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What goes into servicing a life raft

First thing we’ll do is go through what your requirements are to determine what type of equipment pack is suitable and provide a quote (if required).

The life raft’s container will be removed and the firing cable disarmed. Some types may be also contained within a vacuum bag or other protective materials, this’ll need to be carefully cut open with blunt scissors. Now with access to the actual raft, it’ll be unfolded and the gas cylinder removed. It will be inflated using dried air from our compressor until the relief valves begin to discharge excess air.

Testing procedures do vary for differing types, makes and ages, but the end goal is always the same. We need to confirm the viability of the life raft for use in an emergency. It’s no good to anyone if it deflates as quickly as it inflates, or if the floor gives way and you end up in the water anyway.

Perishable items within the equipment pack must be refreshed. Flares are often good for 3 years, food, water and canopy light batteries have 5 years. Others such as batteries and repair kit adhesive get exchanged every year. Some items have regulatory limitations; gas cylinder for example must be tested and refilled every 5 years even if they’re in perfect condition.

A variety of other smaller procedures are also performed: a thorough visual inspection, replacement of corroded parts, replacement of gaskets and seals, repairs, cleaning of the raft and container.

Life rafts are optimised to take up as little space as possible on your vessel, they’re tightly packed and have no room to spare. Repacking them is easier said than done. All the air within the raft is vacuumed out to make sure of all available space. Raft are folded and packed in a particular way, in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions to ensure they deploy freely and don’t distort.

Once the raft is back in its container, the container is strapped, labelled and tagged for use. When collecting your life raft, you’ll be provided a certificate of inspection providing proof that the service was conducted. You may need to show this to your surveyor if commercial or use it to register for a race.

This is a simplified overview of the process. It is not recommended that anyone attempt to conduct this work themselves. It typically requires 12 months of training, supervision and experience to reach a competent level of skill to do this. The tools required to do it properly are not readily available and improvisations rarely turn out for the better. The safety of your crew or family may rely on the successful deployment of the life raft in a real emergency. Don’t risk it.