Murphy was an optimist. I say it often and often add expletives. Considering a life raft only comes into play after at least two things have gone horribly wrong — the initial catastrophic event and inadequate shipboard systems to resolve it — neglecting life raft service seems like an ill-intended salute to Murphy, Neptune and Mother Nature all at once. Yet many boaters do it. Some think emergencies won't happen to them. Others pass off manufacturers' service recommendations as overkill. Here's what those service dollars buy beyond peace of mind.
At each inspection, be it annually or every three years, service personnel inflate life rafts with compressed air (not on-board C02 cylinders, which stress rafts with each use). Rafts are first over-inflated to 150 percent of rated pressure, then relaxed. Next they're re-inflated and precisely monitored over time to ensure they don't leak. Holding air is, after all, the number-one necessity of a life raft.
Rafts are also checked for questionable seams and floor, canopy or tube connections. Experienced service personnel know what to scrutinize most closely — glued seams on PVC or urethane rafts, sticky or gummy panels where heat and moisture work on rubber and signs of mold or fungus that attack raft material like a cancer. Inspection ensures rafts will stay in one piece.