An insulated floor can be a vital asset, and is a critical design feature for rafts that might be used in colder waters. It does a fair job of insulating the occupants from the colder water temperatures and combats deadly hypothermia. Even in warmer waters it can make a difference. Inflatable floors also provides an additional floatation cell, adding another measure of redundancy. When inflated, the floor serves to isolate the survivors from the bumping of the underside of the raft by fish and other denizens of the sea, something most survivors have reported as being very uncomfortable. Our volunteers noticed the difference in comfort, even with the warm water in which they were floating.
The inflatable floors must be inflated by hand with the manual pump. The ease with which this is accomplished depends in part on the effectiveness of the pump.
Survival Products, EAM and Hoover do not offer inflatable floors. Neither of the RFD rafts are equipped with an inflatable floor at the present time. Depending upon the load and sea conditions, the "R" series rafts may keep the floor off the water surface, a big help. However, this is by no means guaranteed as with an inflatable floor and not likely with a full load. In the worst weather, when you need insulation of this feature the most, it will not suffice. Further, there is no additional floatation provided. RFD have indicated they will be offering both an inflatable and an insulated floor option for the "R" series rafts in the future.
Winslow includes an inflatable floor in the approved rafts. It is optional on all other Winslow rafts (varies with raft size, starting at $250 for a 4-person raft). Winslow has improved their floor by adding more reeds for a total of five. (A "reed" is a connection between the upper and lower layer to keep the floor from bulging up like a balloon. Think of it as tufting, as is used in furniture.) Larger rafts could still use a few more reeds, though it is adequate, if not perfect now. The inflation valve is in the center and easy to get at.
There is a conspicuous orange placard on the canopy arch tube, "IF COLD - INFLATED FLOOR WITH PUMP & CLOSE CANOPY." Since few who aren't trained will likely quickly recognize the inflatable floor for what it is, this is an excellent idea. Next to the valve is an identical placard as well as a even bolder placard, "VALVE - INSERT PUMP TO INFLATE" with arrows pointing to the valve. Because the orange placards are so noticeable, they are more effective than just a stencil. The explanatory text also helps a great deal. Finally, the inflatable floor is specifically mentioned on the immediate action instructions card hanging from the he canopy arch. Inflation is relatively easy, the male pump adapter locks fairly securely into the female valve, though it does take a fair amount of force.
BFGoodrich includes an inflatable floor in all its rafts. They are equipped with long reeds that run across the floor, two in the smaller rafts, three in the larger ones. The floor valve is recessed, which gets it out of the way but this also makes it much harder to insert the pump and it collects water. The inflation valve is offset and located near the edge of the floor rather than in its center. While this helps with inserting the already difficult to insert pump, compared to if it was in the center, this also means it is not easily accessible to all and potentially less likely to be noticed by anyone if they aren't already aware of it. It is also not very comfortable to sit on, even if it is recessed. The not very explanatory red stenciled placard next to the valve says simply "HAND PUMP FITTING" with a small arrow. It also isn't very noticeable which is compounded by the fact that someone is likely going to be sitting on it due to its location.
Air Cruisers uses a thin closed-cell foam for insulation. That eliminates any need for manually inflating the floor, which is an advantage. It is glued to the interior of life raft floor and has a very lightweight fabric covering. They claim it is equivalent to a one inch air space. We are not convinced it is the equal of the inflatable floors. It also proved to be extremely vulnerable to damage. Even the minimal abuse of our short test resulted in large chunks and sections being ripped up from the floor. Without some added protection from the normal abuse it would be subject to, it is simply unsuitable for life raft use in our opinion.
Interior grab lines are very important in anything other than calm to moderate seas. Without something to grab onto for support, survivors can be tossed about the inside of the life raft. If there is no canopy or if the canopy is open or not well secured, they can even be tossed out of the raft.
The unapproved Survival Products rafts have no interior grab lines. The Type II TSO'd raft has only a 1-inch black webbing line that runs across the center of the raft from one entry to the other, secured at both ends and the middle. It doesn't extend fully from side to side. This is a sorry excuse for a grab line and unsuitable and inadequate in our opinion.
Hoover and EAM use 1-inch white nylon tape, strung along the interior of the tube, which can be uncomfortable to grasp. There is little slack and the thin line bites into your hand.
The RFD Navigator also uses 1 inch white nylon tape for its grab lines. The grab line only extends around the two sides and rear, not the front, a significant failing.
The RFD "R" series raft was also equipped with 1 inch white nylon tape lines. The interior grab line is attached to the floor, not the tube, in an octagon approximately midway between the tube and the center. I tested all lines and attachment points on all rafts as best I could, by pulling hard against them, first with arm strength, then using my legs where appropriate. The RFD was the only raft on which I experienced a failure. The grab line was ripped from its attachment point using only a single arm's strength (and, I'm no gorilla), obviously far short of its TSO (TSO C70a 4.9) required 500 pound minimum strength. (NOTE: This was a demonstration raft and no doubt subject to abuse prior to our test, so I cannot draw any firm conclusions from this failure, but it was disconcerting.) The tape is also not as comfortable to hold onto as wider or more substantial webbing would be.
I did find that the floor mounted interior grab line was more comfortable to hold onto, as far as seating position goes, compared to tube mounted grab lines. A survivor can brace against the tube and reach down to grab hold of the line in a natural position. When located on the tube, the survivor must reach behind to secure their position, an awkward and tiring position, especially if the raft is full and crowded. In a less full raft, the tube mounted line has the advantage since you can pull yourself back against the tube to maintain your place in heavy seas and your arms are not so crowded so it is less uncomfortable. It is also possible to tie oneself or another survivor to the tube mounted grab line to assist in staying in place.
Winslow utilizes 2-inch blue webbing for all interior grab lines with the exception of the Ultra-Light rafts which use 1-inch blue webbing. The 2-inch lines were very comfortable to grasp and easy on the hands. Winslow has adjusted the positioning and length of their grab lines compared with their earlier rafts, as suggested in our 1996 review, so they are more comfortable, there is adequate slack, and they don't bridge the section joints of the raft.
The interior boarding ladder can also be left in place if there is room. This makes a very effective centrally located "structure" to grab onto and to brace against.
BFGoodrich uses 1-inch red webbing for the interior lines. The interior grab line is tied to the attachment points and each segment has some slack so that it doesn't bridge the attachment points. Since a significant portion are straight runs or almost straight, this only comes into play at the rounded ends of the rafts. The webbing was sufficiently thick that it didn't tend to cut into the hand as the 1 inch nylon tape lines do.
Air Cruisers uses 1-inch blue and red webbing grab lines on the 4-person and 13-person rafts, respectively. These are strung along the lower tube, which received mixed reviews. The storage bags are attached to the grab lines, compromising their usefulness and potentially their effectiveness. The interior boarding line and ladders can be left in place if space allows and they provide another brace point.
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