Liferaft servicing and Failures


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Neville.Howarth
Neville.Howarth
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Recently, after completing our seven year circum-navigation, we watched our life raft being opened to have it serviced. When the guy carefully unfolded the raft, he found that the glue had started to fail in many places, including the seams holding the two buoyancy rings together and also where the rubber floor joins to the rings. He condemned it as irreparable.

It’s a bit worrying that the life raft would have fallen to pieces if we’d have had to use it in anger. You can just imagine having to abandon ship in a storm; inflating the life raft; throwing in our carefully prepared survival grab bags; stepping into the life raft as our yacht sinks below the waves, only to find the floor peeling loose and the buoyancy rings separating.

The life raft has a 12 year warranty and was manufactured in Aug 2006, so it's within the warranty period, but the company (Survitec) are refusing my warranty claim on the basis that I've not had the life-raft serviced within their recommended schedule. Their sales literature proudly state that the liferaft service period is 3 years, but the small print says that if its used in the tropics then the service period should be every 12 months.

I'm going to write an article on the reliability of inflatable liferafts and I'd be interested to hear of anyone's experiences with servicing and/or failures.

In particular:
1. How often do you have your liferaft serviced?
2. Are you sailing in the tropics?
3. Have you experienced any failures of your life-raft?
4. Manufacturer and Model.
Dick
Dick
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Hi Neville,
Please do write the article. It is an important topic.
From casual observation, the failure of life rafts is not a hidden topic: it is just one that our magazines fail to write about as it is not in their financial best interests. I will be interested in whether you find any magazine willing to publish your article.
Please look to Beth Leonard and Evans Starzinger’s web site for details, but years ago on the other side of the world, Oz, (if memory serves), they got a number of rafts together from experienced cruisers to save money on their servicing. She reported a very disturbing percentage failed.
I am curious about the tropics being an issue. Are Survitec’s rafts carried on deck in a plastic case? And is their supposition that their plastic case allows UV to permeate? If plastic cases are UV permeable, that, in itself, should be more widely disseminated knowledge. If so, then all cases should be upgraded: their bad.
Ours is a Winslow 6-person raft, valise packed and stored in a cockpit locker* so UV is not an issue. We were 8 years in tropics. It is 16 years old and we have learned from the company and from the various packers that if it passes the tests of the every-3rd-year servicing, that there is no “aging out” of the raft.
Our raft has been serviced 5 times by 4 different re-packers in 4 different countries and we have been quite pleased with the work and the professionalism of the people. Once or twice, circumstances led us to wait till 4 years between servicing.
My best, Dick Stevenson, s/v Alchemy
*My raft is stored in a locker. It is my belief that items stored on deck are subject to loss and/or damage to the boat in a knockdown or when a boat falls off a wave. Very few on-deck locations on a boat are safe for a raft and most installations are inadequate for what offshore conditions can dish out.
Dick
Dick
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Hi Neville,
I became curious about your topic and called Winslow. The factory reported their rafts average 12-15 years in the field, but it is not unusual to have 20 year old rafts return for servicing and pass all service requirements. Dick
Hasbun
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Hello,

1. Every 3 yrs., per the manufacturer's requirements. The raft is vacuum-packed. Only done it once. I think we were past exactly 3 months. The raft is now 4.5 years old.
2. No tropics for us!
3. No. At the one inspection we did, it inflated flawlessly.
4. Winslow Superlight Offshore Plus.

Other comments/anecdotes:
A. Our raft is kept on a water-tight deck-level locker accessible from the cockpit, and sits on a pedestal inside the locker   . Even with some water ingress to the locker, the raft would remain high and dry, but we maintain the seals so it remains water tight.

B. Our boat is from 2002. When we bought it in 2012, its original Zodiac life raft was on the bottom of a different deck-level locker. The seals had not been maintained. The raft was sitting in a puddle of salt water. That Zodiac required annual service but its last was 2010 or so. We inquired with our local inflatable service and he said... "Zodiac?" "From 2002?" "Ummm... you are welcome to bring it, but chances are I'll condemn it!" I guess he does not much respect Zodiac as a life-raft brand! We never brought it in, as there was a minimum inspection fee. Other friends had an older Zodiac life raft from circa 1992. It had not been inspected in a decade. In 2014, we threw a pool party and launched the Zodiacs. The 90's Zodiac started to inflate and immediately broke up at the seams. Complete failure. All the gas escaped and it wasn't even good as a float. Our 2002 Zodiac inflated well. All the materials inside were found in good condition and dry.

C. In 2013 we took an "Offshore" seminary. Part of it was going to sea and actually deploying a life raft. The seminary is offered by a very respectable outfit. We threw the thing overboard, pulled the release... it inflated about 5% before a hose broke between the gas canister and the flotation tubes. All the gas escaped. The raft never even broke its closing straps. It bobbed somewhat afloat, folded, and it would hardly served as a float for even one person. True, the raft had been deployed numerous times before, but it was always re-packed by the same local inflatable service that I had taken my Zodiac to.

Cheers,
Dick
Dick
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Hi Hasbun,
Yes, you remind me: I know of a number of failures at servicing because of water intrusion. This is a hard one as so many installations are fairly exposed, especially to offshore conditions, and, clearly, the enclosures seem to sometimes fail to keep the predictable green water from getting inside. Add to that, the impossibility of knowing whether there is water intrusion until servicing and you are left with significant uncertainty as to the viability of your raft.
I would want my raft maker to guarantee water-tight integrity for immersion as, most any offshore boat will occasionally have their deck immersed in streaming water.
Does anyone know whether raft manufacturers speak to this issue?
My best, Dick Stevenson, s/v Alchemy
Bill Balme
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I dare say I may get some back-lash to this post…
I have always thought that if my boat didn’t have a life raft, then I probably wouldn’t buy one – preferring instead to spend the money on other preventative measures. (According to Beth Leonard’s book, about 25% of cruisers opt not to own one…) However, my boat does have one but it is now 2+ years overdue for service. I was not planning to service it again, as last time, even though it passed test, it was looking a little tired. The Pelican box on the coachroof had leaked…
Because I don’t feel that the coachroof is the best place, we decided to remove that (gaining much better forward visibility) and we put the life raft into a non-waterproof box on the transom of Toodle-oo! – very accessible but possibly not the best decision we’ve made – though we considered carefully at the time.

I suspect now, since it’s not been properly protected and is now 11 years old, it’s probably not in very good shape at all. What to do?

In the US, I seem to remember it cost about $500 to service and replace the sundry contents (can’t find the receipt). We’re now in the UK, which does not appear to be a hot-bed for Winslow life rafts, the closest service centre being Guernsey! What to do indeed…?

I will await a response from Guernsey, but I suspect the raft will once again be out of date and found in the transom box, to be used as a complete Hail Mary…


Are there others out there that have opted to not have a life raft - and willing to admit it?

Bill Balme
s/v Toodle-oo!

Dick
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Hi Bill,
The Winslow raft guys in Guernsey are great (AB Marine) and right next to the harbor. We had ours done there and participated and learned a great deal from the discussions we had and suggestions they made. Belgium had a re-packing location which we used when we were in Turkey.
I am a fan of Winslow because I believe them to make excellent rafts, but also as they will pack to size. This makes it far easier to then store the raft in a cockpit locker: out of rain, away from sun, away from green water on deck, not able to be swept away in a knock-down and very accessible from a safe location if/when needed (the foredeck is hardly a location one wants to work from in ornery conditions).
So, yes, I think a cockpit locker makes far more sense as a storage location for a raft than any other. Add that to Winslow’s willingness to change the shape when you order it in a valise. We ordered ours packed long and thin so that it just reaches the bottom of our cockpit locker (maybe, from memory, 4 feet x 1 foot by 8 inches): open the cockpit lid and the handles for the raft are right there in front of you and just lift it straight out.
Winslow reports a range of $800-1200 for servicing here in North America, much of the variation is the equipment you choose to have inside (watermaker needs pickling, epirb, batteries in radio, etc.)
I will address whether to carry a raft in a separate post.
My best, Dick Stevenson, s/v Alchemy
Dick
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PS, One can also send the raft for servicing: we did so from Turkey, but sailed to Guernsey. Dick
Simon Currin
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At the moment we carry 2 Liferafts but that’s only because nobody was prepared to service our 2003 Plastimo when it turned 12 years old. I hadn’t got the heart to bin it in the hope that it might work.

So we bought an all singing and all dancing replacement only to find that we can’t get it serviced in Canada nor can we freight it to Maine which is the nearest agent. For the time being we therefore have two rafts both of which are out of service and appear in red (as immediate action required’ on our recent survey. Annoyingly the only things that needs servicing on our newish SOLAS raft are the out of date seasickness pills in the medical kit!
Simon Currin
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Copied from parallel post on OCC Facebook Page:

Georgie Rebane We had the same issue when we had our life raft serviced after crossing the Atlantic. We were horrified. We bought our boat in 2016 and had the life raft serviced in 2017. It had been in South Africa, so hot but not humid weather, until we crossed to Grenada. I can get you the model info later. The previous owner of our boat was diligent about all maintenance and would have kept up with servicing the life raft.


Paul Mckissick Just curious. Was your raft in a hard case on deck or a soft case and stowed below deck? I read an article about rafts being stowed on deck deteriorating faster then ones stowed below. So just curious.


Paul Mckissick Georgie Rebane Thanks. Looking forward to the article. As we are looking for a new offshore raft for our upcoming trip


Sherry McCampbell We bought a Revere 6 man offshore raft in the US in early 2007. We knew going in that Revere did not have any of it's own service centers outside the US. We kept it in a vacuum pack, then in a hard case, in the cockpit under a bimini. We had it serv…See more


Bill Bremner Very interesting and insightful. Thanks for sharing that!


Chris Bates My Avon service is every 3 years but in New Zealand the recommend 2 years if used in the tropics .I have so far had 2 sercices, it is due it's 3rd next year . No problems at first two . Exhorbitantly expensive in Trinidad must less so in NZ . What frequency of service did you gives your'r ? Don't think you said


Neil McCubbin While life rafts have saved many lives, there are also too many reports of some failing to inflate or being found to have deteriorated at service time. It is rather dated now, but if you read the full report of the 1979 Fastnet race disaster and do the arithmetic you will realize that if life rafts had been prohibited fewer people would have died.


Richard Farrington Two things come out of this: firstly, don’t abandon ship unless you really need to. Secondly, the heat and UV of the tropics takes a huge toll on most things; just because it’s in a box or a bag we should not assume it will be protected. Oh, and thirdly, read the small print!


Nick Dwyer There is a reason that professionals are required to have an annual service of life rafts. Life jackets inflated every month.


Joanne Bower We bought a Plastimo canister life raft while in Turkey in 2005. It was serviced before we left to bring the boat to the S France and on to UK in 2007. During the winter of 2007/8 I took it to be serviced by a local company in Cornwall after hearing a horror story about Foriegn bought/serviced rafts. I was politely asked to come and view my raft. Ed said “ we’ll it would’ve saved your life for about 5 minutes!”. It was an absolute wreck...


John Dyer Ed Banyard is a great guy, very honest and has serviced most of my life rafts over the years!


Spruce Ohlson Our liferaft is Avon Ocean 4-person, new in 2009, serviced 2010 (Antigua), 2011 (uk), 2012(Panama), 2014 (NZ), 2017 (Malaysia), plan next service here in Seattle area in early 2019. Last service reported it in v.good condition but the inspector (who normally services Royal Malaysian Navy eqp't) said it was made from butyl and not PVC so is usually gives better results upon service inspection. Since new this is only second winter not in tropics. The plastic canister is showing signs of becoming brittle.


Daria Blackwell
Daria and 3 others are consistently creating meaningful discussions with their posts.
Our liferaft is a Winslow 6 man almost twenty years old and there's only a handfull of places outside the US where it can be serviced. Had we known this, we would have thought differently about it when we bought it. For years, we kept it in a soft case…See more
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Daria Blackwell
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This is a great thread. Please let's save this on the Forum.


Julia Freeland Same happened to us. We bought a US brand in Puerto Rico ,but nowhere to service it after 3 years, in French Polynesia. A bit of a problem


Paul Mckissick What brand? What did you end up doing?
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Julia Freeland Paul Mckissick Revere. Our previous liferaft was a Zodiac in a valice that lived indoors most of it's life. It had been serviced in Greece and had some of the valves replaced. It was fine at that point. When the floor failed it was about 15 years old! It gave me a scare when I saw the bottom had come unglued, when they inflated it. We are selling our boat and recommending the new owners to buy a new liferaft in French Polynesia, as we can't get the Revere serviced. It might be OK...but who knows????




Sherry McCampbell ust because YOUR liferaft brand does not have a service center where you are cruising, doesn't mean you can't get your liferaft serviced! Having an "approved" service center might help you with warranty issues, but it doesn't help you with getting a good repack. (a friend spent a lot of money to ship their raft from Fiji to NZ to an "approved service center" for a repack. On the next repack, they found that the "approved" NZ service center had neglected to take care of a recall item, and their raft wouldn't have inflated if needed). Get your raft serviced, and do it in a place where you can watch and see what's in your raft! Also, you do NOT necessarily HAVE to replace everything at a repack, especially if you are cruising outside your home waters where your home country safety regulations may require you to. Those really expensive repacks are expensive because (a) they use your cylinder and replace/refill it, (b) they replace all the expensive flares, standard flashlight batteries, water packets, etc at exorbitant prices (ask for an itemized list with your repack quote, you'd be surprised). (c) They use a new vacuum bag vs re-sealing the old one. We repacked in Ecuador for $300 and in the Philippines for $400, by making sure our grab bag has a good set of offshore flares (which we might want OUTSIDE the raft in most circumstances where we are in distress but not ready to abandon ship), and we have our own considerations for food, water, flashlights, fishing gear, etc.


Spruce Ohlson They should not use your CO2 cylinder to inflate the raft. It should be gently inflated with a remote air supply, slowly brought up to full operational pressure and the pressure at which the bleed valves operate should be checked to be within spec. The shock load of an operational inflation should only be inflicted once, when you do it for real. The CO2 cylinder inspection/test is a separate issue.


Spruce Ohlson When we witnessed our liferaft being unpacked in Malaysia, the CO2 cylinder was found to have not been fully installed in NZ, had we pulled the ripcord a significant amount of CO2 would not have entered the raft and a big manual inflation job would have ensued. When serviced in Panama, they used the old hermetically sealed bag, but had not hermetically sealed it. Damp/moisture was in the raft. There are cowboy operators everywhere, not only in the less developed world.


Hugh Pilsworth I had an Avon, now Zodiac, 6 ocean life raft.
After 8 years it wasn’t worth servicing and was in an awful state internally.


John Dyer We have an ocean safety iso9650 liferaft. Just checked with Ocean safety in the UK and they confirm that 3 years is ok in the tropics with their life Rafts!


Neil McCubbin John Dyer do you mean 3 year total life or 3 between chicks?


Judith L. Jacobsen We have a Viking Rescyou in a cannister, hanging on the back.
Should the cannister be shielded from the sun?
E.g. With a cover?


Rowena Barton It would be interesting if you could include data of rafts that have been used in anger and how they performed.
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