NASA Spinoff

Apollo-Era Life Rafts Save Hundreds of Sailors

altIt is not just strong winds and waves that flip the typical inflatable life raft, though. Something as simple as someone trying to climb aboard, or occupants shifting inside, could flip a standard life raft. The Givens-designed valve system, however, employs multiple stabilizers to accommodate for boarders and shifting of occupants as well as varying wave angles and swells.

Both the Navy and U.S. Coast Guard have tested the Givens Buoy Life Raft. Coast Guard testing, as part of its routine testing of all available certified marine safety gear, demonstrated that the raft could not be capsized by rough seas or strong winds. The testing included simulated rescue hoists from Coast Guard rescue helicopters, simulated hurricane force winds from a C-130 aircraft slipstream, drift tests, weight distribution and stability tests, and “at-sea” testing. In each instance, the Givens life raft withstood the most brutal of punishments.

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Testing, no matter how well-designed, can never really account for all of the variables that could happen at sea, so it is the testimonials from people whose lives have been saved by these rafts that really speak to their ruggedness. In 1980, the lives of four sailors were saved by a Givens life raft. It was August and the four men were caught in the middle of Hurricane Allen, at that time the second worst storm ever recorded on the Atlantic. With winds gusting to 190 knots per hour, their 30-ton ketch capsized, and the crew sought refuge in their Givens Buoy Life Raft. The four men rode 35-foot waves over the next 42 hours before being rescued, with the raft at times being submerged under several feet of water, flipping, and then righting itself. As Bob Harvey, one of the survivors tells, “We didn’t feel comfortable, but we did feel secure.”

The standard Givens Buoy Life Raft comes equipped with water-activated lights, an automatically inflated canopy, a system for capturing rainwater, insulated floors, and an automatic inflation system.