When your liferaft doesn’t inflate…

Lucky us that these pictures were taken on a beach within arms reach of Sydney, a bunch of other boats and NSW’s fantastic (regrettably tested,lol…) Maritime Rescue services. Our dear friends from SY Vega had bought a new liferaft for their six week trip up the coast to the Barrier Reef and brought along the old one to have a little liferaft refresher for kids and adults alike.

After a short discussion on the likely possibility of the whole rubber mount sinking, should it fail to inflate, we decided a beach launch would be the most sensible option. Milly, our boats’ teeny, pulled the line which was supposed to inflate the four-person raft which had been serviced in Spain a couple of years prior. Her face went through the same wonder-disbelief-shock progression as everyone else’s. Nothing. Absolutely nothing happened. The cylinder which was supposed to get triggered to inflate the raft within seconds was dead empty. A chilling experience… which left our friends with no doubts that the thousands of dollars which went into the new raft were money well spent. We tried to ignore the statistics here that a third of liferafts don’t inflate when they are meant to. Have you serviced your’s lately?

We went on inflating the whole thing by hand which took a combined effort of a good ten minutes – this is in calmest conditions, with nine of us, on a beach! Without underestimating human potential when in life-threatening situations, I dare say it would have been close to impossible to inflate the raft with the mini foot pump in stormy conditions on a rolling aft-deck at sea. Once inflated we launched it in knee-deep water and actually at one point fitted the nine of us in. Squashy, but possible. Definitely space for four.

Space amongst some moldy, wobbling, smelly rubber yes, not much else though. Going through the rescue bags inside was interesting too. The flares seemed to be in in working order though we didn’t test them. The tiny water portions in individual plastic wraps showed an expiry date from before the last service – which made us wonder whether that service had ever actually opened the raft… There were a few other bits and bobs which ended up as great beach toys, such as two short, wooden paddles, the storm anchor and very basic fishing gear. In an emergency situation I’m sure they wouldn’t have been quite so amusing. After that morning on the beach, we more than ever wished, prayed and prepared for never really having to use a liferaft at all.

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