March 28, 2014

Servicing our Inflatable PFDs

On the continuing theme of safety*, which has overtaken our lives… This morning we were witness to one of those near-tragedies that reminds you how quickly it can all go wrong. A neighbour pulled into the dock and rather than hitting the kill switch she bumped her boat back into gear. This caused it to sheer off and dump her in the water. The dinghy started doing tight circles around her—and terrified she tried to get a hold of it, rather than swim to safety.

It was sheer luck that the prop didn’t get her legs. It circled over her twice before a skipper in another dinghy was able to grab it. The lesson was, ‘always wear your kill switch’—like most cruisers we’re really bad at this. But also, she should have swum away from her dinghy—there was a dock right there to jump up on and other boats to hide behind—a swimmer simply can’t gain control of a run away dinghy.
We wear them faithfully at sea, but want to be sure they are still in good condition.
So with that lesson in mind Ev and I continued on our checking and inspecting of safety equipment and pulled out the inflatable PFDs. Ours are West Marine brand and are going on 20 years old. I’m planning to replace mine with one that’s more comfortable—but Ev is fond of his (and loathes spending money when we don’t need to), so we decided to hold off replacing both based on a complete inspection.

Maia orally inflates the PFD

In AU, annual professional service inspections are required for inflatable PFDs—this strikes me as overkill. Personally, we’re comfortable with doing our own inspections on a more ad hoc basis. Roughly what this means is we’ve manually inflated ours every few years and looked them over before packing them back away. This time we decided to go an extra step and pull the rip cord on mine. We wanted to be sure all the seams held with the higher pressure inflation. And I’ve always wanted to pull the cord…
The stitching looked good and it also passed the pull and tear test
The manual inflation valve--it's a simple valve and easy to inspect
Before I got to pull, the first step was an exterior inspection for visible wear and damage. We checked that:
  1. the cover closures are in good condition (our Velcro is a bit worn—but nothing terrible)
  2. the webbing straps have no visible damage
  3. the buckle works smoothly and isn’t cracking or aged looking
  4. the stitching is all strong
  5. and the harness components are all in good condition
The whistle worked fine and the string holding it was strong and secure
The spent CO2 cartridge showed some minor corrosion
 Then I pulled the cord. It wasn’t as exciting as hoped—put the thing sure does inflate quickly and puffs up in a most gratifying way. While I inflated the easy way, Maia blew up the other one. It didn’t take long to get it firmly inflated. Then we checked that:

  1. retro-reflective tape is mostly firmly attached and more or less undamaged
  2. the whistle works
  3. the oral inflation tube has no visible damage and lets out pressure as needed
  4. fabric itself is in good condition—we inspected around the fold lines and at all the seams especially
  5. the inflation valve is in working order
Minimum weight is 145.5g for this unused cartridge it weighed 147
The seams and folds all looked in great shape and the bladder was holding air just fine

The next step is to let them sit overnight and make sure they hold air. While they sit we inspected Ev’s CO2 cartridge and made sure it was corrosion free and weighed at least what the minimum weight requirement is (it’s stamped on each cartridge).

At this point though, those old PFDs are looking remarkably good…

* Safety seems to be spreading from our cruising plans and daily life, to my work life with a story for Outside on how to survive a trip and another for Men’s Journal about getting rescued by the crowd…

1 comment:

Lynda Halliger Otvos (Lynda M O) said...

Wow, witnessing an experience like that can give one the willies big time...