Love yourself, love your life raft

 

The clocks have changed, the weather is improving (we hope), Easter has come and gone and the sailing season lies ahead. Many of us are already planning what we are going to do and we are impatient to get on with it.

Now is a good time to think about the state of your safety equipment and in particular your life raft. Many of us invest a small fortune on one; we expect it to work without fail if needed and yet most of us leave it out on the weather deck or stuffed away in some locker without a second thought often for months on end – life rafts need love too!

Love your life raft

If you do not get your life raft serviced by someone who knows what they are doing and has been accredited by the manufacturer or you do not keep up with the manufacturers recommended servicing intervals, it might not do what you expect it to do and that is to sustain you until rescue arrives.

Not only is it important to ensure that life rafts are serviced at an Approved Service Station, it is also important that they are serviced at the appropriate interval as recommended by the manufacturer.

Life rafts may contain a number of items of survival equipment such as torches, flares, first aid kits, anti-seasickness pills, water and food that all have a shelf life and must be changed when they expire.

It is also vital that the inflation system has not leaked and still has enough gas to inflate the life raft and achieve working pressure.

It is worth remembering that valise-packed life rafts are prone to internal damage if they are moved about regularly or not stored properly and for that reason the MCA stipulates that they are serviced annually where carriage is mandatory.

Beware

I had a valise life raft once which I took for servicing and was astonished to find that the contents had turned to mush because nothing had been sealed in watertight packaging. The subsequent servicing by a well-known approved service agent was, I admit, expensive but it gave me the confidence that I could rely on it and furthermore, I knew what was in it.

Some time ago, the RNLI set off a life raft in their pool when testing hydrostatic releases, what came out were two tractor tyre inner tubes and a pile of house bricks to make up the weight! You do not need to find that out when abandoning ship!

Servicing

In the UK, the MCA requires inflatable life rafts, marine evacuation systems, inflatable lifejackets and hydrostatic release units carried on United Kingdom merchant ships, fishing vessels and small commercial vessels (including charter and RYA recognised training centre craft) to be regularly serviced at an Approved Service Station.

An Approved Service Station is one that has been formally accredited by the manufacturer of the equipment and has been approved by the MCA on behalf of the Secretary of State.

There is no such requirement for servicing of privately owned leisure inflatable life rafts; you are free to get it serviced when you like and by whom you like.

Although many service stations offer servicing for a wide range of life raft models, they may not be approved by the manufacturer to do the work. Be aware that any service work done by a non-approved service station could invalidate a life raft warranty.

Given that you might want it to save your life one day is it sensible to skip a service or use a non-approved service station? The answer is probably no.

The MCA provides further advice and Standards for the Conditions for the Approval of Service Stations for Small Craft Inflatable Liferafts which can be viewed here.

Stuart Carruthers, RYA Cruising Manager