Switlik life rafts- installing a Hydrostatic Release

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Switlik builds great life rafts but has to have the most confusing cradle set up when you want to include a hydrostatic release.

This is how you start

And you need to get here

I have outlined the steps in one of my Tech Files articles, complete with pictures and tips. Hooking up the hydrostatic release correctly is the most important task a boat owner faces when dealing with their life raft. Do it wrong and the raft will not properly deploy. Every cradle design is a bit different so make sure you have the instructions that fit your situation.

If you want to learn how to properly date your release, and have a bit of fun at the same time, check out the Hammar web site which has tools to help with your education.

Finally if Westpac Marine serviced your life raft and you have any questions please give us a call at (253) 627-6000. Our customer’s lives are important to us and taking a few minutes to make sure you have everything the way it should be is why we are here.

Tacoma’s historical boat builders

An article in our local newspaper got me thinking about the number of boat builders who have been in business in Tacoma. Of those who existed when I started work in the mid ’70’s only one still exists, J.M. Martinac, the others have been bought up or gone by the wayside due to changes in the economic climate.

So back to the article. It talks about the Western Flyer, the boat John Steinbeck used when exploring the Sea of Cortez. It was built by the Western Boat Company which had long ceased business by 1975 although I believe their facility was operating under a different name. Western Boat along with Tacoma Boat, Martinolich and many others built good, stout commercial fishing vessels for use in the North Pacific. Their era was one of wood and strong men to move the planks around, drill holes and screw in screws by hand.

I started my career working for Tacoma Marine Supply which was a supplier to most of these builders. It was amazing the barrels of screws they still had in inventory, most made from silicon bronze, from that earlier era. Most were Reed & Prince head  which is similar to a Phillips head but the slots are straight, not curved. This allowed for installation without stripping the head which was really important when you were installing thousands per boat. Also lying around were planks of exotic wood, not little pieces but lengths that must have been over 20′ and probably 12″ in width. When the Tacoma Marine Supply building was torn down in the early 1980’s, the salvage company made out quite nicely with what they found.

By time I started work companies like Fairliner Boats had ceased business. They were one of the pioneers in building plywood cabin cruisers for the recreational market. Cruising around Puget Sound you still see plenty of their product still keeping families happy on the water. Fiberglass, steel and aluminum were the new materials of choice and companies like Martinac were using them to build Tuna Seiners for the Western Pacific of crab boats for the Bering Sea. Changes in the tax codes helped bring an end to this era, it was no longer easy to get ones money out of the commercial fishing industry without paying large tax penalties so all of the rich folks who were investing in the industry (but not operating the boats) took their funds elsewhere.

Tacoma now has a few boat builders but they have had to specialize. Companies like Martinac are building tugs and others like Nordlund Boat, custom yachts. You can still see the tradition of the wooden boat era when you look at the interior workmanship these companies provide. The wood work is gorgeous and the workers (I had trouble not saying workmen) are very proud of the product they are producing. I hope that these companies, some of which are on their third generation of family ownership, are able to prosper and keep Tacoma’s boat building history alive.

What the heck is the Berry Amendment?

I was reading an article today from NPR regarding Zodiac inflatable boats. As most of us remember, Zodiac was a French company and they built their boats (and life rafts) in France. Now it seems that a US competitor has asked why Zodiac can manufacture boats in France out of non-US components. They cited the Berry Amendment which requires that the US Military uses fabrics and clothing that are domestically produced. I would not have thought that inflatable boats would have been considered a fabric product but with further consideration I can see why Zodiac was forced to open a plant in the US to build the goods they sell to the military.

When I started selling straps and buckles I kept reading that a product was “Berry Compliant” and not knowing what that entailed used good old Google to check it out. The whole amendment is online at: https://dap.dau.mil/acquipedia/Pages/ArticleDetails.aspx?aid=be528c25-b648-4797-99b0-ff27ba7ce75b

Talking with our webbing and buckle suppliers I have learned that they do produce product here in the US for sale to the military. As the price of fuel has increased they have actually moved some of their overseas production back home (to get around shipping costs) which is great news for our economy. If they get a bunch of military orders they can move production back offshore and if military sales dwindle more commercial goods will be produced here. It is really good to hear that products can be produced in the United States at competitive prices. Hopefully Zodiac will expand their production in Maryland and employ more US workers.

What has happened to Avon life rafts?

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Avon life rafts used to be the major brand in the recreational marine market. Several years ago they were purchased by Zodiac who were already selling their own brand of life rafts in the United States. Zodiac supported the Avon brand for a few years but what they seemed to be doing was moving their customers over to their main brand.

Obtaining spare parts and technical support has become more difficult and we are now at a point were we can not guarantee that we can get what we need to service a specific raft. If we have all the parts on the shelf, there is no problem so it is worth calling and discussing your service needs.

This is not the first brand Zodiac has phased out. We used to sell and service BFA life rafts until once again, Zodiac decided not to support the brand in the U.S. Over the years Uniraft, Achilles, Autoflug and others have all suffered the same fate. If you own an Avon life raft the good news (if there is such a thing in this case) is the cost of rafts has come down and you can most likely replace yours for less than it originally cost.

Note: If you are reading this from outside the U.S., Avon is most likely still supported. Check with your local approved service facility.