To be of any use, the raft must make it out of the aircraft to be deployed. Making it out the door(s) or any other egress point (emergency exit, baggage door, window, etc.) is a function of size and weight. It is essentially unavoidable that both tend to increase in proportion to the capabilities of the raft. So, the least expensive and least capable rafts tend to be the lightest and smallest. But there are tradeoffs, as we shall see.
The Winslow RescueRafts, Survival Products single tube rafts and RFD Navigator are, by a big margin, the easiest to maneuver inside the confines of a small aircraft by dint of their small size and low weight. The RFD "R" series, BFGoodrich and Winslow rafts are at the other end of the scale, more difficult for sure, though not so unwieldy as to make them unreasonable. However, they are all heavy enough that it must be a consideration and not something to be taken lightly (did I really write that?). The Survival Products Type I, Hoover, EAM and Winslow single tube rafts lie between the two extremes.
In its older designs, BFGoodrich sometimes carried part of its survival supplies in an attached, but separate container. Winslow also offers this option in some pack configurations. This tends to complicate matters and possibly cause problems. We don't think this is a particularly elegant solution, but it is sometimes the only solution to the limited space available with some corporate aircraft interior configurations where space for life rafts seems to be an afterthought for the most part.
When you get to the 6-person and larger rafts, the weight and size increase can make getting the raft deployed much more problematic, particularly with the more capable rafts or in the tight cabin of a single or medium twin. While the larger versions of the rafts do become even heavier and more unwieldy, they are also used in larger aircraft with more accommodating cabin arrangements and exits. If you have any concerns about whether or not you can maneuver the raft within the cabin, I suggest trying it out beforehand if possible. If you cannot get an actual raft to test, you might want to consider assembling a box of the appropriate dimensions and weight to test with. It will do you no good if the raft goes down with the plane because you can't get it out.
Note that from my interviews of crash and ditching survivors, the adrenaline boost accompanying such an incident often makes it possible to perform many tasks that might otherwise be difficult or impossible. In addition, while we normally try to accomplish tasks with a minimum of mess, scrapes or damage to the interior of an aircraft, that is not a factor in an emergency. Keep these two points in mind as you consider what size and weight raft is acceptable.
High wing aircraft, such as the typical Cessna single, present less of a problem when it comes to weight. In most cases, the cabin will be at least partially flooded and submerged before the occupants can egress the aircraft. The positive buoyancy of the raft in the water reduces the effective weight of the raft, so it is easier to maneuver, though size is still a factor.
For larger aircraft, many operators have opted for multiple smaller rafts rather than one or two large rafts. This has both advantages and disadvantages, but on the whole, I think it is a better way to go.
The rafts are tightly packed in valises which are designed to open as the raft inflates. While hard sided fiberglass and plastic containers are used in some corporate and commercial installations, the soft sided (something of a misnomer as they are packed hard as rocks, nearly) valise is the most common in general aviation and this is what we tested for the most part. The only exceptions were the original prototype BFGoodrich raft which was hard packed since the valises had not yet been finalized at that time and one Winslow 10-person raft that they sent specifically so we could evaluate their hard pack. Both hard packs functioned well and both dropped clear from their mooring/inflation lines so they didn't pose a hazard to either raft or survivors.
In the valise configuration the raft is secured inside the tough fabric valise with either metal snaps, Velcro or lacings. During our tests and on many other occasions, users often began by peeling open the valise instead of uncovering the inflation release handle or line. The "R" series RFD are the only ones I have not seen this happen with. In many instances this is the result of either poor inflation instructions or basic design deficiencies.
TIP: If you ever have to use a life raft, remember, you do not normally open the valise, just pull the inflation handle or mooring line. If the raft fails to inflate, which can be caused by a number of things, open the raft valise and pull the raft loose. Locate the inflation cylinder and often you can then manually pull out the wire lanyard of the inflation valve trigger. If that doesn't work, or if the valve has already been activated and the raft didn't inflate, locate the manual inflation pump which is tied to the raft (it may be inside a protective pouch and may need to have the valve adapter screwed onto the pump), find a topping valve and start pumping. No, it isn't easy and it will take a long time to fully inflate the raft, half an hour for a smaller raft, but it can be done. As soon as the raft is partially inflated, you can get inside it and that generally makes it easier.
The Survival Products rafts are packed in a two piece dark red valise. One half contains the raft, the other half the optional SEP. They are connected together with Velcro on all four sides, resulting in a very secure attachment that is not likely to separate. A black nylon webbing handle is attached to both the raft and the SEP on one side with a plastic cable tie connecting them.
Valise sizes (inches):
- "4 to 6 person" unapproved - 14 x 12 x 7 1/4 incl. Optional "Deluxe" SEP (14 x 12 x 3 1/4)
- 6-person Type II TSO'd - 16 x 13 x 7 1/2 incl. SEP (16 x 13 x 3 1/2)
- 4-person Type II TSO'd - 19 x 13 x 9 1/2 incl. SEP (19 x 13 x 4 1/2)
On the Survival Products rafts it was particularly difficult to find the inflation line and to read the instructions. There are no instructions or guidance on either primary face of the valise or at the top where the carry handles are. On its side, at the corner, printed in small ¼ inch black letters on the dark red material, are the instructions. A loop of black nylon webbing, which serves as the inflation handle, is Velcro'd to the valise. One volunteer could not locate the release until shown. Experience has shown this is not unusual. In the dark or with minimal lighting, the lack of contrast would make it even more difficult. If you use or own one of these rafts, it is especially important to brief everyone how to inflate the raft, because it is not obvious.
Both Hoover and EAM use similar designs for their smaller single tube designs, bright yellow valises in a square configuration similar to SPI. These rafts are a bit larger, typically about 17 x 19 x 6 1/2 inches for a four person single tube raft, add another 3 1/2 to 4 inches for a Part 135 kit. A single white nylon webbing handle is attached to one side. Instead of Velcro, they use metal snaps to secure the valise closed. This is not quite as secure as using Velcro and we have often found a raft with one or more of these snaps unfastened.
The 6-person Type I Hoover's valise was rectangular 29 1/2 x 15 x 10 with one-inch Velcro and nylon lacing holding the valise together. The SEP is contained inside the valise, in its own separate pack, constructed similarly to the large valise with snaps to close it up.
Both companies use black instructions on the yellow valise fabric. Hoover's are that are stenciled on and aren't quite as dark, making them more difficult to read. Both are no more than adequate when new, but become inadequate when they start to wear off. Unfortunately, this doesn't take too long in our experience, especially with the stenciled instructions.
The directions are adequate, if not great. On both rafts the inflation instructions are in smaller print than the manufacturer's name and general information about the raft. The instructions are on the top face of the raft with an arrow pointing to the side where the mooring line and inflation handle is located. The Hoover instructions are positively tiny and would be difficult to read in dim light or for many people who require glasses. In any case, without fail, each volunteer started out by trying to unsnap the metal snaps of the single tube raft valises.
The end of the mooring/inflation lines are protected under bright orange flaps with snaps to hold them in place. EAM labels this clearly, Hoover doesn't.
The RFD Navigator came in a semi-opaque yellow coated nylon "suitcase" or "attaché" style valise which is secured with one inch Velcro along the edge of the top and two ends. A pair of black nylon strap handles are attached to both sides near the top, to be gripped together over the top for carry. The Velcro seal was not very secure and was easily undone. It would come apart readily if snagged. The raft is not extremely tightly compacted into the valise as with the other rafts and there was no tendency for it to "explode" if the seam was partially opened. The valise has an exterior pocket, 11 1/2 x 9 1/4 x 1 1/4 inches, that can be used to store additional survival supplies, a nice touch, especially since it is only modestly equipped with survival gear.
This is really a great idea for any minimally equipped unapproved rafts. Purchasers of such rafts often have their own survival supplies and equipment that they plan to use as a supplement to the minimal equipment included with the raft. Its a lot better if this is attached to the rafts as opposed to being in a separate container. Such a pocket or storage compartment could be permanently attached to the raft valise, like the Navigator, or be removable, attached with Velcro, for example. This would make it easier to utilize the storage compartment in the raft without having to deal with the rest of the valise. Ideally, the storage compartment would be tethered to the raft itself so that if the mooring line had to be cut or released, these supplies would not be lost.
All text on the valise was in dark black on the yellow fabric. The manufacturer's name was in the largest type, by a significant margin, and is located on both sides of the valise. The size of the rafts was next largest, on one side. In the lower corner of one side of the valise are the instructions for inflation in readily readable, if not particularly large, type. The instructions say to "attach cord to aircraft," but there is no means, such as a clip, provided to do so. The pull cord is secured under a Velcro'd flap. After turning the valise over a couple times and then reading the instructions, our volunteer tried to rip open the Velcro seams.
RFD noted they had 167 different custom valise configurations for the "R" series raft (in 1996). Ours appeared to be a standard generic valise, similar to the one shown in the RFD promotional and training video I was subsequently given by RFD. The round, duffel shaped valise of yellow heavy polyurethane coated fabric was laced across the top and down both ends. The lacing was very thin, almost threadlike in appearance, but obviously plenty strong since we were unable to pull it apart. I liked the lack of any Velcro, since no one can possible be tempted to try and open a nonexistent Velcro'd seam.
A pair of long handles are attached to the sides which are can be grabbed at the top or carried separately. These handles were white two inch nylon webbing, sewn over to form a one inch grip that was easy to grasp. The webbing wraps completely under the valise from one side to the other. The handles did not stay in place on top, but flopped down at the sides making it difficult to grab with a single hand. The floppy handles were annoying and could potentially slow down deployment. A break-away tie or Velcro would be useful to hold them together in storage.
At each end were a parallel pair of small grab handles, one on either side of the seam, made of one inch nylon webbing. This is a good idea, making it easy to pull or carry the raft from the end(s), if necessary.
Information is stenciled in black on the valise fabric and was well worn and not particularly dark on my well traveled test sample. This is a common problem on rafts with stenciled, as opposed to screenprinted, text. All the information on the top/sides of the valise is manufacturer's data with the exception of the word "PULL" near one end along with an arrow pointing to the end of the valise. This is not particularly noticeable unless you are looking for it, nor very clear instructions.
On the end are two flaps located on either side of the seam at the bottom, one orange with black trim, the other yellow with gray trim, each secured with button snaps. Instructions are stenciled on the flaps in black and are not particularly easy to read. In addition, because of the slightly bulbous nature of the end of the valise, neither were able to be read without standing the valise up on end. Hanging out from the yellow flap on the seam side of the flap is the mooring line with its heavy clip. This clip is not secured to anything. Under the orange flap, labeled only "Short Mooring Line," was a steel ring attached to the immediate inflation line. It took a while for the volunteer to locate the inflation instructions and mooring line. I was not impressed by the instructions, they were not easily found or seen and the identification of the immediate inflation line was virtually useless for anyone not familiar with the raft.
Air Cruisers' valises are yellow with nylon lacing used exclusively to hold them together, no opportunity for missteps during deployment. The smaller raft's valise measured 21 x 19 1/2 x 12 1/2 inches and the larger was 40 x 17 x 6 1/2 inches. One of our rafts was vacuum packed, a $300 option for when space is at a premium, and a feature we like for the added protection it offers. However, we had some problems as a result of Air Cruisers' vacuum packing which we didn't much like.
Most critical information is screenprinted black on a white placard on the face of the raft, very easy to read. The largest text on the placard is used for the size and operating instructions and is immediately noticeable, an excellent feature. Stenciled in even larger size, though with very narrow lines, in red on the yellow valise were the instructions, "INFLATE THIS SIDE UP." We didn't, assuming that instructions often are not seen or followed in an emergency, and it didn't seem to make any difference. In dim light, these instructions, even though so much larger, didn't stand out nearly as well as the black on white inflation instructions.
Wide white nylon webbing handles are attached to each end of the smaller raft, two at each end of the larger raft as well as a pair on each long side. Plenty of places to grab hold of the awkward larger raft, which is good.
At one end is an orange flap with a single snap that retains the mooring/inflation line. There was no immediate inflation handle. Instructions on the flap were in both English and Spanish. The large snap clip on the end of the mooring/inflation line hangs loose and the mooring/inflation line itself is just gathered under the flap, hanging out both ends. We prefer a more secure retention and protection of the mooring/inflation line and clip. Under the flap is the excellent large aluminum grip that would typically be used for immediate inflation, except it is secured to the far end of the inflation line so you still need to pull all the line out to inflate it. Makes no sense to us.
The Winslow rafts we tested shared common valise designs. However, since our tests, Winslow has introduced a new design for their RescueRaft line and we have since evaluated it. Materials are all the same. These valises are constructed of bright yellow PCF with nylon laces on both sides and a two inch wide Velcro closure across the top center and down the ends. The standard valises are designed to lay flat, as opposed to standing on a narrow end like a briefcase, but optional side handles are available for that sort of storage configuration or if they need to be slid out of from under something. A pair of 2-inch wide orange nylon webbing handles are attached parallel to the center Velcro seam on either side. On smaller rafts they can be gripped with one hand, on larger rafts they can each be gripped separately by two people carrying the valise together. End handles would be nice, the larger rafts with longer valises were somewhat awkward to carry in the normal configuration. We were unable to separate the Velcro'd halves by pulling the handles apart. It was even difficult to separate the Velcro manually, though it didn't stop some from attempting it. In view of people's penchant for trying to do so, that is probably a good thing.
Valise sizes (inches):
- 4-person RescueRaft II - 19 x 13 x 6
- 4-person GAST Island Flyer - 25 x 14 1/2 x 9
- 4-person FAAV Ultima - 28 x 17 x 8
- 12-person FAAV Ultima - 36 x 17 x 10
- 4-person FAAV (UL) Ultra-Light - 26 x 17 x 8
- 10-person FAAV (UL)Ultra-Light Hard Pack - 32 x 17 1/2 x 7 1/2
- 12-person FAAV (UL) Ultra-Light - 32 x 18 x 9
The rafts are festooned with a variety of tags and placards, five or six in all, unapproved and approved, respectively. Starting with the laminated tags, there is a red with black printing double sided "Handle With Care" tag and a white Build Log tag. This is rather interesting, actually. Each of the workers who had a hand in building the raft sign a card which is then laminated and attached to the raft. Obviously intended as both a marketing tool and a motivational tool for the employees, it's a nice touch. There is also a tag with detailed deployment instructions on one side and immediate action instructions on the other, black printing on white paper. This is a excellent idea, allowing anyone with the time or interest to review significantly more complete directions for use. It would be nice if they made it more obvious that there is something different, and useful, on the obverse side of the card, many didn't bother turning it over. We'd also prefer that it was attached with a more substantial cable tie. In at least one case this tag was lost in handling.
The placards are black printing on orange fabric, sewn to the valise. There is sufficient contrast to be easy to read. Unfortunately, there is no delineation between manufacturer's certification and data information, maintenance warnings and inflation directions, they all look the same. It is a potentially confusing array of information, some important to the emergency user, some not important at all, all begging for attention. In my opinion, inflation and operation directions should be clearly and obviously differentiated from non-operational information. This is a problem common to all the rafts, but Winslow's use of the high visibility orange background to call attention to the placards, which is theoretically a great idea, is somewhat defeated because of this.
The most attention getting orange placard, with a large title block boldly reversed out for extra noticeability, says "WARNING!" and deals with the necessity for annual maintenance of the raft and its equipment by an authorized service center. While I agree it is important information and possibly appropriate to have such information on the valise, it is hardly anything the person using the raft in a ditching needs to worry about or needs to have their attention attracted to. The manufacturer's data block placard includes the words "LIFE RAFT" in very large block letters, which is potentially useful information I suppose, and then in much smaller text also includes the manufacturer's name and model number, weight and other pertinent information. It is also an orange placard, more non-essential information clamoring for attention in an emergency. Another orange placard with very large and eye-grabbing text proclaims the fact that the raft is patented. I'm sure the marketing types think this is important, but I can assure you that nobody about to use this raft gives a hoot.
On another orange placard are the actual directions for use of the mooring line and subsequent inflation. These instructions easy to read, but not nearly as attention grabbing as they might otherwise be because they are the same color as the non-essential information, smaller text than much of it, and there's been no effort to attract your attention to them. The instructions to "lift flap" are easily misunderstood and resulted in some testers trying to completely separate the Velcro'd flap covering the entire mooring/inflation line, which isn't necessary. The medium sized clip is secured to a small loop of fabric, preventing it from coming adrift inadvertently. One tester had some minor difficulty unhooking the clip from this loop. Both an attention getting title block of some sort and an arrow would also be helpful here.
On the TSO'd rafts, there is also an immediate inflation handle located on the opposite end of the raft in the prescribed location. A pocket with a Velcro'd flap retains the steel D-ring "ripcord" handle. The orange placard has clear instructions, though some sort of tab would make it easier to lift the flap itself.
The placards are on the side of the raft, not the face. For the most part, they are at least visible from above with the raft in its normal resting position, but you cannot necessarily easily read them from there. The good news is that our volunteers were all able to locate the instructions and properly deploy the raft using the mooring line. However, they failed to notice the immediate inflation handle on all but two of the TSO'd rafts. As we have noted previously, we'd really like to see some directions on the face of the raft directing users to look on the sides for the operating instructions, "Mooring/Inflation Line Here" and "Immediate Inflation Here" with arrows and basic instructions would do the job nicely.
The BFGoodrich hard case was virtually the same as used with previous rafts, with one important change. Since most rafts are sold with soft valises, I won't dwell on the hard case.
The BFGoodrich yellow valise was of standard box style construction and far more secure than previous designs. The 4-person was 18 x 14 x 11 inches, the 12-person was 31 x 15 x 9 inches. The valises are held together with a Velcro seam along the middle of the top surface with yellow Velcro matching the valise fabric. Use of a matching color Velcro is a good idea because the seam is far less obvious and less likely to attract the attention of a user who may try to open it.
The valise and white plastic case lay flat. The case has a pair of red nylon web hand holds on each side. The valises have white webbing handles, two on the face of the smaller raft, a pair along the side of the larger. BFGoodrich uses all orange placards as well, with the attendant possibility of confusion for users. The data placard is the largest by far, a bright orange label with black printing, top center. Next largest was another orange label with the instructions "eject this end first" with an arrow pointing at the end. At the other end of the case top is another orange placard label with operating instructions in small, though readable, type. The instructions are clear, just lots smaller than I'd care to see. There is no arrow indicating that the inflation line is on the side of the raft adjoining the placard, though it is pretty hard to miss the hardware at that end.
BFGoodrich uses red one inch nylon webbing sewn into a triangular shape for an immediate inflation handle. It is Velcro'd flat to the valise on two legs of the triangle. With one side of the triangle unsecured, it is very easy for it to be hooked on something inadvertently and the raft accidentally inflated, a potentially deadly occurrence inside an aircraft cabin. If better secured, it would be difficult to grab something Velcro'd down flat against an object, yet it could still be hooked and inadvertently inflated.
There are no adjoining directions or identification of the immediate inflation handle on the end of the case or valise. These are located on the top surface only. It might easily be selected for inflation, since it stands out so boldly in comparison to the mooring/inflation line, even if that would be inappropriate.
Next to the webbed immediate inflation handle is an orange fabric sleeve which contains the white mil-spec parachute cord mooring/inflation line (referred to as a "firing" line by BFGoodrich on the placard). Identification and partial instructions to attach the snap to the aircraft are stenciled on the sleeve in black and are reasonably clear, if not very complete, but partially obscured by the line and snap itself. Nor is it easy to read the last line on the case installation since it is under the curve of the sleeve. The small, lightweight snap is clipped to the end of the sleeve, but was very easy to slide off. This isn't a particularly secure design.
BFGoodrich has made an important change in the way they attach the hard case to the raft. They have finally re-designed the hard case so that both halves are jettisoned upon inflation. On prior designs, the bottom half was retained on the mooring line, which entered through a metal grommet. This half case has the potential to cut or injure both survivors in the water and the raft itself.
Operation and inflation instructions and attendant operating hardware should be distinctive, easily viewed when the raft is laying in its normal position, stand out clearly and be immediately obvious to a person ignorant of these matters. None of the rafts meet all these conditions. All the emergency information should be colored consistently and uniquely, whatever color combination is used, so it is obvious what is important to read and what is not. All mooring and inflation instructions should be immediately visible when viewing the raft from its normal resting position. When appropriate, instructions to turn the raft over should be provided so that even if the raft is inadvertently inverted the user knows he must turn it over for instructions. Printing for emergency information should be the largest and boldest consistent with the available space.
Differentiation between the immediate inflation handle, when present, and mooring/inflation line should be clear as to which is what and which should be used under what circumstances. All non-emergency maintenance and data information should be designed so as to be less attention getting, and preferably, not be positioned immediately next to emergency information. Non-critical, non-emergency information should not be the same color, as critical and emergency information, further reducing the chance of confusion.
While the TSO doesn't specifically call out for an immediate inflation handle, we think it's an excellent idea and most raft manufacturers have interpreted the TSO in this manner, since it's the most logical approach to the design. We'd like to see this feature added to non-TSO'd rafts. We define "immediate" as the ability to deploy the raft with a single pull of the immediate inflation handle. That means the connection to the inflation valve should not require a pull longer than a couple feet.
The TSO requires a "parachute ripcord grip" for inflation. Apparently there is wide interpretation of this section of the TSO by all concerned. When originally written, a parachute ripcord grip was a triangular handle comprised of 3/16 inch diameter metal rod with four inch sides. Over time, other types of devices have come to be used on parachutes as the sport became more sophisticated and this type handle has virtually disappeared.
Our interpretation of the spirit of this specification is that such a grip should be large enough to be easily grasped with the entire hand to facilitate a rapid inflation, just as the original parachute ripcord grip was.
The mooring static line we refer to as the "mooring/inflation line" because is also serves as an inflation actuator on all the rafts. According to the TSO, "the ripcord grip or the attached static mooring line must be provided with means for attachment to the aircraft." As with the grip, interpretation of this varies widely. Our interpretation of the spirit of this specification is that there should be some manner of clip at the end of the mooring/inflation line to facilitate quick and foolproof attachment of the line to the aircraft. Alternatively, the grip itself must be designed to accomplish this task.
Of the TSO'd rafts, Air Cruisers is the only one with a grip we think meets the spirit of the TSO. The large "T" shaped aluminum handle is four inches wide and easily gripped even with gloves on. What we cannot fathom is why they would attach it at the far end of the mooring/inflation line where it doesn't really do a lot of good. As such, these rafts do not have an immediate inflation handle and Air Cruiser's excellent effort is wasted. A robust and easily operated stainless steel carabiner style clip is affixed to the end o the mooring/inflation line.
At one time Winslow used a full size triangular grip, but their current stainless steel 2 5/16 inch D-ring is not really adequate in our opinion, it really needs to be larger. It works, but doesn't seem to be in keeping with the generally high quality and performance oriented attitude we've come to expect of Winslow. Winslow's stainless steel snap clip at the end of the mooring line is not quite as large as Air Cruisers, but it is still substantial and robust and works great. There is also a hand loop sewn into the end of the mooring/inflation line, a nice touch.
RFD uses a modestly sized steel ring for immediate inflation. This ring is too small to easily grasp, in my opinion, an especially salient point since the idea is that the survivor is ostensibly supposed to hold onto it and keep the raft close to the ditched aircraft for a dry boarding in this specialty design. In many conditions this requires considerable strength and a couple fingers worth of grip may not be enough.
The mooring line is equipped with a very robust heavy duty spring clip. The spring clip is so stiff that in our tests some volunteers were unable to readily attach it to anything and it was virtually impossible for many to clip it back on the line itself. I generally applaud the use of sturdy fittings, but when the average person cannot easily operate the snap, it's too much. Not everyone is a burly oil field worker. For that matter, not everyone transported to an offshore oil platform is a burly oil field worker.
EAM has a small two inch diameter steel ring immediate action grip and only a loop at the end of the line. Obviously, the ring is too small. Hoover, Survival Products, and the RFD Navigator lacked any immediate action handle and only have a loop at the end of the mooring/inflation line.
Without a snap fitting of some sort, the only way to attach the line to the aircraft would be to tie it to something. That is far too time consuming and too subject to error to be acceptable. Not everyone is a Boy Scout who knows their knots. I consider this a significant omission. On the TSO'd Hoover and EAM rafts, I can't see how this could meet the TSO specification without severely stretching one's interpretation of the TSO requirement. The lack of an inflation handle on the Hoover rafts is even more confusing, the TSO is very specific about what is required. I believe that an immediate action inflation handle of adequate size, like the ripcord grip specified in the TSO, is a very important feature.
BFGoodrich has replaced their traditional triangular anodized red aluminum parachute ripcord grip with a "handle" constructed of red 1 inch nylon webbing sewn into a triangular shape which would is Velcro'd flat to the valise on two sides. This design is taken from the manual inflation handle used on some transport category aircraft slide rafts. Worth noting is that these are designed to be used by trained personnel.
I have a number of concerns about this concept, besides the fact that it doesn't technically meet the TSO in our opinion. If it was an acceptable substitute, I wouldn't mind, but as installed, with one side of the triangle unsecured, it is very easy for it to be hooked on something inadvertently and the raft accidentally inflated, a potentially deadly occurrence inside an aircraft cabin. If better secured on all three sides, it would be difficult to grab something Velcro'd down flat against an object. Finally, it is not quite as easily recognizable as being an inflation handle by someone unfamiliar with it, whereas the ripcord grip or ring are easily recognized as something to grab and pull.
The snap on the BFGoodrich rafts is a very small spring steel snap that is really only adequate to loop the line around something and then snap back on the line itself.
The mooring/inflation lines varied in length from too short to excessive:
|Mooring/Inflation Line Length|
|Life Raft||Length Overall||Deployment Length*|
|SPI (TSO'd)||20' 4''||3' 2''|
|Hoover Type II||18||-|
|Hoover Type I||20' 9''||14' 1''|
|RFD "R" series||41'||35|
|BFG||31' 4''||22' 4''|
|* Point at which inflation valve is activated. Not measured prior to 2000 test.|
The TSO calls for "at least 20 ft." and we think 30 to 40 ft. is a practical length. The idea behind the mooring line is to prevent the raft from being blown away, out of reach. Yet, it also has to be allowed to extend far enough away to not be imperiled by the aircraft as it goes under. The RFD Navigator with its 6 ft. line is hardly even worth referring to as a mooring line. Too long just means survivors may have to spend longer in the water getting to the raft or longer to pull it to the floating aircraft, neither of which is a good idea.
The mooring line itself comes in a variety of configurations. BFG uses thin white parachute cord that is not easy to grip and can easily slip or cut into the hand when pulling it to inflate. It is also not easily seen in the water and impossible to grip or feel with cold hands. Air Cruisers uses a green 5/16 inch wide flat braided line. Winslow previously used red, white and blue (very patriotic) one inch nylon webbing, but has now switched to red nylon webbing, a better color choice. This is wide enough to be easily seen and gripped, no matter what. RFD uses white ¼ inch braided nylon. The line is colored red at a point 15 ft. from the inflation point (a CAA requirement), a nice touch, if the user has been informed of the significance. There is also a white/blue "short mooring line," approximately 6 ft long, not quite "immediate" inflation. Survival Products has 3/4 inch wide black nylon webbing, difficult to see in the dark or dim light. Hoover and EAM use &3189; inch thin nylon tape which is better than parachute cord, but not nearly as good as the bulky and easy to handle lines used by Winslow or RFD.
TIP: One question that constantly arises is whether attaching the mooring line to the aircraft is such a good idea. Those who ask are concerned that the raft will be pulled under if the plane sinks. This is not really a concern. The mooring line is designed to break or release in some manner well before reaching the buoyancy rating of the raft. I have spoken to survivors who have had occasion to see if this works, and it has.
On the other hand, failure to attach the raft to the aircraft can result in loss of the raft if the wind or current is very strong. No survivor can swim fast enough to catch a raft that is being blown away. I have witnessed this time and again at various survival schools. Secure the raft to the plane or, if alone, to yourself. If the plane remains afloat, which does happen, it makes for a larger object to be sighted by searchers and slows down your drift.
A nice feature shared by the Winslow, BFGoodrich and Hoover rafts is that anyone following the mooring line to the raft ends up at the primary boarding position. On the EAM and Survival Products rafts the line is attached to the inflation cylinder, away from the boarding location. The RFD "R" series had the mooring line attached to the raft at the secondary boarding point, not the one with the primary boarding ramp. Not a problem on their larger rafts with two ramps, but a serious problem, in my opinion, on the smaller rafts with only a single ramp since the secondary boarding point is ill-equipped with only a minimum of entry aids. It would be far better to have the mooring line go to the single boarding ramp. The mooring line should always bring survivors to an entry point with the best boarding aids.
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