The life raft: little noticed but essential for survival in an emergency. Learn why this is and what life raft services are all about
Safety is our highest priority. We explain how we contribute to your travel safety by maintaining life rafts.
Ralf, everyone who has ever flown before knows that there are rescue slides on board airliners, which are used for evacuation and as life rafts in case of emergency. In business jets, there are life rafts, i.e. “lifeboats”, that are designed to ensure survival out on the ocean. Do passengers of business jets even think about this topic?
"Most passengers certainly don’t think of life rafts when they board an aircraft. It’s only in case of an emergency that they might think about it and be glad that these well-equipped life rafts are available.
A business jet flying long distances over open waters must be equipped with such life rafts as a matter of principle."
How should we visualize a life raft on board a business jet or helicopter, and where is it located?
"First of all, there may well be more than one life raft on board. Various factors, such as the type of aircraft, the maximum number of passengers, whether the aircraft is used privately or commercially and where it is registered determine the number of mandatory life rafts and their features.
Depending on the regulation that the aircraft is flying under, two life rafts might be required to ensure redundancy. This means that for example even if one life raft fails there will always be sufficient capacity for all people on board."
According to some regulations, you would have to be able to accommodate at least two life rafts on board. Life rafts take up quite a lot of space in the cabin, don't they?
"That’s correct. Depending on the placement options and customer requirements, there are different locations in the cabin that can accommodate the life rafts. The primary goal is to make the best use of the space in the cabin, so it may be easier to stow away three smaller life rafts than two larger ones.
We’re also happy to work together with our customers´ engineering about this on site and can recommend the optimal installation locations for each individually equipped cabin and the appropriate packing formats, of which there are many. The selection of options is therefore very large.
We always work with the goal of using the space in the cabin efficiently to provide more comfort for the passenger during flight. We have many years of experience in this area."
We perform the following services for Winslow life rafts:
(Re)Programming the emergency locator transmitter (ELT)
We simply stand behind the products of the Winslow Life Raft Company, and one of the reasons is that Winslow is a leader in innovation. Winslow invented and introduced vacuum packaging, which allows for a three-year maintenance cycle instead of one year. This saves the customer valuable time and money.
1. Life raft pressure test
The life raft is inflated with dry shop compressed air to check for pressure loss. Fluctuations in ambient temperature affect the pressure of the life raft. Afterward, the values are checked to ensure that they are within the tolerance range.
If we find air leaks, we repair them to restore the life raft to working order. We also handle replacement at the end of the life raft's service life. Of course, you can always order a new Winslow life raft directly from us at the regular Winslow list price.
2. Hydrostatic test of the cylinder
If you pull the painter line in an emergency, you activate the valve of the gas cylinder, which inflates the life raft with a CO2/N2 gas mixture. The gas cylinder is checked during the hydrostatic test. These tests are mandatory in aviation for all gas cylinder located on board, e.g. for oxygen or halon.
We inform our customers about current service bulletins from the manufacturers so that these can be taken into account during the next maintenance.
Ralf, what are the components of the ELT test?
"Life rafts are now equipped with modern 406 MHz ELTs, which transmit their signals directly to a SARSAT (search-and-rescue satellite) and thus enable much more precise location compared to older systems. These signals transmit other information in addition to the position, such as the aircraft registration, the ELT serial number and the Mode S transponder address of the aircraft. The ELT test involves checking the functionality of the ELT and life of the associated batteries, among other things."
And where exactly is the life raft’s ELT located when you need to reprogram it?
"It depends on the ELT type. Depending on the manufacturer of the ELT, it can be permanently installed in the life raft and it transmits automatically as soon as the life raft inflates. Or the ELT will be located in the SEP kit. The SEP kit is the “survival equipment pack.” Either it is located inside the life raft or it is attached to the outside of the raft as an additional external bag — the ditch kit."
4. Checking the SEP kit (survival equipment pack)
The required equipment for the SEP kit varies depending on where the business jet is registered. The individual elements of the SEP kit are checked for their functionality and expiration date and replaced, if necessary.
The SEP kit contains the following components:
After the overhaul, these components are combined into logical groups and vacuum packed separately before being stored in the SEP kit.
Food rations are available according to country-specific requirements and are tested for expiration and function just like flashlights and batteries.
The aerial flare and the laser flare are also checked, and their functionality is guaranteed until the next maintenance cycle.
The laser flare is another example of Winslow's innovative strength. As early as 2015, Winslow was the first manufacturer to equip its life rafts with laser flares as standard equipment. The laser flare is a type of laser flashlight that forms a fan with its beam. This laser fan allows for better visibility at sea.
The watermaker converts seawater into drinking water by reverse osmosis. During the overhaul, a measuring device is used to examine the produced drinking water via electrical conductivity for a particle density that cannot be exceeded (ppm = parts per million) in order to be able to guarantee the quality of the drinking water.
The completely closable canopy and its zippers are checked. The lights attached to the canopy, whose batteries react to water, and the light and radar reflective stickers on the life raft canopy are also tested. These radar reflectors reflect radar signals from ships and make the life raft appear larger on the radar screen than it is in reality. This makes it much easier to find the life raft.
The hand pump is checked for leaks. It is used to inflate the bottom of the life raft; the rest of the life raft, including the canopy, is inflated with the gas cylinder.
The first-aid kit, along with its traditional components and the medicinal supplies it contains, are checked for their expiration dates and replaced if necessary.
The SEP kit also includes a repair kit that can be used to patch the life raft in an emergency, as well as a compass and a whistle. The standard equipment of the SEP kit varies according to where the business jet is registered, which also changes the requirements for the overhaul.
A nylon drogue is automatically deployed and dampens the up-and-down movement of the life raft on the waves; the ballast bags underneath the life raft that automatically fill with water hold the life raft onto the surface of the water and prevent it from capsizing during strong winds and adverse weather conditions. These components are checked for possible defects.
Ralf, you said that the requirements for the contents of the SEP kits vary depending on the region where the business jet is registered. Does this mean that the SEP kit also has to be taken into consideration when the business jet is re-registered?
"Yes, exactly. For example, the part number of the life raft shows not only the life raft’s size and the ELT type but also the contents of the SEP kit. If the customer re-registers their aircraft, not only must the ELT be reprogrammed but the SEP kit also has to be checked to ensure it’s still the right one. If the SEP Kit is exchanged, then the part number of the life raft must also be changed."
Ralf, that sounds like a lot. Do you think it's not necessarily obvious what you're doing in the background?
"There is much more to a life raft overhaul than you might think at first. At most, the customer sees the packed life raft and can only guess at what’s inside. This is different from an order, that involves, for example, changing the interior, where every detail has to be discussed in advance."
Ralf, what happens at the end of the overhaul when you’re finished?
"At the end of the overhaul, we issue a certificate that certifies that the life raft will function for the next three years."
The certificate contains an:
- EASA dual release for European- and U.S.-registered aircraft (EASA Form 1 and FAA 8130-3)
Upon request, we can also issue a:
- Triple-Release (EASA Form 1; FAA 8130-3; TCCA) for European-, U.S.- and Canadian-registered business jets
"When the order is complete, the customer receives this certificate together with the SEP list and the shop report."
Ralf, what is the most demanding task during the overhaul?
"Actually, it’s packing the lifeboat (with a smile...). Everyone who’s bought an air mattress on vacation knows this. You take it out of its original packaging, and at the end of your vacation you’re confronted with having to get it back in there. This takes time, a lot of care and practice."
Our final question: Who are your customers?
"Our customers are other maintenance companies, business aircraft and helicopter operators, flight departments and private aircraft owners. Our contact persons to whom we provide advice and support on the subject of life rafts are employees from the operations planning departments, from the CAMO and the owners themselves. That is what we are here for."