HOW TO BUY A LIFE RAFT part 2
Life Raft Construction. The manufacturers of modern life rafts are experts in the field and are constantly improving their products to include the most up-to-date materials and procedures. The construction material of a raft is a crucial element in its overall integrity. Most modem life rafts are made of a sturdy nylon or canvas fabric with a waterproof coating of neoprene rubber or Hypalon.
Survival Stores. Most life rafts purchased from manufacturers or their distributors will include a basic supply of “survival stores,” which might vary according to the price of the raft and manufacturer. You should ac quaint yourself with the wide range of safety devices and survival supplies available to make sure that at least the very basic and most necessary items are included in your life raft.
If you are not satisfied with what has been provided in your life raft, it’s up to you to add any other supplies or devices that will enhance your safety and improve your chances of survival in an emergency.
Basic Items and Options. There is, of course, a gray area of opinion as to what is considered an absolute necessity on a life raft and what is not. Geographical factors also might play a role. Following is a concise list of those items generally considered to be fundamental to a life raft. ( Fig. 1-5).
Fig. 1-5: Standard features of a typical survival life raft.
Flotation Capability. The raft must be able to stay afloat in adverse conditions while carrying the prescribed number of persons. It should be able to support over two-thirds its rated capacity with the largest buoyancy chamber completely deflated.
Automatic CO Inflation System. The raft should include an automatic carbon dioxide inflation system that allows for unattended automatic inflation of the buoyancy chambers.
Manual inflation. Each buoyancy chamber of the raft should have a manual inflation mouthpiece, to allow for a carbon dioxide system failure and to inflate the raft at a later period. A hand pump or bellows should also be included.
Separate Buoyancy Chambers. For maximum safety, the raft should have at least two separate buoyancy chambers rather than an “all connected” single chamber, in the event that one chamber is punctured.
Canopy. The raft should have a canopy that is either automatically inflating or can be set up manually. It must be strong enough to withstand heavy winds or seas. A canopy of bright orange or yellow is best because these colors are highly visible. The canopy not only protects the life raft occupants from the elements, but can also maintain a safe temperature inside, can act as a sail, and can keep the occupants from falling overboard in heavy seas.
Double Floor. The raft should have a double floor of durable construction because exposure to cold ocean temperatures through a single floor can result in hypothermia. In addition to influencing temperature and comfort, a double floor also acts as an additional safeguard against possible rupturing from bumping into flotsam or marine animals.
If you already own, or intend to purchase a raft that has only a single floor, you can modify your raft to provide double floor protection. To do so, use heavy duty inflatable sleeping mattresses, or something similar that will create a “dead air” space between yourself and the bottom layer of the raft. Remember, however, that because of limited space this extra floor usually cannot be packed in the raft itself.
Stabilizing Pockets. The raft should have stabilizing pockets or some other type of stabilizing capability. Usually these pockets are attached to the underside of the inflatable raft. They provide added stability in the form of ballast by filling with water when the raft is deployed. (Note the different ballast designs in Figs. 1-1 through 1-4).
Colors. The raft should be designed with bright colors clearly visible on the top for aid in detection. Usually, the best distress colors are yellow or orange. (Note: On the bottom of the raft, however, bright colors are not advisable. It has been reported that a dark bottom will be of less interest or attraction to sea animals known to occasionally bump and rub the bottom of the raft. This bumping and rubbing can cause discomfort and possibly rupture the raft.) Furthermore, some manufacturers are designing the interior of the raft with less obtrusive colors to aid in reducing the effects of seasickness.
Sea Anchor. At least one sea anchor (and preferably two or even three) with the proper operating gear should be included in your life raft equipment. A sea anchor is used to create drag, reduce the chance of capsizing, and enable the raft to maintain directional stability.
Survival Kits. Some type of survival kit or kits should be a standard part of your life raft equipment. You can use the kit supplied by the manufacturer or any other kits that you might want to provision yourself (i.e., medical, repair, signaling, fishing, navigation).
Sea-activated Light. A seawater- or gravity-activated light on the exterior and interior top of the life raft is advantageous for finding and boarding the raft when it’s deployed at night.
Inside Bracing Lines. Sturdy, inside lines can be used for tying off supplies and bracing in rough conditions.
Optional Items. The fine line between what is necessary and what is not is a matter of opinion, or perspective. The following items are usually considered optional in most life rafts, even though sound arguments for their necessity could be demonstrated. You will have to consider each item yourself to decide just how desirable or necessary you would consider it in your particular situation.
Grab Handles. Grab handles spaced evenly around the exterior perimeter of the raft are a desirable feature. They are particularly useful for grabbing on to when the raft is being righted after capsizing.
Grommeted Line. A sturdy line threaded through grommets all the way around the exterior perimeter of the life raft is useful for boarding the raft, for holding on to when floating beside the raft, for effecting a landfall maneuver, as well as numerous other uses that might arise in survival situations.
Boarding Ladder. A boarding ladder might be standard equipment with some life rafts. It’s provided as both a safety and comfort feature.
Blow off/Topping off Values. This type of valve enables you to add or release small quantities of air in the buoyance chambers. Regulation of this nature is some times necessary because of changes in the air volume of the raft, which can be caused by temperature changes or small leaks.
Metal D-Ring. Some type of sturdy connection for towing various items such as sea anchors, lines, or game is advantageous in a life raft.
Maintenance and Storage. Once you buy a life raft, you must properly store and maintain to ensure that it will be in top operating condition when needed. The raft was purchased to perform a vital function in an emergency situation, and it’s in your best interest to see that the raft is properly maintained and stored. A raft that has been allowed to deteriorate through neglect will be of little use in an emergency.
Rarely will a dealer have available a “demonstrator” model of a life raft. It is, however, worth your while to try to attend one of the national Marine Product Exhibitions that are held annually. Here the various manufacturers display their products and offer an opportunity for you to view a model similar to yours. This will give you a good perspective of the size of your future life support system. You should also take the time to inquire directly regarding service and maintenance (Figs. 1-6 through 1-8).
Fig. 1-6: U.S. Coast Guard-Approved Life Raft. (SWITLIK)
Fig. 1-7: Search and Rescue Life Raft. (SWITLIK)
Fig. 1-8: Coastal Life Raft. (SWITLIK)
Fig. 1-9: Life raft in canister stowed on deck. (Photo: VIKING LIFE-SAVNG EQUIPMENT.)