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Monday, March 16, 2015

WHEN DID YOU LAST CHECK YOUR INFLATABLE LIFE JACKETS

Envoy is currently in Lefkas marina for the Med winter.
Safety is a prime concern aboard Envoy and we aim to check all safety equipment according to manufacturers’ recommendations. But last year in Lefkas marina we had very-red faces when most of our pristine-looking inflatable life jackets failed their safety test. As well as foam-buoyancy offshore jackets we carry eight inflatable jackets fitted with crotch straps, retro-reflective tape, lifting rings, whistles and strobe lights. These all looked like new, some still in their original packing, and we wrongly assumed that because they'd only been used for drills without inflation and not used in the water they didn’t need testing. How wrong we were.
The inflatable jackets are all a well-known US brand and we’d never had them professionally tested during the seven years we’d owned Envoy before having them tested by Ionian Marine Safety (IMS) at Lefkas Marina in Greece. This turned out to be a wise and potentially life-saving decision, though one we should have taken much earlier. Imagine our shock when IMS’s Nikos Stamatakis reported that only two of our eight pristine-looking jackets passed the test. He apparently detected our surprise as he invited us to visit his workshop where he patiently explained the problems to us at first hand.
IMS service about 600 lifejackets and a similar number of life rafts annually, so Nikos is very knowledgeable and experienced. He explained that a lifejacket should be professionally checked annually, in particular after the first two or three years, and if well looked after could last up to 10 years. As lifejackets are likely to be our last line of defense in an emergency his advice sounds excellent, especially considering the small cost involved at €8 (about NZ$12) each for the two certified jackets and no cost for testing the failed ones. Nikos then showed us the problems with our jackets, explaining they are common faults.
The biggest problem occurs with the oral inflation tubes as they can tear away from the main body of the jacket, particularly as they age when the tubes become more rigid and exert more leverage. The tubes can also develop air leaks through their valves, even within a very few years from new.
Some of our jackets also had another common fault; air leaks through pinholes in the thermally welded jacket seams.
Many jackets are inflated using compressed air cylinders, and although our cylinders were like new Nikos showed us how regularly used jackets often have corroded cylinders that abrade and damage the jacket material causing air leaks.

Nikos shows Laurie a rusty air cylinder

For jackets with water activated inflation valves Nikos suggests replacement of their inflation bobbins every two years. Hydrostatically activated jackets don’t have this issue but are prone to invisible cracks in the transparent gasket joining the hydrostatic device to the jacket.
We also saw some jackets sent in for testing by other cruisers which had been incorrectly re-packed after use making them impossible to deploy quickly and safely. For example the straps, which are supposed to be left loose within the outer cover had been tied in bundles in an apparent attempt at neatness and this would have prevented inflation. Others had holes which had been patched using bicycle puncture repair kits - definitely not allowed.

Life jacket with “illegal” bicycle puncture repair

While there is no doubt that inflatable jackets are a great deal more comfortable and convenient to wear while moving around the vessel (because while not inflated they are very compact), we were surprised how fragile the jackets appeared to be when worn fully inflated, giving us the impression they could easily become damaged if snagged on a sharp protrusion - if we ever need to use them we’ll be taking some traditional style jackets along too.

Laurie wearing a life jacket before inflation using the cartridge

And after

Nikos shows Laurie the correct arms position for jumping in the water with an inflated jacket, to reduce the chance of neck injury


Monday, March 02, 2015

LUCKY ENVOY

Envoy is safely tucked away at Lefkas Marina.
During February we received an email headed “Lucky Envoy” from Andreas of Sailand, the company looking after Envoy while she’s in the marina.
By way of background Envoy’s 12 volt start and house battery banks are charged from shore power through an isolation transformer to a 220 volt charger. However the 24 volt bow thruster bank has a 120 volt charger so needs to be charged using our inverter to generate 120 volts while the house bank is on charge. Andreas explained that when their electrician went aboard for a routine battery charge and turned on the inverter, he noticed a very significant increase in amps, leading him to inspect the bow thruster bank. On checking it he immediately noticed some heat coming from the battery bank so immediately turned the inverter off. A closer inspection revealed a positive battery cable, which had not been properly secured when this bank was installed in Turkey. It had rubbed against a battery terminal causing abrasion of the cable’s insulation and eventually a short circuit.
Andreas considers that had this not been noticed a major fire could easily have developed – hence the title “Lucky Envoy”. It’s reassuring to know the Sailand guys are alert and on the ball.

Abraded battery bank insulation nearly caused a fire