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One of the perks of this blog is the fact that we have some pretty savvy followers who have advised, assisted and helped us on more than one occasion. Many are active cruisers and sailors and pretty keen to share pertinent information with us when they see fit, and we have benefitted many times thanks to the brains of others.
Brian, a blog follower turned friend who actually helped us deliver our boat from the Bahamas to the BVI's back in May, just sent us the following excerpt from a thread on life rafts in an Allberg 30 forum he belongs to. Knowing that we have a canister life raft stowed on the deck of our boat, he thought we might find it "of interest". I most certainly did find it interesting and I think you will too so I am reprinting it here for you. The following is reposted with the permission of the author, Gord Laco, who happens to be a marine historical consultant with a very interesting and very impressive resume. In fact, I would very much like to meet the man!
Good day -
My only direct experience with life rafts was when I served as a consultant on the television show 'Survivorman' in which Les Stroud is sent into various environments and copes for five days with what one might expect to have at hand. Sometimes he's been in the desert, sometimes a swamp, the one I did with him was assuming he'd had to abandon a yacht at sea and live in a life raft for five days.
The production company made a deal with a popular life raft company for the use of one of their four person life rafts; but they backed out at the last minute suggesting that a five day test of a life raft was unrealistic...their representative said 'in this day and age anyone anywhere should expect rescue in two days'.
I reckon he doesn't read the news nor books much.
We were in a pickle; there we were in Belize about to set Les adrift but without a raft. I hit upon the idea of renting a raft from a yacht actually on a voyage; there were several yachts around, I knew people would probably be glad of the cash and it would add an interesting story point to be using a 'real' raft in the midst of a voyage.
The first two rafts we tried (and you can guess where this is going) which had both been stored in on-deck canisters, inflated correctly when the lanyard was pulled. The first literally fell to pieces before our eyes. You should have seen the look on the owner's face. The glue had perished and the raft sank as a bunch of sheets of hypalon rubber.
The second raft didn't quite fall to pieces, but it leaked so badly that we couldn't use it. You should have seen the look on that fellow's face too.
The third raft blew up and...and.... Stayed inflated. However, when we opened the emergency kit, we found twice the amount of food in the container, but no water. You should have seen the look on that fellow's face.
Each of these rafts were by name-brand manufacturers you'd all know. The first two were older, past their first and second "re-pack" cycles and had been stored in deck canisters and I reckon baking in the sun is what did them in. The first one was three years past it's repack date, the second one year past, as was the third.
We gave Les a very old Zodiac inflatable boat (editor note: to use in conjunction with the third life raft) reckoning that it was reasonable to assume a sailor abandoning ship would bring his dink.
Les ended up living during the day in the life raft to get out of the sun, but he had to work steadily to keep it inflated and also bailed out. It leaked through it's bottom.
The ancient Zodiac however, performed flawlessly and he slept in it at night. Which was fine except when it rained in which case he really suffered.
So what did I come away from that with? Always observe the repack dates. And with regard to stowage - most certainly on-deck stowage is best with regard to getting the raft over the side; but beware the effect of the sun baking your raft while you're sailing. I'd suggest only putting it out on deck when you're making a passage.
Well there's another long message, I hope it's interesting.
So there you have it.
Just like everything related to cruising, there are vast and passionate arguments on the necessity and/or practicality of having a dedicated "life raft" on board (some say a dinghy will do just fine and that to spend so much money on something that is akin to potentially bad insurance isn't worth it or that having one is false security and might cause you to "abandon ship" when, really, you should not). While I am certainly glad we have our life raft on deck (and, yes, it is current) - this definitely gives us something to think about... (and yet another "action item" on our to do list: make sure life raft is regularly serviced). Safety gear is something we have plenty of on our boat (we are, after all, super conservative cruisers) and it's sort of assumed it will work as planned, but there are many stories of such items (including inflatable PFD's) not working properly - or at all - when they are needed most which is a very good way to make a really, really bad situation infinitely worse. Not sure what the answer is, but it's definitely something to be mindful of before you head out to the big blue and begin selecting your safety gear.
Thank you, Gord Laco, your knowledge and findings and thank you, Brian, for sharing them with us.