Imagine that you were flying in an airplane and the stewardess came to you, put a parachute on your back and pushed you out the door without telling you how to open the chute.  Sounds absurd, insane and impossible?

That is exactly what happens to most yachties when they pull the rip chord on their life raft.  They donít have a clue about how to properly deploy and use it. They see their life raft inflated for the first time when they abandon ship.

Ignorance about life rafts is epidemic.  Every couple of years, yachties take their raft to an inspection station and a week later, pick it up.  They feel that the money paid to the inspector is an insurance policy against disaster.  This approach guarantees they will remain ignorant about how to properly deploy and use this important piece of survival gear.

Each time you have your raft inspected, you have a golden opportunity to see it fully inflated and familiarize yourself with its contents and proper use.  We took our life raft to Marine Safe in Slaackís Creek south of Brisbane.  The hour that we spent watching our raft being inflated and inspected could save our lives.  Here are some of the facts of Life Raft Life.

1. Before you launch a life raft, tie the rip chord to the yacht so the raft doesnít blow away and disappear in the darkness.  The rip chord on our life raft is sixty feet long.  So we donít expect our raft to inflate immediately after we pull out a few feet of rip chord.  The extra chord is really not extra.  Itís there to allow the raft to sit a safe distance away from the yacht.

When you launch your raft, throw it in the water downwind so that it wonít be damaged by blowing up against the yacht.

Donít deploy the raft sea anchor until you are well away from yacht.  You donít want the sea anchor or raft to become entangled in the yacht.

Tie your Go Bags containing survival supplies to the rip chord so that they wonít be lost if they get washed overboard.  You can use the rip chord to recover a Go Bag and bring it into the raft.

There is a knife in a pocket on the canopy where you climb on board the raft.  Use this knife in an emergency to cut the tether that joins the raft to the boat if the boat actually sinks.

There are water activated batteries that automatically turn on a flashing light on the canopy of the raft so that you can see where the raft is located if you must abandon ship in the dark.

The carbon dioxide bottle contains thirty percent extra carbon dioxide to be sure there is enough gas to fully inflate the raft.  This extra carbon dioxide escapes through over pressure valves in the tubes of the raft.  These valves are tested during inspection to make sure that they open and close properly during inflation.  If the valves should leak, the raft contains screw-in plugs to stop the gas leak.

Life rafts must be inflated and tested for many hours to make sure that there are no slow leaks in the material or seams.  If they donít maintain their pressure, there is a leak that must be found and fixed.

Inspectors tell if the carbon dioxide inflation cylinder is full and ready for action by weighing the cylinder.  The weight of the compressed carbon dioxide is printed on the side of the cylinder (2.04 kilograms).  If the cylinder weight is correct, then carbon dioxide has not leaked from the cylinder and itís ready to go.  Total cylinder weight on our last life raft exam in New Zealand was 5.89 kilograms.

The inspector  tested the emergency hand inflation pump and showed us how to attach it to the inflation tubes and floor.

The life raft canopy has a device for catching rain water that drains into a tube attached to a plastic bladder in which to store fresh water.

The inspector showed us the contents of the survival pack tethered to the floor of the raft.  Included are food rations, pouches of water, medical kit, seasickness medicine, signal mirror, signaling flares, fishing kit, repair/patching kit, flashlight with spare batteries and bulb.  All expired items must be replaced.

Our Go Bags need to have lines attached to them so that they can be tethered inside the raft.  This keeps survival supplies from being washed out of the raft in extreme conditions.

There are two inflation tubes on the Givens raft.  The gas supply to each tube is separate and either tube by itself can support the raft and its occupants.

If you store your life raft where it can get wet, moisture will destroy it.  Most life rafts are vacuum bagged so that there is no chance for ingress of water while the raft sits in its canister on deck ready for an emergency.

-- Conclusion:  The next time you get your life raft inspected, watch the inspectors inflate the raft and become familiar with the features unique to that raft.  There is no room for cutting corners in the life raft department.  You must know how to deploy and use it.  You must have complete confidence in the people who have inspected and repacked it.

Inspecting life rafts should be done by professionals who have the tools to do the job properly and the skills to repack it so that water will never get inside.  Honest and competent inspectors can save your life.  Dishonest and shoddy inspectors could cost you your life.

This site is a companion web site to Outback and Beyond.com.