Join Date: Apr 2006
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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.)