how many decline this opportunity. RFD said we were one of the first to specifically ask to see ours opened and inflated.

I'm only assuming that for the majority, the only occasion most get to look at the contents of their life raft is when they've got a grab bag in one hand, life vest around their neck and a terrified look plastered to their face and are taking that first awful step into the drink. That certainly would have been the case for us!

Our raft turned out to be over 18 months out of test - having come with our vessel upon purchase. Never having owned a life raft before, we never quite got round to having it tested - wrongly figuring we'd save that for the big trip overseas.

Prior to opening it up, RFD warned us not to be too surprised if the raft had deteriorated inside its case due to the intense heat and humidity here in the tropics. With most life rafts sitting proud on the foredeck exposed to the sun year in, year out - a good proportion of rafts they test suffer from some deterioration. The last raft they tested, admittedly 4 yrs out of test, was nothing more than a congealed heap of rubber - not something you want to discover when you need to toss it over the side and pull the inflation painter!

Fortunately ours was in mint condition - which may be due to the fact that it sits under the shade of our inflatable dinghy on the foredeck but from what I can gather, this is not always the case.

Once inflated the testing station walked us through all the contents including medical, food and water supplies - first time I have ever seen packaged water rations - I asked, but they said that Jim Beam did not do life raft supplies!

They also demonstrated all the raft's various features and explained the drift anchor and water pocket functions.

We have now been warmly introduced to that mysterious and now, not so scary white box on our foredeck; and should we ever have the unfortunate need to toss it over the side, hopefully that look on our faces when we take the plunge will not be so terrified.

Fair winds all.

Inflated.jpg
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Old 01-14-2009, 05:48 AM   #2
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Call me crazy, but if I were to skipper a yacht with crewmembers, I would require that we conduct a pre-voyage life raft drill. Pop the raft and require every crewmember to jump from a pier, boat, or float and swim 20m to the raft. They would have to get in and demonstrate knowledge and proficient use of all the raft's provisions and emergency gear. I would make this an annual qual, if not more frequent.

One question: How much does it cost to have the supplier repack the raft after you test it?
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Old 01-14-2009, 07:33 AM   #3
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I would strongly recommend all sailors to do a 'Safety of Life at Sea' course which includes life raft deployment and righting it, as they have a very nasty habit of inflating upside down.

Also getting into a liferaft when you have a fully inflated PFD is an interesting experience!

When you have your raft tested and repacked, take some time to think about what emergency rations/equipment you would like packed inside - you can specify what you want within reason.
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Old 01-14-2009, 08:37 AM   #4
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Call me crazy, but if I were to skipper a yacht with crewmembers, I would require that we conduct a pre-voyage life raft drill. Pop the raft and require every crewmember to jump from a pier, boat, or float and swim 20m to the raft. They would have to get in and demonstrate knowledge and proficient use of all the raft's provisions and emergency gear. I would make this an annual qual, if not more frequent.

One question: How much does it cost to have the supplier repack the raft after you test it?
Not crazy at all - as the scouts say....

We've been quoted $430 AUS for the repack - expecting a bit extra to replace some of the expired supplies.

Mico
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Old 01-14-2009, 09:09 AM   #5
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Call me crazy, but if I were to skipper a yacht with crewmembers, I would require that we conduct a pre-voyage life raft drill. Pop the raft and require every crewmember to jump from a pier, boat, or float and swim 20m to the raft. They would have to get in and demonstrate knowledge and proficient use of all the raft's provisions and emergency gear. I would make this an annual qual, if not more frequent.

One question: How much does it cost to have the supplier repack the raft after you test it?
Safety first!

That's my first rule onboard! Always.

But also, we're still talking cruising life, not employees on big-ships or oil-platforms or military operations. If you follow this kind of reasoning it would also be required to hire a coastguard chopper to excercise be lifted off the deck. And the life-raft, and ..., ...

You'll also be obliged to have a medical phd, a cardial arrest defibrilation machine, at least 2 satellite phone systems and a morque onboard. And the skipper should be psychological tested to the bone to confirm his capabilities to handle severe or unexpected conditions.

No wait, even better, let's take 2 skippers. Just in case.

Please, is that what we want?

I'd rather stay home then. Worse, I would have to stay home because it would be unaffordable for a regular citizen earning decent money to sail off once again.

Living life is taking risks. No risks, no life.

Fair winds and cheap fuel,

Jan
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Old 01-14-2009, 04:38 PM   #6
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Jan,

I disagree. Being a skipper doesn't require that you attain perfection or take unreasonable steps that destroy the fun of cruising. All I am saying is that utilizing a liferaft is best not attempted for the first time when you have the chaos of a sinking ship as the backdrop. It is not unreasonable to require all your crew/passengers to familiarize themselves with the basic safety gear, not to mention that "exercising" your liferaft will be a good check to make certain that it can perform as expected.

The life they save may be yours.
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Old 01-15-2009, 06:40 AM   #7
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As a profesional seaman and senior coast guard officer (although currently seconded elsewhere), I am in full agreement with "edsailing". Do a Safety of Lfe at sea course. The instructors will be able to provide you with much more experience and insight than "popping" a liferaft alone.

The course includes this element too as well as many others. You will get your feet wet. You will right a capsized liferaft. You will learn about the standard equipment onboard a liferaft. You will learn survival procedures and you will learn about the threats of hypothermia.

"Exercising" the liferaft is a bit like "exercising" a parachute. You get up there, jump and pull the cord. Everything works well and you make a soft landing but this does not mean that the shute will be properly packed and function on the next jump. It is the same with a liferaft. We have to rely on the integrity of the firm doing the job and, provided the raft has been properly serviced, it should function. Further, it is extremely unlikely that any exercise would take place under realistic conditions (i.e. the prevailing conditions under which you are likely to launch in an emergency). Such drills are more likely to take place in port under reasonable weather conditions and thus will not be a sufficiently good test of the raft.

IMHO there are three things you should do:

1. Read the books which were written about the Fastnet Race disaster. There you will learn when NOT to use a liferaft, i.e. stay with your ship until it sinks under your feet and then climb into the raft. If you can jump down to a raft from a yacht which is not on fire then you are abandoning the vessel to soon.

2. Take the Safety of Life at Sea course

3. Instruct your crew as to the functioning of ALL safety and fire-fighting equippment onboard as well as the position of all through-hulls and the operation of the bilge pumping system(s).

One further bit of advice. It is better to avoid emergency situations than to learn how to try and survive them. Compare this to drving a car. It is better to know how to avoid a skid than to learn how to get out of one. I am not saying that the knowledge of how to arrest a skid is not very useful but if you know how not to get into a skid in the first place you will be far safer. Even knowing how to arrest a skid or operate a liferaft may not save your bacon.

aye // Stephen
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Old 01-15-2009, 10:18 AM   #8
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Jan,
Eleua,

I fully agree with your point that everyone onboard, on a daytrip with 2 Bft and on an ocean passage, should be aware of the basic safety gear and rules. But even for ocean passages I think it's overdone to exercise the liferaft. In all situations goal and effort should be considered. I fully agree that a wrong season Cape Horn passage requires another preparation then an january atlantic crossing.

There are some more thoughts, though.

It's always better to prevent emergency situations and train on that. I'm extra prudent on the liferaft because it really is the last thing you would like to find yourself in. Your boat is always a better place; you step of when it is sinking below waterlevel or burning your eyebrows, and no minute earlier. Remember Fastnet 1979: rafts gone, sailors gone, boats found floating.

It's a well-known discussion between crew and skipper in emergencies: the (unprepared or not-well informed) crew wants to get off in an emergency, and the skipper judges the boat more safe...

By exercising something that is so very, very rare needed, you create the very big risk that it will be considered too easily as a safe option in an emergency. And it is not.

The time, efforts and money is better spend on prevention of more day-to-day (but very life treathening) risks, fire-gear and drill, leakage finding and repair, emergency steering, storm tactics, and so on.

BTW, on most places in the world it takes weeks to have your raft repacked, inspected and returned, making it impossible to try before a passage. Not to mention the fact that I don't really trust all the companies around the world to do a good job on repacking: I've seen to much rafts damaged by inspection stations.

Just my thoughts.

Jan
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Old 01-15-2009, 10:48 PM   #9
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Now here's a bunch of people who probably never expected to be life raft commuters 0__6442762_00.jpg
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Old 01-16-2009, 12:27 AM   #10
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Eleua,

Exercising the life raft isn't probably the thing you want to do. Rather, you want to assure that you and your crew are capable of "dealing with" the emergency situation. You really do want to know that you are capable of getting into the raft from the water, for example. Taking a course, as Ed suggested, can assist wit this assessment of your own capabilities.

Some sailors choose not to even have a liferaft onboard--rather they plan on relying on their tender in emergency. Some very famous and well known cruisers have this idea--the more you wish to be self-sufficient the more you are likely to want to have a reliable tender that can be used as a lifeboat. This is a contentious issue and each skipper pretty much has to decide what to do on their own.

If you're in a small enough boat for emergency flotation (for the boat, not YOU) to be useful, you may find better utility in outfitting your boat with such flotation as well as to have a large capacity crash pump aboard. I believe there is only one company that does the emergency flotation thing for the boat--and I'd heard they were in a lawsuit of some sort...so that may be out of the question. However, having sufficient pumping capacity as well as fire extinguishers and other safety equipment aboard is crucial to your survival. You are much more likely to survive if you STAY with the boat than if you jump in your little liferaft and go drifting off into the big, blue.

Fair winds
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