Saturday, 25 July 2015

Would you trust your life to a 30 year old life raft?

July 24 2015

When we bought ‘Our Dreamtime’ she came complete with an Avon four man life raft. The bad news was it was 1980s vintage and had not been serviced since 2002. Our surveyor had one look and said  You’ll have to throw that away.”

However it did have a comprehensive list of contents of what was inside stuck on the canister. This included a small hand desalinator which the boat’s sellers urged us to retrieve if we were going to dump the raft.

We are the type of people who hate the modern throwaway society we live in and always rather repair or renew something if possible than simply discard it. So decided to do some research to see if the raft was worth saving before making any rash decisions. In the meantime the Avon stayed in place on the stern while we sailed locally in Moreton Bay learning the boat.

It turns out authorised Avon servicing agents are few and far between in Australia these days but we did find manage to one in Brisbane but the news wasn’t good. Their advice was that although Avon make excellent rafts, the type of inflating mechanism used on our vintage raft was virtually unobtainable at any reasonable cost making servicing it financially unviable. Their instant suggestion was to buy a new raft at a not inconsiderable expense.

Instead we found a near new Zodiac four man life raft for sale that was just past its due service date so decided it would be a better option to buy it for just a few hundred dollars and have it serviced. This entailed opening the case, inflating the raft with a compressor and checking it over. It was good to be able to personally have a good look in and around the life raft and gain a good understanding of its construction and contents.
Our new (to us) four man life raft in for servicing
Thankfully almost everything inside including an EPIRB, flares, ration packs etc were all well in date and didn’t need to be changed. The only things replaced were the batteries in the flashlight and the sea sickness tablets. We did take the opportunity to vacuum seal a couple of weeks supply of our regular medication, spare eye glasses, copies of our passports and ships papers in bag and have it included in the rafts contents. At just over $1,100 dollars for the service we hope the batteries are gold plated and the tablets magically effective. Imagine how much the bill would have been if we’d needed everything. Considering the printed sticker now on the canister shows the next recommended service  just twelve months away, life raft servicing appears to be a lucrative business.

All this was pre-packed into the life raft just in case

Anyway, we now had the peace of mind of knowing everything was right with our new (to us) life raft should we ever have the misfortune to need it. The thought of being hundreds of miles from shore wondering if the old Avon would work was not something we wanted to experience.

Rather than just opening the old Avon to retrieve the desalintor, we decided to POP it before disposal as a full gas canister could be extremely dangerous if punctured in a landfill considering the high pressures involved. Life rafts also contain pyrotechnic flares which need to be disposed of safely.

 OK, we also thought it would be cool to see it inflate. We loaded it into a trolley and headed to a corner of the marina car park next to the dumpsters and away from anyone else and pulled the cord. We almost hoped it would fail to launch and further justify our expenditure on the replacement. But no. It popped, inflated perfectly and seemed in excellent condition other than a little mould on the exterior. All the contents inside were totally dry and also appeared perfect. Everything useable was removed and now reside in our ditch bag as a back up to what’s in the new raft.

Deflating the raft and putting it in the dumpster seemed such a waste but we couldn’t help thinking back to our original question. Would you trust your life to a 30 year old life raft?

Deflating before the short trip to the dumpster.

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  1. I have the exact unit, last serviced in 1998 and am of the same mindset, I hate to throw it away but not sure it can be trusted.

    1. Marnie, we felt terrible throwing it in the skip because it looked perfect but we're not sure how the bonding of the rubberised chambers would hold up in rough water after so many years. If you do decide to replace it make sure you pop it and get all the contents out. The paddles, bailer etc are far better quality than those supplied in new rafts. Cheers.

  2. The '94 Oceanis 400 I just bought has a Winslow 4 person raft with a service due date of September 2015. Winslow said that the service charge could be anything from US$700 to $1400, maybe more, they'd have to get it to price the charge. New they're more than $4,000. I'm a coastal cruiser. Coastal Mariner makes the Crewsaver Coastal Mariner Recreational Liferaft priced at US $1,125 in a hard canister. So, is the Coastal Mariner product something I shouldn't trust? Does anyone know these manufacturers? Or is it that one is offshore, the other coastal? Is it worth refurbishing the Winslow vs buying a new Coastal Mariner?

    1. We have equipped our boat for blue water so when it comes to safety equipment we tend to buy the best on the market despite the cost. We both have top quality lifejackets with Personal Locater Beacons and AIS man overboard beacons attached,EPIRB in the cockpit and another inside the liferaft, high strength jacklines and tether lines, MOB retrieval sling, danbouy etc, etc. However, if our cruising was going to be limited to coastal waters we would be more than comfortable with a coastal rated life raft.The man difference that we can see is what they pack inside. Heaven forbid, but if you did have to abandon ship in coastal waters, as long as you have an EPIRB you should be picked up long before you need to use much in the way of additional rations, fishing gear handheld de-salinator etc. Just our thoughts, your safety is always your decision. Cheers!

    2. The Winslow is a quality raft, far better than some of the cheap rubbish you see today. There is a review of 5 rafts in Yachting world where they took them out, used them and tested them. The Winslow was easily the best. Servise it yourself, then you will know it has been done properly. Never, ever, trust anyone else to pack your life saving gear! Think of it this way: parachutists ALWAYS pack their own parachute ...

  3. Same here. I got an AVON liferaft, perfectly sealed, only the pulley looks a little bit old.
    The AVON is out of service and so is the original life raft on my cat. I can't carry both.

    1. That's a dilemma. We would probably get the younger/better condition one of the two serviced and ditch the other. Cheers!

  4. Back in '94, we bought a '78 Gulfstar with a CJ Elliot raft on deck. The last inspection date was '82 IIRC. We bought a new raft, but the facility offered to pop the olde one just for fun. To everyone's amazement, it inflated correctly, though it took more force than normal pulling on the rope to pop it. When we inspected it, however, we noted that the contents were in pretty bad shape - a few things were recovered (puncture seals, paddle) the rest went in the waste. There was a quoit assembly and knife holster glued to the side of the top near the entrance - and I discovered that it was very easy to peel the mountings off - I'm thinking the seams of the raft would have been the same, and not trustworthy under stress.
    We still have the paddle - it's wood, and looks like a miniature canoe paddle -- perfect as a "board of education" :) (tho it's never been used in anger)

    1. Hi Hartley, we also kept all the good stuff out of our old Avon and like you, we were glad we didn't have to be wondering if the seams would fall apart after so long. Cheers!

  5. We have a 30yr old Avon 6 man raft.

    Like you, we had the choice of test/service or buy new.

    To cut a long story short, our raft was in perfect condition inside the cannister .. totally dry, crisp and clean.

    The raft was inflated, bounced on, seams picked at .. nothing was anything other than exactly as it should be.

    CO2 cannister weighed and release mech checked.

    New painter, new batteries in everything, new flares (the parachute flares shown on the manifest were actually missing, as was the first aid kit! never trust ANYONE but yourself to pack your safety gear!!) new water, etc.

    Going back in it's cannister tomorrow, good for another 3 years.

    We did look at new rafts, but to be honest, the flimsy construction did not fill us with confidence. Teh Avon has a proper, tough, inflatable floor. You do not get that unless you pay very high prices

    1. Hi, The Avon is certainly a quality piece. It sounds like you've taken a very thorough and sensible approach to your decision to continue the working life of yours. It was with very mixed feelings we disposed of ours. The bottom line is, we hope none of us ever actually has to use one. Cheers!

  6. Don't throw it away or trust your life to it. Old Avon hypalon has got be worth something.


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