The Rhumboogie's six-man, approximately 23-year-old Dunlap inflatable life raft failed its last inspection this summer, forcing the owner and skipper of that 40-foot dragger and lobster boat, Jason Polisson, to buy a new one.
But Polisson, a Gloucester resident whose boat is based out of Pigeon Cove Harbor, now ponders if that purchase was necessary, while the Rhode Island company that did the test, Life Raft and Survival Equipment Inc., remains resolute on its decision.
Life Raft and Survival Equipment, Inc., "... took it and, after a week, called: 'Sorry to say, but your life raft failed inspection.'" Polisson reported. "The life raft came with the boat. The boat was built in 1985 ," he said.
That raft was manufactured by DBC Marine from Richmond, British Columbia.
The U.S. Coast Guard requires fishing vessels more than 36 feet long that work outside three nautical miles from the shoreline's baseline to be equipped with inflatable life rafts. The rafts are stored in fiberglass canisters, usually atop the wheelhouse, and they automatically inflate in the water.
After renting a loaner for $35 a week from Life Raft and Survival Equipment Inc., Polisson soon spent $2,500 on a new four-man coastal life raft.
"Twenty-five-hundred dollars is a hard hunk of money to come up with the way the fishing business is today between the high cost of fuel and having to buy extra days at sea to fish," he said.
Polisson eventually told Brian Flowers, the Rhode Island company's account representative, that he was done with the loaner — and to "come and get it."
Flowers also asked Polisson during that phone conversation, "What do you want me to do with your old raft?" Polisson answered, "Drop it off when you pick up the loaner."
Polisson later handed over the old raft, minus its canister, to his regular deck hand, Charlie Williams from Gloucester, who soon inflated it with his own compressor and launched it off Flat Rocks at Lane's Cove, a swimming spot for locals.
After seeing his inflated, aged life raft later on at Lane's Cove, Polisson wonders why it failed inspection.
"It's a rubber raft that floats on the water," he says. "They (at the company) said the air pressure release was malfunctioning. But, Charlie pumped the raft up too full at first, and the extra air came out of the valve, and the valve stopped letting out air when the pressure was right.
Polisson added, "Even if there was a problem with a valve, then replace it."
"Here it is six days later, still full of air and floating and ready to save someone's life but mine and Charlie's. Every 10- to 12-year-old kid in Lanesville has had a ball playing with it," he said.
The raft quickly became a hit for neighborhood kids to paddle around the Cove and dive out of.
But, his life raft "... failed a necessary added pressure (NAP) test, and at that age, I would reconsider refurbishing it. That raft is 23 years old, and they typically last 15 to 20 years. It might hold air and look like it's going to be okay, but it isn't. Life rafts that age rarely get certified, but it does happen occasionally," explained Jim O'Connor, owner of Life Raft and Survival Equipment.
"We are required by the manufacturer and the U.S. Coast Guard to do the testing every 10 years," O'Connor said. "The U.S. Coast Guard designed the NAP test specifically for 10-year-old and older rafts."
Flowers added, "We're not in the business to fail and sell things. It's more profitable to service a raft than sell a new one."
But, Polisson isn't convinced after what he saw at Lane's Cove.
"The damage is done. It's been an expensive lesson," he said.
He offers this advice to other vessel owners: "If they junk your life raft, just ask for it back and get a second opinion on it before you buy a new one."
Williams also reports, "The kids are still having a ball with the life raft."