Air-Sea Safety and Survival Inc.

JHH5-14707We are really careful about getting our liferaft serviced each year.  So back in the fall we contacted Raymond Harvey at Air-Sea Safety and Survival Inc, here in Charleston, South Carolina, where we are spending the winter.

Raymond started in raft packing by helping his father Steve after school. And Steve has been packing rafts for over 30 years!

Company Motto

Spend more than ten minutes with either of the Harveys and you will hear “we go offshore too [they go fishing] so we pack em to pull em.” (To get the full impact, you have to imagine this company motto delivered in a South Carolina accent.)

Over the winter we have spent quite a bit of time with the two of them. First when we went to their spotless facility to watch our raft being opened, inflated and checked. Then as we discussed other upgrades to our survival equipment that they helped us with. (More on that in a later post.) And most recently when Steve and I spoke at a Safety at Sea seminar.

Liferaft Tips

Over that time some interesting bits of liferaft wisdom have come our way:

Service Them and They Work

They have pretty much never seen an in-date raft packed by a reputable certified facility in North America that would not have inflated when pulled.

The Ultimate Test

Over his 30 plus years in the business, Steve has had 14 of his rafts, that he knows of, used in anger, all worked.

Certification And Training

Steve says that it’s really important that when selecting a liferaft packing facility, you make sure that they are certified and trained on your brand and model of raft.

IMG_0473-EditCheck Them Out Yourself

Raymond advises that when having your raft serviced by a facility that is new to you, you should always ask to be present when it is unpacked and inflated and have the technician explain the process to you and show you over the raft. If a facility is not keen to do this, it’s a real danger sign.

We agree. Spending an hour with Raymond and Steve and being exposed to their vast knowledge about liferafts generally, and ours in particular, was a great confidence booster.

Don’t Fudge the Service Interval

Raymond cautioned that getting your raft serviced within the service interval recommended by the manufacturer is vital. Don’t fudge this. There are many components of the raft that degrade if not serviced regularly.

The sceptic could say that there is a lot of self interest in this comment. But then again, Raymond showed us what he was talking about and we believe him.

Vacuum Packing Can Be Good

Steve likes the new vacuum packed rafts that go three years between services and says they are a good deal and worth considering. (No self interest here.)

A vacuum packed raft might be a really good idea if you were say setting off across the Pacific where reputable service facilities are, as I understand it, few and far between until you get to Australia or New Zealand.

Givens Gets the Nod

They sell a lot of different rafts, and have good things to say about most of them. Raymond did single out the Givens Buoy for special praise.

Inflatable Floors

Steve prefers rafts with inflatable floors over those with thin insulation pads, particularly for cold water use.

Stuff That Works

So if you’re around Charleston and need your liferaft serviced, we highly recommend Steve and Raymond.

Disclosure

We paid the same price as anyone else for the equipment and services provided by the Harveys.

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Meet the Author

John

John was born and brought up in Bermuda and started sailing as a child, racing locally and offshore before turning to cruising. He has sailed over 100,000 miles, most of it on his McCurdy & Rhodes 56, Morgan's Cloud, including eight ocean races to Bermuda, culminating in winning his class twice in the Newport Bermuda Race. He has skippered a series of voyages in the North Atlantic, the majority of which have been to the high latitudes. John has been helping others go voyaging by sharing his experience for twenty years, first in yachting magazines and, for the last 12 years, as co-editor/publisher of AAC.

12 comments… add one
  • David Nutt Mar 12, 2011, 8:30 am

    If one were out in the middle of the ocean, or even a mile further out than you could swim, the seemingly vast sums of money spent on a functioning life raft might seem worthwhile. When the last of the cold waves wash over your face as you slowly sink I doubt you would be thinking fondly of the money you saved by not servicing the lift raft.

  • Chris Mar 12, 2011, 10:21 am

    Good info. We are debating whether to have our new (to be delivered 1 Jun) raft serviced immediately on receipt. Viking does not have a reputation for out of the box problems, but it seems like a better safe than sorry investment.

  • Colin Speedie Mar 12, 2011, 1:29 pm

    Good advice, John.

    On our last boat we had a 10 man Avon, which had to serviced every year, and whenever the service schedule said to refill the bottles (as opposed to just check them) I’d make it along to see the raft inflated. It’s not only reassuring to see it inflate, but it also helps you to familiarise yourself with it internally and externally which may prove valuable one day.

    The new vacuum packed rafts have a number of advantages – they can be smaller in the case of a valise model, for example, and the three year service regime saves time and money. But, as we found to our cost this year, not every service centre can handle some of them. Getting a life raft by one of the ‘major’ brands is generally straightforward anywhere in the world, but some of the more recent ‘budget’ models are relatively unknown beyond the country they were sold in. We were asked to bring ours back to the UK (from Portugal!) or ship it to Spain at significant cost, which to a greater degree negated any of the savings of having a 3 year service schedule.

    So for anyone looking to buy a raft for long distance liveabord cruising it might be advisable to check the service network is global before parting with the money.

    Best wishes

    Colin

    • John Mar 13, 2011, 3:17 pm

      Hi Colin,

      A really good point on the difficulties of getting some rafts serviced, particularly those that are aimed at the recreational market. We used to have a Givens and, much as we agreed with Steve that it was a good raft, we had so much trouble getting the Givens serviced outside of North America that we bought a commercial RFD/Beaufort, when the Givens finally wore out. In fact we had to ship the Givens from Norway to the UK to get it serviced and my eyes are still watering from the air freight bill. What made it sting even more was that there was an RFD/Beaufort service facility on the same wharf that we were tied to for the winter in Norway!

      My thinking on the vacuum packed rafts with the three year service interval is that they might make sense for a boat taking the Coconut Milk Run across the Pacific since they could get all the way to New Zealand or Australia without having to worry about raft servicing. Of course they would want to make sure that the raft in question was serviceable at the end of the line.

      What got me thinking about that is that some years ago a bunch of cruisers test pulled a bunch of rafts in NZ and an alarming number failed to inflate. I suspect, although certainly don’t know, that many of those rafts either had not been serviced for several years since the owners left North America, or had been serviced by poorly qualified facilities in some out of the way island.

  • Sid Mar 13, 2011, 1:27 pm

    I was told by a raft inspection service, that inflating a raft using the compressed gas cylinder could potentially damage the raft because of the cold temperatures resulting from the rapid gas expansion. They considered this an unnecessary risk and insisted on testing rafts by using compressed air to slowly inflate them. I was, therefore, surprised to see your raft being inflated by pulling the lanyard and using the gas bottle to inflate it.

    Any thoughts on this aspect?

    Sid

    • John Mar 13, 2011, 3:00 pm

      Hi Sid,

      Sorry, I should have been more clear. That was not our raft being being pulled live. That was a demo raft that Steve and Raymond keep specifically for the purpose. Our raft was inflated with compressed air as part of the annual testing procedure.

    • Colin Speedie Mar 13, 2011, 3:37 pm

      Hi Sid

      Things may have changed, but in the days when we had our raft serviced annually, every third year (from memory) the bottles had to be discharged and re-filled. Otherwise the standard procedure was to inflate the raft with compressed air.

      That was why I decided to ask for the raft to be inflated on the bottles, as they were going to be discharged anyway. Seeing it pulled was worth it in itself – learning how the discharge valves balanced the inflation for example.

      But nobody ever mentioned the point you raise (to me, at least). Our old Avon was elderly, yet perfect on inspection every time, so no harm appeared to have occurred as a result of inflation by bottle. Maybe this is something that is linked to modern construction techniques, or valves? If anybody out there can shed light on this it would be good to know.

      Best wishes

      Colin

      • Matt Marsh Mar 14, 2011, 10:52 am

        There is a huge temperature drop across the expansion valve on the gas cylinder; the gas entering the raft is well below freezing. Some manufacturers seem to think the combination of cold temperatures and lots of movement will accelerate the fatigue of the raft fabric and/or valves. I can’t say I blame them- this would certainly be a concern with PVC, which becomes rather brittle and can crack if repeatedly flexed when cold. But I would think (hope?) that commercial-grade rafts designed for high latitudes and bad weather would be made with fabrics that can handle -30 or -40 C without damage. If in doubt, ask the manufacturer directly- not only “Will pulling this thing damage it?”, but more importantly, “What tests have you done on these valves and this type of fabric at 40 below zero?”

  • Ben Mar 15, 2011, 12:15 am

    We pop a raft every month or so for training, as yet no obvious visible damage to the fabric due to cold on the variety of rafts that we use. I’m not saying it doesn’t happen but in our case it seems the students and the chlorine in the pool do much more damage to our rafts than the cold CO2 gas. I am popping one on Thursday so I will look extra carefully for any sign of fabric damage in the cold effected area.

    • Ben Mar 17, 2011, 6:31 pm

      I had a good look at two rafts yesterday, no sign of visible or tactile damage to the fabric athough our old Seasaver had two patches around the CO2 inlet pipe area. These may have been due to the cold, but I think more likely due to chafe from the metal CO2 pipe elbows, or maybe even a combination of cold, folding and chafe?

      Watching the raft inflate I thought that popping it inside its canister may cause quite nasty pinch points and locally high fabric pressures due to the containment and folding of the raft.

      It’s probably better to take it out of its case and fully unfold or at the very least remove the bindings on the case before popping. The vacuum cleaner inflate certainly is a much kinder way to inflate a raft – A CO2 inflate is very violent… And when all is said and done I would prefer any raft inspection company to treat my expensive raft gently.

      If you ever do inflate a raft be careful of the fiberglass case; we once had a case half fly across the room at high speed…

  • Chris Mar 15, 2011, 12:24 pm

    Life raft cylinders are usually pressurized to 2250 psi (116 tor).
    They can contain pure CO2, CO2 + N2, or N2, and in rare (boating) cases some He. CO2 are certified from 0—140 deg F
    (-18—60 C).

    N2 and He are used for rafts which must function below 0 deg F. I don’t want to be there. (Actually this comes from high altitude aircraft carriage requirements where the gas will be atmospherically super chilled before discharge.)

    On discharge a pure CO2 open-valve release will drop to ~-79 deg C (-110 F) at the nozzle. [The gas rapidly warms after moving away from the nozzle, but can still cause freeze burns on human skin at several feet—if the tank is discharged in the atmosphere instead of in the raft.]

    Whether these temps are problematic for the raft, I leave to the raft experts.

    The tanks are subject to the same DOT pressure testing requirements as SCUBA tanks.

  • John Mar 17, 2011, 7:48 pm

    Hi Ben, Matt and Chris, thanks for the great information. I guess my conclusion would be that you can pull your raft occasionally, as Colin says, but doing it too often would not be a good idea.

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