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teshannon 03-18-2008 09:46 AM

Life Raft Recertification
I'm wondering if you routinely recertify your life raft? I know the importance of doing everything you can to make sure it works when you need it but am wondering if the reality is another thing. It seems most life rafts I've seen are out of date, some seriously, probably because of the expense of recertifying them. It's not a wise economy but a lot of folks seem to neglect their rafts.

Boasun 03-18-2008 09:55 AM

Routinely? It is an annual requirement for the liferafts. So you could say that it is routinely in nature.
This way you can ensure that your favorite candy bars in the emergency food packet is in date. That your life raft works. That the batteries are fresh. And that it is packed correctly in its container.
You can watch them do the inspection or just drop it off and go have a cup of coffee and peruse a book store or two while waiting. Pending on where you are in the inspection line.
Oh! while it is open you can add perscriptions Meds and other what-nots you deem is necessary. Like an epirb, sark or other emergency gear. Just don't over load the raft's container.

Geosailor 03-18-2008 10:01 AM

Just had my Standard Offshore re-certified by Winslow. Reasons were: raft was new in 1998; hadn't been done since 2003; I bought the boat (and raft) in 2006; doing a 250 mile race this summer (and I think the certification is required, but I wanted to sleep at night). The raft had not even been out of the box Winslow used to ship it back to the PO back in 2003.

Cost: $652.38. Was it money wasted? As far as the physical condition of the raft, don't have a clue. As far as my psyche, money well spent.

Try as I did, I was unable to find the "jeez, you waited too long" or "don't bother, it's fine" comments from a disinterested party. I believe the common practice is once every two years, but I'm sure you'll get more responses to this...

Boasun 03-18-2008 10:07 AM

On the commercial vessels it is annually... On the yachts I'm not sure what it should be. Bi-annual inspection? Lets see what others have to say on this, including the USCG if there is one here that is in vessel inspections.

teshannon 03-18-2008 10:23 AM

I think on some of the vacuum packed models it's 3 years. But no matter the length of time I'm curious if people really follow the schedule or just say I'll go a little longer before I do it..

Boasun 03-18-2008 10:30 AM

But if you are in doubt about whether you should have it inspected or not. Then you should go ahead and have it inspected. Then you will have a start date for what ever time period for your inspections. Also your mind will rest easier knowing that your raft has been inspected and is good to go.

hellosailor 03-18-2008 10:42 AM

Boasun, on recreational vessels there is no requirement to carry life rafts, and since there is no requirement to carry them, there is no inspection requirement at all from the USCG or any other US authority.

Commercial vessels are a whole other game.

Among the pros and cons to recertifying: Every time you open the raft, there's a chance of damaging it. Many (most?) shops insist on inflating it from the bottle, which can freeze-damage the material of the raft from the icy compressed gas--and also waste the bottle. Freeze damage it often enough (i.e., test it often enough) and you've destroyed the raft--they are only meant to be inflated so many times.

A cynic could say the continued use of the inflation bottle is a scheme to consume rafts before their time, I see no need or use for it versus a plain air source.

Now of course, if you don't open it up, you can't weigh the gas bottle (to see if it has leaked, although a good job will hold pressure "forever"), you can't replace any flares or other expiring materials (and flares mainly expire by degrading from moisture and oxygen, every time you open a sealed packet, you degrade them further) and you can't tell if the seams have come unglued. Apparently glued seams come unglued after ten years or so, while welded ones are supposed to stay welded.

Then there's the question of whether you can be there to watch the repack. We've had folks online who sent a raft in for repair--and couldn't get it back, months later. And even the USCG has documented at least one shop that apparently packed bricks or seaboots instead of a raft, and then returned THAT sealed surprise to the owner. (That certified shop is closed now.)

I would suggest that for the recreational vessel owner, who is concerned about safety, learning to maintain and repack your own life raft is neither difficult nor expensive--and if it needs no work, way safer and gentler than sending it out to strangers, no matter how certified they may be. In this day and age, if they are still in business they are probably also on a timetable, and your raft is just one more "in and out" that has to be dealt with. If someone has the flu and feels a bit woozy, or the phone rings and they get interrupted...that's life.
Same thing with SCUBA gear and parachutes: If you do the work yourself, at least you know who to blame when it fails.[g] And I've never, ever, had a shop maintain my SCUBA gear as well as I do myself. 50-50 on car repairs, for that matter, as well. Some things are just done better when the do-er is motivated with more than cash. (Assuming you have the skill set, which should not be beyond a sailboat owner.)

Geosailor 03-18-2008 10:58 AM

I would add that Winslow made it real easy. One call to Roadway Express - they picked it up at the house - was sent back to the house in less than 3 weeks. Who knows where the re-cert was actually done, but I rather doubt that there is enough of this business to network local shops and save on logistics.

As to the quality of the work - I did have the option of a local shop to get the certificate I needed (I'm in Chicago), but I erred on the side of caution (and certainly a bit more expense) and went ahead and used the manufacturer for the re-cert.

sailingdog 03-18-2008 11:41 AM


On many of the newer vacuum-packed life rafts, the re-certification interval has gone up to three or five years, for recreational use at least.

BTW, if you're having your liferaft repacked and recertified... try to be present when it is being done, since you'll probably want to upgrade what is in the raft's emergency kit. Also, there have been several incidents in the last few years of the shadier recertification companies stealing the raft out of the canister and replacing it with something else entirely, so use a well-known and respected company to do the recertification and repacking.

billyruffn 03-18-2008 11:57 PM

One factor to consider in how often to have the raft certified is how it's stored. The move from one to three year certification (first done by Winslow, I believe) was because the vacuum pack effectively prevented moisture from getting into the raft. Moisture = potential for corrosion on vital parts, especially inflation mechanisms. If the raft is stored where it doesn't get wet, it may not need recertification every year. Another issue possibly is the extremes of temperature the raft may be exposed to, but I'll defer to more knowledgeable posters on what effects going from 90 deg F in summer to 15 deg F in winter might have.

To the specific thread question, I let the original certification of our Winslow raft go two years beyond it's 'due date' and then had the factory recertify with a 3 year vacuum pack. Reasons -- 1. it was time (two years past due), and 2. we were planning to enter an offshore cruising rally and they required the raft be in certification.

As my wife and I were driving to Florida that winter, we took the raft to Winslow's factory. They inflated the raft with an external air source (to prevent the freezing action mentioned in a post above). They explained various features of the raft and how to use some of the gear included in the pack. We asked to sit in the raft for a while to get a feel for it and to inspect all the storage containers. Winslow said it was the first time a customer had requested that. I left them with a small packet of items I thought it would be nice to have in the raft -- a spare pair of eye glasses, perscription meds, and a few other items. I would recommend that anyone who can should witness the inspection (or at least the inflation part of it).

The raft is up for recertification again this year (actually it's a year overdue) and we'll get it done before the spring launch -- again because it's time (4 years now since it was opened last) and because we're heading off again next autumn and may be gone for several years. I think I'd rather have the raft done here in the US where Winslow has certified the repackers.

Bottom line for me -- does it need to be done exactly according to the factory schedule? Probably not, but good sense should prevail. Rafts are expensive and, like anything else, if you maintain them regularly they will probably last much longer and be more reliable when you need them.

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