Since the odds are that the survivors will not have had any specialized survival training, a good survival manual is very important. If this manual is to be of any use, it must be waterproof because it is going to be soaked. Besides the survival manual, most rafts also include an Immediate Action List of some sort. This covers the most basic tasks that need to be accomplished immediately upon boarding the raft. If the raft manufacturer doesn't provide a proprietary survival manual, there may also be included a Raft Manual to tell how to take care of the raft which may be incorporated into the immediate action list.
EAM uses the "USAF Survival Manual," a fairly comprehensive paperback book which is not water resistant in the least and will not likely last too long in the life raft environment.
Hoover and Survival Products uses the "USAF Aircrew Survival Manual" which, though abbreviated compared to the more comprehensive version, is water resistant and designed for use in a wet environment. Neither has specific information on raft care and use. Some water survival information is included, but it is spread throughout the manuals and is not easy to find (after all, these were written by the military).
EAM and Hoover also include an abbreviated "Life Raft Manual" that is attached to the raft, not in the kit. These are on waterproof material with bold, easy to read printing, black on white "paper." They provide a good list of immediate action items and general raft maintenance information for their specific rafts as well as some basic water survival and signaling instructions. The EAM version is especially good, is more detailed, and includes illustrations on use of the raft repair clamp and canopy setup. Unfortunately, not one of our volunteers noticed the innocuous manuals until long after they had settled in the raft and tried to get things done. Use of bright colored paper or ink would help a lot in this regard.
The only information in the RFD Navigator is a two sided, non-waterproof sheet in the SEP with limited, very basic information. It was in fairly large print and would be easy to read, if you were careful not to tear it to bits once it got wet.
There was no manual or immediate action list in the RFD "R" series raft supplied us. They had previously supplied copies of these to me, but they should have been in the SEP according to Revere. I have no problem with a survival manual being in the SEP. However, the immediate action item list isn't very "immediate" unless it is immediately available upon boarding the raft. Ironically, the second item on this immediate action list is to "haul in the emergency pack and emergency bag. . ."
The RFD immediate action list is on two pages of what is, essentially, the raft manual. It had bold headings, but was otherwise too small to easily read under poor conditions. This is a nine page foldout of water resistant paper. Much of it is illustrations of how to erect the canopy, a copy of the placard in the raft, and an illustration of the raft with items identified. It makes no mention of the raft repair clamp (included with our test raft, but not on the list supplied by Revere), just the conical plugs.
The survival manual is very basic. It is an 8 page flip style pamphlet with sea survival going one direction, 7 pages of information, and land survival going the other direction, 8 pages of information. It was a nice format and easy to read. The page of information on operation of the "PYE PLB", a transponder beacon fitted to North Sea rafts, is inappropriate for the U.S. configured raft. It is also printed on waterproof paper. Taken all together, I'd rate it as just adequate, but no better.
Winslow has produced its own waterproof manual. The manual is stored inside a 4 mil zipper lock plastic bag in the SEP. This manual includes a lot of specific information on the Winslow raft and included equipment and how to get the most out of it with illustrations of important points. It is 47 pages and includes first aid, survival and raft information. The information is reasonably detailed and fairly well written, though it could stand to be reorganized.
Taking another suggestion we made in our first review, a pencil is taped into the center of the manual and blank pages are provided to keep a log, an excellent feature. Keeping a log is highly recommended in most survival manuals, yet no writing instrument or materials are supplied in any of the kits except Winslow's.
We have previously criticized Winslow's, and others', inadequate immediate action instructions, saying that the immediate action list should stand out and be obvious so that it cannot be missed upon boarding the raft. It should be printed in large and bold text so it is easy to read, even in dim light. Winslow has responded with the best such instructions we have seen to date.
Winslow's immediate action instructions are bold black text on bright yellow stock with a red striped border. They are printed identically on both sides and then laminated for water resistance (it isn't quite waterproof, but then it only has to last for a short while after boarding). This also helps maintain a flat placard that won't be too crumpled or bent in packing so it is easy to read when the raft is deployed. On all the canopied Winslow rafts the immediate action instructions hang from the arch tube overhead and are impossible to miss. On the non-canopied rafts, they are attached to an interior grab line adjacent to the raft knife. The instructions are complete, well written and easy to understand.
BFG's immediate action list/raft manual is printed on waterproof paper. This is stored in a zipper lock plastic bag and hung from the canopy arch, beneath the interior light in the larger rafts. You cannot miss that it is there, or at least that something is there. The back of this "Management Guide - Liferaft" contains an easy to read immediate action list in bold, if not large, print. It would be even better if it was printed in some bright color or somehow made to draw survivors' attention to the list itself, so it couldn't inadvertently be missed.
While the raft manual is relatively easy to read, it isn't very well written. I'd also take issue with a few of the written instructions and information included such as, "assistance may be expected within a few hours to not more than 24 hours." While that is generally true, things don't always work as planned and poor weather or other problems can slow down rescue operations. Survival manuals should never provide deadlines or promote too high expectations. A positive mental attitude, confidence in the eventual outcome and realistic expectations should be the aim.
Inside the SEP, BFGoodrich includes the "OUTSmart Field Guide" covering first aid, survival and outback skills. This is well organized basic information and the pages are perforated for setting up tabs for quickly locating of what you need. However, BFGoodrich did not set up the tabs beforehand. It is not waterproof. All in all, BFGoodrich have provided a satisfactory amount of information between their own immediate action list, raft manual and the two survival manuals. Our rafts included a small magnifier (to meet JAR OPs requirements) that would come in handy for reading some for the small print.
The Air Cruisers "LIFE RAFT MANUAL - IMMEDIATE ACTION FOR SURVIVAL" is stored inside the SEP, which you will recall is not even inside the life raft upon deployment. As such, the word "immediate" doesn't exactly spring to mind. The waterproof manual is printed on one side only and held together via a brass grommet in one corner. The instructions are brief, but generally easy to read bold type and easy to understand. As we discussed earlier, we have some concerns about the prioritization of some items. Also, readers may be disappointed to discover that the promised water packets don't exist and there is no mention of the Katadyn PUR 06 watermaker.
As noted earlier, Air Cruisers has made the life raft service interval a major competitive issue. Spending money on a life raft that most owners never expect to use is always a sore point. Spending additional money and time every year to get it serviced is even more frustrating for many. Air Cruisers claims that these rafts only need to be serviced every six years, compared to the annual industry standard. That's obviously a big savings in money and aggravation. However, it turns out that isn't exactly the whole story.
Because they use a composite-wound gas cylinder, it must be hydro-tested every three years, as opposed to every five years for a traditional aluminum gas cylinder. When we pointed out this apparent paradox, Air Cruisers' Wigert explained that while the raft valise must indeed be opened up and the cylinder removed for testing and then reinstalled, the raft itself doesn't need servicing. Sounds like semantics to us, but it would, admittedly, be cheaper to perform than a complete service.
While Air Cruisers may be comfortable performing this procedure and then certifying the raft as good to go, two respected stations we checked with wanted nothing to do with the procedure. That may change as experience is gained with these new products, but be warned you may have to send it to Air Cruisers for service. In any case, that's still a year longer than anyone else in the industry, two more than most.
However, there's more. As noted earlier as well, Air Cruisers also claimed that the Katadyn Survivor 06 in the Part 135 SEP requires service only every three years. However, Katadyn insists that two years is the maximum service interval and any longer risks failure or a much more expensive service. That would seem to be counterproductive. So, at a minimum, a raft equipped with the Survivor 06 would need to be opened at two-year intervals to service the 06. Then there's the rations. They have only a five year nominal service life. Given the condition of some of the rations in our test rafts, even a year would be too much.
Still, that also isn't a complete service, just component service, the raft still wouldn't need to be serviced according to Air Cruisers. So, what about waiting six years to actually service the life raft itself? On the marine raft side we recently discovered a situation where a potentially fatal defect in one manufacturer's rafts wasn't discovered until years down the road solely because of extended service intervals. Plus, humans make and pack these rafts and mistakes do occur. The quality control lapses we saw in this test, such as the short tether on the raft knife in the Air Cruisers' 3-persn raft, is testament to that. Regular service tends to catch such errors quicker.
Quite frankly, we're not convinced that such long service intervals are a particularly good idea. We've seen our share of failures of equipment that has been serviced annually. Those failures have rarely been in areas where these rafts differ significantly from others, such as their fabric.
Responding to competitive pressure, Winslow has extended their service interval to two years for the first four years and then annually after that. We're a lot more comfortable with that arrangement.
Everyone else in the industry is sticking with annual service intervals.
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