You can see the Zodiac life raft mounted on the stern. Is this a good idea? Yachting World had a recent article that says this is the best place for a raft. The article goes on to discuss the risk in mounting a raft on one side of the pushpit, making them vulnerable to waves, a point that I agree on and have discussed in two earlier blogs. First Second
Blue Water Sailing has an article on life raft servicing. I knew this was being written since the raft picture above was taken in my shop. Andrew Cross spent several hours learning about both his life raft and Switlik MOM-8A crew recovery device.
Here is the same view of our shop. Just bigger rafts being serviced.
When will the cost of servicing your life raft quit increasing? Probably no time soon if a recent service bulletin we received is any indication. While this only applies to commercial (USCG approved) life rafts it won’t be long before others follow suit.
Our service procedures are governed by both the raft manufacturer and the U.S. Coast Guard (USCG). The USCG sets minimum standards but a manufacturer could exceed those should they wish. For instance the USCG says that a raft with a SOLAS A equipment pack must have at least 4 red parachute flares but a manufacturer could say it must have 5. In cases like this we are required to adopt the most restrictive standard (5 parachute flares).
So what just changed? A few years ago the standard for dated items such as food, water, flares and batteries was that if the item was in date the day the raft was packed, it would be acceptable until the raft’s next servicing. Then things changed and items had to have at least 6 months of service life left at time of servicing. This did not make a huge difference in service cost since flares, the most expensive item in the equipment pack, come with a 42 month service life. This allowed most customers to get a full 3 years out of their flare kit.
Now we are required to ensure that all dated items have enough service life to last to the raft’s next servicing. For USCG approved rafts this means 12 months but there are other flag states that allow a longer interval between servicing. Most times now flares will have to be replaced after 2 years and most items with a 5 year service life will need to be replaced at 4 years.
You might ask why has this happened? Most regulations regarding commercial safety equipment start at the International Maritime Orginization (IMO). Once the IMO sets a standard it is then up to the member states (in our case the U.S.) to adopt these standards. The other option is the raft manufacturers could adopt the standard as part of their service manuals which is what happened in this case. Since the requirement is more restrictive we are required to comply.
The major benefit will be increased revenue for the raft manufacturers. We are required to purchase our parts from them so the more parts we have to change, the more money they make. My take on this is it is not a safety issue, just added profit.
Sadly there is nothing you or I can do. IMO is controlled by European members who tend to listen to their manufacturing industry. The two major life raft manufacturers are based in Europe so they have great influence on decisions IMO makes. In the long run life rafts might become a disposable item, use them for 2 years and when they are ready for their first service, buy a new one. The problem then becomes how do you get rid of the hazardous material out of your 2 year old raft?
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.