What do you do when you have to abandon your ship (or in our case, our home)? There are a few different trains of thought here. Some people say that you jump in your life raft and get away from the boat. While others say, jump in your dinghy or life raft and stay tethered to your boat. If your boat is not sinking, which catamarans don’t sink, then they are a much bigger target to spot than a small dinghy or life raft. Of course, everything has to be reconsidered if you are on a monohull.
So, unless Sugar Shack is on fire, we would stay with the boat. One of the safety features on Sugar Shack is the life raft. We currently have a Winslow 6-man offshore life raft which came with the boat (2001) and was last serviced in 2011. Yep, that was a long time ago. We needed to service and re-certify our life raft before our next big Pacific Crossing (from French Polynesia to Fiji).
However, as luck would have it, some friends of ours gave us their old Viking 8-man ISO Pro OffShore Life Raft. They bought a much smaller life raft as their boat does not require an 8-man size. This is a bigger life raft than our original one (8-person vs 6-person) and is a very well-known brand. The problem with the new to us Viking is that it too needed to be serviced and re-certified. We decided to keep the Viking and sell the Winslow. Which means we needed to take the Viking to Station de Survie Nautisport to be serviced and certified.
The Viking Life Raft
We rented a car to transport the life raft which weighs in over 115lbs (not something you can carry on the bus). This is super exciting for me as I have never seen a life raft inflate nor have I seen the inside of one! Lots of firsts for me. The tech at Nautisport, Terangi was super nice and spoke excellent English!
The life raft came to us in a hard case for storage which helps maintain the integrity of the raft.
We immediately search for documentation that tells us when it was serviced last. We discover it was born in November 2002, the last service was 2015 on the raft, and 2014 on the cannister. Well drat! Typically, the life expectancy of a life raft is 20 years, so this only gained us 2 years before we have to buy a new one. New rafts can cost up to $6000-$6500!
The cannister has to be serviced every 10 years. Since the last service was 2014, we did not have to service it. However, we do have to service it in 2024 which means our certificate will only be good for 2 years (rather than the typical 3 year certificate).
Opening the Case
The shell is removed exposing a gray shrink wrap which is then removed. The black fabric (upper right) is the bottom side of the raft. Slowly we unwrap the raft exposing the orange top side.
Inflating the Life Raft
When you pull the emergency cord to inflate the raft it will automatically blow the large zip tie holding the outer shell and blow off the shrink wrap covering while simultaneously inflating the raft in 2 seconds. Since our cannister is in good working order we decided to use an outside source to inflate the raft. (which took about 2-3 minutes).
There is a built-in tether to the raft that gets attached to your boat or to the rescue boat. This tether connects to another line which is accessible around the entire bottom of the raft. If you decide to get in the water (for swim, bath, or fishing) and need to get back into the raft, you step onto the white line (left photo) under the raft and use the triangle rope ladder to pull yourself up.
Terangi pointed out a lot of features. There is a water catch feature on the outside that can be funneled inside. (top photo and left bottom photo). The black edge leads to a small pocket that collects water. In addition, there is a window (lower right) and a small hole (top and middle right) to stick an antennae out (your EPRIB or beacon).
Inside the raft are a few elements including flares, flashlight (with spare batteries), whistle, mirror, horn, sea sick medicine, bucket/scoop (top left). There is a large white arrow pointing to the emergency knife, a drogue (sea anchor), spare line and empty bag, life ring with line, and small paddles. In addition, the life raft has a flashing light on the exterior and a small interior light.
There are two different trains of thought when it comes to additional perishable items. Some people like to have water, food, batteries, and other items inside the life raft. But you may be forced to open or service the raft more often to replace those items. So many people, like Sugar Shack, have a separate ditch bag. In our ditch bag we have everything from t.p., glasses, sunblock, batteries, can opener, blanket, medical supplies, utility knife, money, water bags, long-term food (space food) and oh so much more. We can then toss this into our dinghy or the life raft if we need to. Plus, it is easier to access and replace items when needed.
Keeping the Life Raft Upright
Under the raft are four large pockets that hold water to keep the raft upright. Or as Matt stated, it is a good place to store his beer while keeping it cold. You can also see the rope that is used as a ladder (center U shape) and the line that goes around the entire raft to hold on.
The life raft technically can fit 8 people. But, to be honest it would be a cramped stay. But for the 2 of us it was very roomy and spacious. The silver floor lining helps keep your warm inside and acts as a barrier between you and the sea.
We stayed for an hour to watch the initial assessment and reveal. But left them to their work to complete the service and certification. They replaced all of the essential items including flares, batteries, medicine) and tested the air pressure over 3 hours.
We left with a fully serviced and certified Viking Life Raft good for another 2 years at a cost of $690. Not bad. We anticipated it being well over $1000 so I felt good about the overall process and I learned so much about our life raft which I hope to NEVER have to see again (especially out in the open water).
Farewell Fakarava was our last blog post (see passage post). Events from this blog occurred in March 2022. Our blog posts run 10-12 weeks behind our adventures.