Life Raft and Parachute, The Same What-If Emergency Scenario

We wore emergency parachutes when we flew gliders, fortunately we never had to use them.  But often times we talked about what-if scenarios.  I wanted experience and training in using my chute so I completed a tandem jump at 10,000 feet. The shock of jumping out of the airplane, the initial rush of adrenaline in free falling half way, not being able to breathe for the first 30 seconds and feeling desperate to gulp air, the skin on my face stretched in the opposite direction of gravity was all terrifying. My only thought was “PULL THE CORD NOW!”  Once the cord was pulled it was a gentle glide back, I could breathe and actually relaxed. It was just like flying only in open air.   Fortunately our own parachutes were required to be inspected and repacked every 18 months – $60 cost so, no big dent to the wallet, had the opportunity to inspect the rigging myself and felt confident of surviving an emergency jump. John never felt the need to practice jump, he has more guts than I. Each flight, the same thought ran through our minds as we strapped on the chute, “I hope I won’t be using this today, but I’m glad I have it.”

We had our 6 person Winslow Life raft serviced yesterday.   It was very informative and good training exercise.  If we’re faced with having to launch it, we feel much more confident about our well being.

Same curiosity goes with the life raftimage,  We had it with us on our offshore cruises, sat on the cabin sole and became my footrest when at anchorage. This 87 pound yellow brick represented another morbid curiosity knowing deployment represents a life or death situation. The life raft should be inflated and inspected every three years. We bought our raft when it was just over two years old, decided to wait until we were prepared for our ocean journey  to have it inspected. Unlike the minimal cost of the parachute inspections, the cost is well over $1000 and even more if it has rubber degradation and corrosion around metal fittings on the CO2 cartridge.  Since you cannot see the condition of the materials when it’s packed, the WHAT-IF questions set in.  ” Will it work, will the CO2 cartridge explode, what if it only partially inflates. Will we be able to get it in.”  There are numerous you-tube videos showing inflation, survival technique, but it doesn’t answer the questions about our own life raft.

Rollie at Westpac spent 2.5 hours going over the reasons to deploy vs. reasons to stay with the boat and the timing of deployment.   He inflated the raft with cold air pressure.  To pull the CO2 lanyard and inflate it on the floor would damage the raft.  It will take about 30 seconds to inflate with the CO2 cartridge once the lanyard has been pulled, not very long but when you’re in the water, it may seem way too slow.

He trained us on specific steps of proper inflation technique, getting into the water or jump onto the top of the raft, each sequence of events that should take place. A surprise to me was learning the raft could inflate up side down, depending on how it was thrown into the water. If it inflates upside down, there are specific steps to right it to ensure the person wouldn’t be trapped under the raft. The biggest and bravest person (John) should be the first person to get into the water to right it and then help the smaller folk, that be me.

He went over all the features of our raft, discerned valuable tools and gear that should stay in the packed raft and what gear should be kept in the ditch bag,  Noted  a few dumb things people do in the situation such as, trying to climb in the through the small windows, your body will just be sucked up under the raft. Hang onto the webbing straps and pull yourself along the sides to the boarding ramp. Brain glitches are common when we’re frightened.

Our raft is new condition, it’s actually an 8 person raft size. The previous owner had it fully stocked with expensive gear, a full size ACR EPRIB and Katadyn Water maker that produces 1 liter of water per hour, medical and fishing kits.   17 pounds of useless or expired items were discarded from the survival pack. We removed 6 year old food and water packs, the EPIRB with a dead battery, old flares, a giant knife, a toy compass, a package of lanyard, and a small bible. Most of the items will be replaced and kept in the ditch bag outside of the raft.

Once safely inside, just sit back and wait for the rescue boat or helicopter.  It is futile to try and paddle unless we’re within 100 yards of an island.  Another important point noted, if a rescue helicopter is overhead, it’s very important to unzip the tent cover and pull it off the boom as the rotor wash (downward wind from the helicopter blades) can capsize the raft with us in it.   We’ll  keep our wits in that elated moment of rescue.

I posted more pictures of the raft and inflation stages on the Safety Page.

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