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View Full Version : Liferaft vs. Immersion Suit



Grace
04-15-2015, 04:44 PM
Having priced liferafts at the boatshow recently, I have been thinking about alternatives. The minimum size liferaft that gets the ISO/ISAF nod is a 4 man raft priced around $2,000; weighing in at about 60 pounds and requiring a re-certification every three years at a cost of about $1,000. A five year average cost of ownership is about $400 to $500 per year.

Would an immersion suit be a better alternative? An immersion suit with an Epirb with a rab bag for water and other emergency supplies might provide a safe method of passing time until help arrives. These low tech solutions are available for $100 - $300 with no ongoing liabilities for repacking; regearing or recertifying. Given that most rescues are initiated and concluded within 24 hours, what does the raft really provide that justifies its price?

Sailing in high latitudes or in extreme conditions probably warrants a life raft, but most of us transit the ocean in sub tropical or tropical waters.

Harrier
04-15-2015, 05:09 PM
Water temps off San Francisco for at least 500 miles (and more) certainly are not tropical or subtropical. And it might be just a matter of luck that your time to be saved might take 3 or 4 (or?) days. I've survived a few dangerous situations in my life, but floating in a rough ocean at chin level would be really stretching your odds of survival. It likely would not be a mill pond out there when you would like it to be...ask Mr. Murphy!

Grace
04-15-2015, 08:28 PM
In the 30 to 40 year history of the SSS, how many cases have there been of single handed skippers actually using their liferafts?

BobJ
04-15-2015, 10:20 PM
Only Space Cowboy comes to mind (and that was "voluntary") but SSS is a small group.

Outside our group there have been two in the last two weeks - both sailboats and both doublehanded. The incident off Monterey was only 17 miles offshore so they didn't have to jump in the raft before the Coast Guard showed up (but they had one). The other incident was 90 miles offshore and they were pulled from their raft.

Four of my J World friends are still around because they had a liferaft (their J/120 hit a whale off Mexico and sank). The Barrans hit a whale off Hawaii after a Pacific Cup and their boat sank - they were rescued from their raft.

With all the post-tsunami crap floating around and frequent whale encounters, I like the idea of having something else to climb into. Maybe I'm paranoid but in a gumby suit I'd look a lot like a seal to the great whites we have around here.

Besides, rent a raft from Sal's - it's much cheaper for the number of times you'll be required to carry one.

Mewes
04-16-2015, 03:42 PM
Steve, there was QUITE a discussion of this topic in the last Singlehanded TransPac thread. One person life rafts are available, built (I'm told) for pilots who bail over the ocean and are picked up quickly. Doug Paine on JACK and Brian Cline on MARIS were two promoters, as was the General from earlier years. Brian Boschma uses a. Dry strict interpretation of ISAF, ABS & USSailing rules.

And, rental every other year at $400 is less expensive isn't it?

Finally, there is Rob Tryon's approach: buy it and sell it. (That was the tradition with spare autopilots for years, according to Mr Wonderful.)

Lucie

Harrier
04-16-2015, 07:28 PM
I had a one man raft once, having seen another competitor in another race "getting away" with one. Those were killed with a rule change which required a "self erecting" hood. In addition, such a raft would not be large enough to hold my "overboard bag" and me! Just get yourself a nice 4 or 5 man raft and live with it. Mine came from England tor a good price and has served me thru 10 SHTPs. That calculates to $160 per race as far as the price was concerned, and about $300 per race for the once every two years repack. My re-packer says once a year is not necessary. So I have been only repacking biennially for the last 10 races.
Never had a raft until required by the race rules. Did a 10,000 mile south Pacific milk run and 3 or 4 Hawaii round trips without one. just fortunate, I suppose, altho I believe the best life raft is your boat! Work toward keeping it afloat.........

sdpaine@cox.net
04-21-2015, 07:23 PM
The raft I have was made by Switlic for the military. The website for information on the raft is:
http://www.switlik.com/aviation/isplr

The raft has a complete canopy, it self inflates (not not the canopy however), and comes with the usual extras (sea anchor etc.) Some of the required items would need to be carried in the ditch bag (flares, food and water, etc.), but to honest, I kept the reft IN my ditch bag as it was small and light enough. If I need to use it I plan to float the ditch bag attached to the raft in lighter weather, and put in the raft in the heavier stuff. It is a sealed unit and only needs to be repacked every 5 years at a cost of about $90.00. I bought the one-man it after being assured that it would need the life raft requirement for the Transpac, only to have that opinion reversed a few days prior to the start. I ended up taking my large raft that weights close to 100 lbs and costs $400+ each to repack. I am waiting to hear from the race committee as to whether the small raft will be acceptable for the LongPac as I can not afford to repack the large one each year.

When I view the life raft question I try to define the use it would be required to serve. We carry extensive communication/location equipment and sail in routes that are not all that remote. I thought the odd were overwhelming that a rescue would be affected within two days of the abandonment of the primary vessel in the sailing we do. The small raft I feel can do that task effectively, inexpensively, and more efficiently (I sail a 25' boat with very limited space). I would like to see it as an accepted option to the larger heavier, more cumbersome, and much more costly larger rafts.

Grace
04-22-2015, 09:33 AM
I completely agree with Jack's request to have the Switlik single person liferaft added to the Longpac/Transpac minimum equipment requirements. The chance of spending more than 24 hours in a liferaft prior to rescue in the waters between California and Hawaii is extremely low. Adding an immersion suit to the Switlik solution would be cost effective and even safer. The crew of a yacht in distress off Monterey last month lost its liferaft overboard when attempting to deploy it. The crew needed to be airlifted off as a result. Lugging 50 to 100 lbs of gear around the deck of a small boat is potentially more dangerous and less effective than deploying personal gear which weighs less than 10 lbs.

I use the SSS MERs as a way to safely prepare my boat to venture offshore. However, I believe that the increasing cost of more and more requirements is driving skippers away from offshore events. The FAA has approved the single person Switlik raft for pilot rescues. Why should our requirements be more rigid than theirs? The only ISAF/ISO approved liferafts are for four people. How is this a cost effective singlehanded solution?

mike cunningham
04-28-2015, 07:55 AM
A comment on the dry suit. I have two of them. They also require inspection periodically assuming you want to be sure you survive. I think it is every three years. Zipper, leaks and so forth. Sal's did mine the last time. It is pretty cheap, something like $50 per suit. But I don't think you would want to depend on one then find it has a leak. He pressure tests them.

Also, try it on!! It is a unique fit. Very snug around the shoulders and neck for obvious reasons. My son and I climbed into suits at my condo one day just to see how they fit. It was hilarious as we bashed around the living room trying to get them back off. The gloves don't allow you to grip much of anything. For a moment I am thinking please God, don't make me have to call a neighbor or the fire dept. to help us get out of these things. Now that I think about it, I don't know how I would have made a phone call.

People who think they will climb in one of these things and start operating a HH radio better think again unless they buy the gloveless version.

sdpaine@cox.net
04-28-2015, 01:11 PM
The powers that be have decided the one man life raft is cannot be used to meet the life raft requirement for SSS races. It was stated that you would be sitting in below water level, likely in a pool of water. How is this different than any other life raft that does not have an insulated floor? How is it that the military, with all of their extensive research and experience, find this equipment acceptable but the SSS does not? Oh well. This is not the first time this issue has left me on the short side of a decision by the SSS. As a result I will not be racing the Longpac as I had hoped to, nor any other race in the foreseeable future. Have fun all, I wish I could have been part of it.

Harrier
04-28-2015, 02:43 PM
As one who is somewhat familiar with military aviation, I would point out to Mr. Paine that a main requirement for the military is most likely the need for the raft to fit into a parachute seat pack...as the one I had did. This is a teeny-weeny space! None of the sailboats we use for the SHTP are quite so space limited. The parachute seatpack life raft is an attempt to give a ditched aviator a fighting chance for survival, without adding to cockpit space requirements. In 1984, I could not even get the SSS to specify what sort of life raft they required. Just a "liferaft", they said. I kept trying, to no avail. As the race date approached, I simply had to assume (logically?) that they would require an "offshore qualified" life raft. So I bought one (88lbs) and used it for two races until a competitor in the 1886 race got away with what she called a "helicopter liferaft". Looked just one I had brought from Vietnam, even had no canopy. I had a canopy attached to mine and ran with it in 1992. That resulted in the rule addition requiring a self erecting canopy. The SSS still does not require an "offshore" raft, which is fine with me. I never even bought a liferaft until the SHTP rules required them. Did a round trip to French Polynesia and three passages to Hawaii without a raft, so never have been passionate about requiring them. Were I the SSS, I would increase the stringency of the SHTP raft requirement, not reduce it...liability and all that!

Critter
04-28-2015, 06:37 PM
As "the powers that be" who declined to open up the can of worms of liberalizing the equipment requirements less than two months before the race, I thank DaveH over in the "SSS and NCORC" thread for digging up the details on the previous discussion about allowing these things. I had forgotten most of those details when I was corresponding with Doug (sdpaine). Thanks also to the General and Mike Cunningham for their observations.

sdpaine@cox.net
04-28-2015, 08:33 PM
To be fair, my request of the consideration of the one-man life raft first occurred in an email sent on Feb. 1st of this year a full half year ahead of the race, not "less than two months before the race". I only got a reply when I made a further inquiry this week. While I regret that the decision they made means I cannot race, I fully recognize that it is the job of the volunteers of the committee to make those decisions and am grateful they are willing to devote their time and efforts to do so. Seriously, thank you to all of you who give up your time to make the SSS happen.

One other point: there does seem to be some confusion on this thread about the difference between a survival suit and a one-man life raft. They are quite different.

Until next time -

Critter
04-29-2015, 11:17 AM
My apologies Doug, good point. When I saw this discussion, I had enough balls in the air that I hoped it would resolve itself without my jumping in. And my math was wrong: it's still 2+ months before the race.
Cheers and best regards,
Max

Grace
05-18-2015, 02:39 PM
Switlik Parachute Company, Inc. of Trenton, New Jersey, announced their success in delivering 500 of their Inflatable Single Place Life Raft (ISPLR) to the United States Coast Guard for their rescue aircrew and swimmers. Switlik has delivered another 300+ to the USCG Auxiliary as well.

Why is this product good enough for the USCG rescue swimmers but not good enough for the single handed sailors they would be rescuing?

BobJ
05-18-2015, 03:00 PM
Those rescue swimmers are in a lot better shape than many of us, and while deployed they have backup close at hand. If we're well offshore our likely source of rescue will be AMVER (http://www.amver.com/) and that could take awhile.

For LongPac I'm again renting a life raft from Sal's. I know it meets everyone's offshore requirements, it has been serviced/tested and will have the listed, in-date supplies. When I'm done I'll return it so I won't have to store it and pay big bucks to have it serviced in a year or two. If I was planning an extended cruise (and maybe you are) I'd buy one, but then it would be even more important to have a full-sized raft.

solosailor
05-18-2015, 04:14 PM
Why is this product good enough for the USCG rescue swimmers but not good enough for the single handed sailors they would be rescuing?As one of the people who reviewed the Switlik ISPLR regarding the rules I can chime in. At first I was very excited about the product...... low weight, small size, fairly inexpensive (compared to a standard liferaft), self serviceable, etc. The biggest issue with the product is that you sit in it below the waterline.

Yes, they have been issues to the USGS for guys to ditch aircraft or for rescue swimmers who are wearing DRY SUITS. The only way I would want one of these is if I were wearing a dry suit or a immersion suit.

sdpaine@cox.net
05-18-2015, 07:17 PM
If the primary objection to the ISPLR is the below the waterline position and the restultant danger of hypothermia, how does that danger differ from that of a larger life raft with no insulated floor? Your body depresses the floor of the larger one or the smaller one, putting you below the waterline. You displace your weight in water, which ever raft you are in and the surface area exposed the oceanic cold is likely to be nearly identical. But this argument is further made moot as they are available with an insulated floor like the one I purchased (ISPLR-1002-13).

These rafts have been accepted by the Coast Guard for its air crews and its auxiliary crews in case they have to ditch. This may happen hundreds of miles offshore. While the swimmers may be in dry suits, the remaining crew are not. These rafts are also sold to private pilots for the same function. Those who specialize in the very rescues we are talking about determined that this equipment would allow their crews to survive until help arrives (even though after ditching their physical condition might well be compromised). Whether the person in the water got there from a boat or an aircraft seems to matter not at all, what does count is the ability of the individual to stay afloat and to avoid exposure until a rescue is completed. In both cases the location of the individual(s) is likely known (EPIRB, DeLorme, Yellow Brick, DSC, etc.) and the nearest assistance will be rendered, if recent history is to be trusted, within two days at the outside.

I realize that to many in the SSS a three hundred dollar life raft rental for a week from Sals for each offshore race that requires it is well within their budget, but for others it is less so. This is especially true when the cost of the other safety equipment is included. If there is a less expensive alternative to the traditional life raft and the safety factor is there, why not adopt it? There have been discussions on the forum about how the cost may be driving some sailors away. As decisions are made about safety equipment it is obviously important to have safety paramount, but it also important to allow access to these events to as many sailors as possible. Higher costs eliminate the little guy (like me).

solosailor
05-18-2015, 10:19 PM
If the primary objection to the ISPLR is the below the waterline position and the restultant danger of hypothermia, how does that danger differ from that of a larger life raft with no insulated floor?

First, look at the image at this link: http://www.switlik.com/aviation/isplr/tech-specs

See how the guy is sitting BELOW the waterline? On a ISAF/SOLAS raft you have an insulated floor that you sit over the ocean, not in a bag surrounded by it. Also, the ISPLR is a single tube raft of the most basic specs. Like I said wish it would have worked out.

I pulled up my email after I did the research including calling Switlik and getting the thumbs-down for our intended use from the product manager himself. I hope that makes you understand why it doesn't meet the requirements:


Did some research on the ISPLR and didn't find all the answers I wanted so I contact Brian Kender @ Switlik, the Marine Products manager. He answered a few questions I had and stressed that they only recommend this raft for aviation use. As much as I wanted to have to product fit the needs of the racers I wouldn't recommend it for several reasons:

Most of the stability comes from your body sitting below the water line.
Sitting below the waterline will ensure your body heat is transferred rapidly to the surrounding water = hypothermia much quicker.
No space for a decent size ditch bag and/or supplies = no possible extended stay in the raft if a EPIRB signal doesn't go out due to a malfunction, etc.
No room to move around if an extended stay happens.
The big red flag was that it's a single tube. No 2nd tube like an offshore raft, no inner safety tube (even their basic single tube coastal raft has an inner backup tube).

Grace
05-20-2015, 07:21 AM
There are currently only 3 singlehanded entries in the 2015 Longpac which has traditionally been the primary feeder event and qualifier for the SSS Transpac. There are 80 individual equipment requirements on the 2015 Longpac MER list. Could there be a relationship between these two numbers?

One way to achieve a perfect safety record is to make it so onerously expensive to meet the requirements that no one sets sail.

Providing an overly rigid formula to be followed by every skipper without exception for every possible (however unlikely) potential danger drives good people away from organized events.

VHF – not good enough. VHF with GPS locator – not good enough. VHF with GPS locator and individual MMSI number– OK we will let you in the club. How many SSS sailors have actually used this equipment in a rescue situation and have found it to have been indispensable (as compared to just using a standard VHF radio without all the bells and whistles)? Probably zero.

USCG standard three flare requirement – not good enough. Add SOLAS approved rocket flares – not good enough. Add SOLAS handheld flares – not good enough. Add SOLAS smoke flares – OK, we will let you in the club. Now I understand why solosailor needs more space in the liferaft – to provide room for all the unnecessary additional flares.

Discretion and judgement are valuable qualities that solo sailing develops in each skipper. Feature bloated safety equipment lists are a poor substitute for these qualities.

BobJ
05-20-2015, 08:39 AM
Per the "who is going" thread, there are quite a few more than three skippers planning for LongPac. It's still early.

solosailor
05-20-2015, 09:37 AM
There are 80 individual equipment requirements on the 2015 Longpac MER list. Could there be a relationship between these two numbers?The requirements are not much different than they have always been. Are you familiar with the "slight" rule changes the LongPac has had over the years?


VHF – not good enough. VHF with GPS locator – not good enough. VHF with GPS locator and individual MMSI number– OK we will let you in the club. How many SSS sailors have actually used this equipment in a rescue situation and have found it to have been indispensable (as compared to just using a standard VHF radio without all the bells and whistles)? Probably zero.In a rescue..... none that I can think of. Nor any rescues with any type of VHF radio (except for the DH farallones keel loss on the J/80 which used a standard VHF to call in their mayday).


USCG standard three flare requirement – not good enough. Add SOLAS approved rocket flares – not good enough. Add SOLAS handheld flares – not good enough. Add SOLAS smoke flares – OK, we will let you in the club. Actually you need no flares to join the SSS but maybe we can make some more special rules for someone like you! Tell me this..... when were SOLAS flares added to the LongPac requirements? You certainly don't know what your talking about regarding flares. SOLAS flare requirement for the LongPac and SHTP have been around for decades, well at least 15+ years.


I understand why solosailor needs more space in the liferaft – to provide room for all the unnecessary additional flares.Cute. Please tell me why SOLAS flares are unnecessary? Did you attend the Safety at Sea course and see the flare demo? Please explain why every offshore race around the world requires them?

No one is stopping your from doing the LongPac course, anytime. In fact, it would still count as your Singlehanded Transpac qualifier. You can take nothing with you, just the 3 required hand held flares and PFD required, no radio, no raft, no nothing. Will anything bad happen to you? Not likely.


Feature bloated safety equipment lists are a poor substitute for these qualities.They are not substitutes, they are aids for those that have developed "discretion and judgement".

pogen
05-20-2015, 11:16 AM
Except for the handheld DSC-VHF radio requirements (I can never figure out how many you are supposed to have) the gear requirements are actually slightly less for SSS or NCORC than they were in the past. Compare with OYRA requirements from 4 or 5 years ago, or if you are a real masochist, PacCup requirements from a few cycles ago.

pogen
05-20-2015, 11:22 AM
As to the LongPac, I'm 98% certain I will go, but no need to register and pay the fee so early.

I do have my 4-man proper liferaft rental booked, and I'm 100% certain I will lose my deposit if I don't go. ;)

pogen
05-20-2015, 11:24 AM
Oh, and just to do the LongPac I have equipped my boat with Class B AIS transmit/receive, so I will be slightly less likely to get hit by a freighter when I'm asleep.

Any more bitching and we may make that mandatory for everyone. :D

Harrier
05-20-2015, 01:05 PM
You don't have to do the LongPac to qualify for the SHTP. So you just sail the 400 miles alone, insuring you get the specified distance off shore (100 mi, I think), and provide whatever proof is necessary to have it count as your qualifier. It's what a lot of us did before the LongPac was ever invented. Obviously, when we entered the SHTP, we had to comply with a lot of requirements not needed to qualify as stated. And, believe me, these SHTP requirements changed (increased) as the years went by....no, I'm not sure why!

Now&Zen
07-10-2015, 01:39 PM
Hi folks,
I find this discussion very interesting. I thought I would provide my thoughts as someone who has participated in some of the decision making in the past.

First off, from my experience, there is no one involved in decision making who wants to make these Minimum Equipment Requirements longer or more expensive. This is certainly not a 'nanny state' type of organization. Every discussion around the required safety equipment involves consideration of the number of items required, the costs involved, weight and size as pertains to smaller boats, efficacy of the equipment as pertains to the race (in the bay vs. near shore, vs. offshore), and overly redundant requirements.

In addition, every pushback, comment or request for exception is taken seriously. These have always been discussed and considered and often times hotly debated. And every year the board gets plenty. From requests to allow dinghy racers to participate in the TBF, to folks wanting to race the HMB race with no lifelines, to pushback on the offshore MER.

The board also recognizes that every sailor has their own risk thresholds. Some would attempt to race to Hawaii in an open 12 foot boat, while others wouldn't do it on anything less than 40 feet with every available safety system onboard. As single handed sailors we all understand that and no one wants to get in the way of someone else doing what they want to do. However as an entity running organized races there are also certain responsibilities that come with the territory.

As an organization the board must step back and look at the bigger picture and include other factors into the decision making. What are those other factors? Some of them are: keeping the coast guard satisfied that we are running our races in a reasonably safe manner, making sure that insurance companies will continue to provide insurance to the organization, trying to stay fairly consistent with other race organizations so that racers who race in multiple series don't have to buy separate equipment for each one, making sure that a fairly novice racer who is relying on the SSS to provide an effective requirement list isn't underprepared, keeping races manageable for the race committee, and keeping the rules consistent for all racers.

I could discuss each one of these at length but for sake of brevity I will just touch upon a few. NorCal ocean racing is under increased scrutiny from the Coast Guard following the well publicized deaths in recent years. Insurance for clubs that run races is becoming difficult to obtain; last year working with 2 separate insurance brokers we were only able to find insurance with 1 company. If deaths in offshore racing continue to happen it will become more difficult and expensive to purchase insurance and the MER will definitely grow. While individual racers may have their own level of risk they are willing to take, the SSS has to set the threshold to reasonably protect the club and its volunteer officers. A single death in a race could wreak havoc on the club and the officers who participate.

Every sport has their minimum equipment. We as sailors have chosen to participate in an expensive sport and while the SSS does everything they can to keep costs down and participation and fun level high they can't just ignore the factors when making decisions.

So keep the discussion and push backs happening. If there is a reasonable, cheaper way to do something we all want to know. The discussions are very valuable. Just remember the the SSS has a lot of things to take into consideration when making decisions.

Tony B.

BobJ
07-10-2015, 06:02 PM
Well-written Tony. I don't agree with some of it but you already knew that.

Philpott
07-10-2015, 06:57 PM
Hi folks,
I find this discussion very interesting. I thought I would provide my thoughts as someone who has participated in some of the decision making in the past.

First off, from my experience, there is no one involved in decision making who wants to make these Minimum Equipment Requirements longer or more expensive. This is certainly not a 'nanny state' type of organization. Every discussion around the required safety equipment involves consideration of the number of items required, the costs involved, weight and size as pertains to smaller boats, efficacy of the equipment as pertains to the race (in the bay vs. near shore, vs. offshore), and overly redundant requirements.

In addition, every pushback, comment or request for exception is taken seriously. These have always been discussed and considered and often times hotly debated. And every year the board gets plenty. From requests to allow dinghy racers to participate in the TBF, to folks wanting to race the HMB race with no lifelines, to pushback on the offshore MER.

The board also recognizes that every sailor has their own risk thresholds. Some would attempt to race to Hawaii in an open 12 foot boat, while others wouldn't do it on anything less than 40 feet with every available safety system onboard. As single handed sailors we all understand that and no one wants to get in the way of someone else doing what they want to do. However as an entity running organized races there are also certain responsibilities that come with the territory.

As an organization the board must step back and look at the bigger picture and include other factors into the decision making. What are those other factors? Some of them are: keeping the coast guard satisfied that we are running our races in a reasonably safe manner, making sure that insurance companies will continue to provide insurance to the organization, trying to stay fairly consistent with other race organizations so that racers who race in multiple series don't have to buy separate equipment for each one, making sure that a fairly novice racer who is relying on the SSS to provide an effective requirement list isn't underprepared, keeping races manageable for the race committee, and keeping the rules consistent for all racers.

I could discuss each one of these at length but for sake of brevity I will just touch upon a few. NorCal ocean racing is under increased scrutiny from the Coast Guard following the well publicized deaths in recent years. Insurance for clubs that run races is becoming difficult to obtain; last year working with 2 separate insurance brokers we were only able to find insurance with 1 company. If deaths in offshore racing continue to happen it will become more difficult and expensive to purchase insurance and the MER will definitely grow. While individual racers may have their own level of risk they are willing to take, the SSS has to set the threshold to reasonably protect the club and its volunteer officers. A single death in a race could wreak havoc on the club and the officers who participate.

Every sport has their minimum equipment. We as sailors have chosen to participate in an expensive sport and while the SSS does everything they can to keep costs down and participation and fun level high they can't just ignore the factors when making decisions.

So keep the discussion and push backs happening. If there is a reasonable, cheaper way to do something we all want to know. The discussions are very valuable. Just remember the the SSS has a lot of things to take into consideration when making decisions.

Tony B.


Thank you for taking the time to write that, Tony. You made an articulate and persuasive case.