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Servicing your life raft

 

At the end of the day, no matter what brand you bought, there are two essential functions of the life raft: it must inflate and it must hold air. The only way to test those two functions is through regular inspection. 

If you are not required to carry a life raft on your boat, the U.S. Coast Guard does not require you to have it serviced. However, as a manufacturer, we recommend you get your raft serviced regularly. By inspecting your raft based on your manufactures’ service intervals, you will increase the life expectancy of your investment.

Yes, servicing is expensive, but it is also very necessary for your raft to properly perform when needed instead of giving you false peace of mind. Also, the longer you wait for servicing, the more expensive your service costs will be, or the raft may have degraded to a point where it is unserviceable.

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So, your raft is now due for servicing—what actually happens? Take a look behind the scenes, with SWITLIK engineers, John Mayer and Zach Caruso walking us through a typical raft servicing.

 What happens to my life raft when it arrives at the service center?

  • Information on the raft gets recorded:
    • Hard or soft pack, serial number, raft model/part number. 
    • Is the raft due for servicing?  The new SWITLIK rafts are due for servicing every five years.  The exception is the SAR-6 raft which is available with either a three or a five-year interval between servicing. 
    • Would you like a more accurate quote before commencing servicing? If so, the raft will need to be opened and inspected before an Operational Inflation test is performed.
    • What tests are due?  This depends on how old the raft is. Determine if an Operational Inflation Test is due. It is not necessary to inflate the raft on its own gas cylinder at every service, but at periodic intervals the service center will need to actually fire the raft to ensure that the valves, hoses and bottle that make up the inflation system are in good repair. If it is time for an Operational Inflation Test, the test is performed first, the raft is deflated and then the servicing is continued below.
  • The raft is carefully unpacked from its hard container or soft valise, the outer casing which houses the raft.
  • The pull cable and mooring lines which trigger the deployment of the raft are carefully disconnected from the raft pack.
  • The survival equipment bag which houses personal survival gear as well as equipment to service and maintain a deployed raft at sea is untied from the raft pack and all components of the equipment bag are set aside for close inspection of quality and expiration.
  • The raft pack is now lifted from its container and placed in a safe disassembly area.
  • A small cut is made in the outer vacuum bag which houses and protects the raft and the bag is carefully torn open making sure not to trigger an accidental inflation. This vacuum bag is discarded and will be replaced with a new hermetically sealed one when the raft is repacked.
  • A safety pin is inserted into the main cylinder’s inflation valve. This prevents an accidental inflation while servicing.
  • The raft is unfolded in a disassembly area and inflated using low pressure shop air through the topping off valves on the raft. These valves allow service stations to fill rafts with air for inspection purposes and also serve as a way to top off a raft in an emergency situation after days at sea.
  • The raft and all of its components (metallic and fabric) are inspected for dirt and corrosion. These components are cleaned or replaced as necessary.
  • All components of the raft are visually inspected for tears, punctures, abrasions and deterioration. These components include but are not limited to: raft fabric, seam tape, raft deck, patches, pockets, handles, zippers, Velcro, ladders, sea anchor, and heaving line.
  • Repairs are made for each component where necessary. Any repair made must follow our specific procedure and is held to a high-quality standard. Following a repair, both a pressure test and timed leakage test may be required to ensure that the raft will hold air and maintain a satisfactory pressure without failure.
  • All metallic components are inspected for damage, deterioration, and corrosion. These components include but are not limited to: Manual inflation valves, topping-off valves, inflation cylinders, cables and any hardware. Inflation cylinders, which house the gas that releases to fill the raft when it is deployed, are actually sent out for hydrostatic testing every five years. In this test the cylinders are submerged underwater and inspected for leaks which become more apparent.
  • The raft’s outer hard container of soft valise is also inspected for damage and wear. Specific inspection protocol is implemented for the hard containers to assure that there is no rough material or sharp splinters inside which could harm the raft once packed. The gasket preventing water intrusion on hard containers must also be inspected for quality in order to achieve a watertight seal.
  • Each piece of survival equipment along with the canopy-mounted water activated light and battery are inspected to be up-to-date and in working order. Any expired equipment is replaced.

 What kind of tests are run on the raft?

Priority

Test

Frequency of Test

1

Operation Inflation Check

Every 5 Years

2

Floor Suspension

Every Year Starting with Raft’s 10th Year

3

Overpressure

Every Year Starting with Raft’s 10th Year or After Major Repairs to Air-Holding Structures

4

Timed Leakage

Every Scheduled Service or After Minor Repairs to Air-Holding Structures

5

Inflation Hose Testing

Every Scheduled Service


  • Operational Inflation Check
    For soft valise packs, the ripcord is pulled and the raft is to be inflated as it would it in the field.  For hard container packs, the raft is removed from the container without any unfolding and the mooring line is pulled to inflate the raft. Inspection is performed following this initial inflation.

    The cylinder and valve must be serviced before repacking the raft. Before reinstalling a new cylinder, the raft’s hose and inflation system shall be purged to remove any unwanted elements from the system.
  • Floor Suspension Test
    This test is always performed prior to a timed leakage test.   The raft is inflated to 2 psi and suspended using a six-point lift bridle. No part of the raft should be touching the ground.  A person weighing no less than 165 lbs. shall crawl around the perimeter of the entire raft.  Inspection for fabric lifting and other defects is performed, and repairs shall be made where necessary.
  • Overpressure
    Pressure relief valves are to be disengaged for this test.  One side of the main buoyancy tube is inflated to a pressure of 4.0 psig.  After five (5) minutes, inspection is done to assure that no slippage, cracking, pressure drops or other defects have occurred.  This same test is done for the other side of the main buoyancy tube which is separated by internal bulkheads.
  • Timed Leakage
    The raft is inflated through the topping-off valve until the pressure relief valve begins to vent.  All valves are checked for leaks using warm soapy water to reveal any air passage. After one hour, the pressure in the chamber is readjusted to 2 psi.  Ambient temperature, barometric pressure and the raft’s chamber pressure are all recorded. After 1 hour, the chamber pressure is recorded and corrections are made using the changes in barometric pressure and temperature.  The final chamber pressure after correction shall not be less than 95% of original pressure. If a leak is present, it shall be located and repaired.
  • Inflation Hose Testing
    One end of inflation hose is properly plugged and the other end is fitted to a pressure source which provides 1,250 psi. The hose is inspected for leakage and damage.

Can I get my raft serviced anywhere? 
No, you can only have your raft serviced at facilities which have been authorized by SWITLIK.  All SWITLIK authorized service centers undergo extensive hands-on factory training with our team of engineers to demonstrate their proficiency in packing life rafts. These centers also hold the most up to date version of our detailed raft packing manuals. One slight wrong fold, or even just the improper placement of an item within a packed raft can create catastrophic consequences during an emergency.

What survival equipment gets packed with the raft?  
It depends on your raft. The CPR, MRP-10 and OPR rafts come with a basic kit that includes a hand pump, a repair kit and a flashlight. The FAA versions of the CPR and OPR rafts include additional items depending on whether you’re getting the Part 91 or Part 135 kit. The ISO OPR HD and SAR-6 rafts come with more extensive survival equipment. The ISO OPR HD raft comes with either a Less Than 24 Hour Kit or a Greater Than 24 Hour Kit.  The SAR-6 comes with either a Standard Equipment Kit or an Extended Equipment Kit.  A number of the items in these kits are life-limited and must be replaced at certain intervals, such as the first aid kit, the flares, the seasick pills, the rations and the water.

OPR-Valise-Hard-Container.jpgIf you are in the market for a raft always ask about expected service costs and intervals, which vary greatly between manufacturers. To make servicing as painless as possible, SWITLIK vacuum seals the rafts inside of a bag before placing them in their valise or container (water sitting on raft fabric for years at a time is the biggest cause of degradation) and offers an industry-leading 5-year service interval for all rafts.


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