When is the best time to check out how your life raft deploys? Or to learn how flares are fired? The standard advice (and common sense might suggest) that familiarising yourself with these instructions any time before an actual emergency situation is good, and before you leave port is even better. However, in practice, just reading the instructions only tells you so much and it is difficult to get a feeling of exactly how hot a flare burns from a diagram. Practice makes perfect and today in Las Palmas the ARC+ fleet got the chance, as our safety team lead a morning of hands on demos.
First up was a flare demonstration followed by a chance for participants to fire off any of their spare flares. ARC+ Chief Safety Inspector Roger Seymour, accompanied by expert flare holders Mark Burton and Chris Tibbs, did a walkthrough of how to fire a standard hand flare safely and effectively - without burning a hole in yourself. While Mark held his off downwind, Chris showed the crowd what happens when you dump a lit flare into a bucket of water. Burning at well over 1,500°C and self-sufficient, within seconds the bucket of water became not dissimilar to a smoking witches cauldron.
After the flares burned themselves out the safety team invited participants up for a go and several experienced for themselves what it is like. Overall the atmosphere was light and informative however it wasn’t lost on many that the next time they use such a piece of equipment may be under very different circumstances. “I hope this is the first and last time I ever have to light a flare,” one participant remarked. Smoke flares were demonstrated next and even in the strong breeze blowing through the marina today the effect was extremely clear as orange smoke billowed over the harbour.
After all the flares were safely out and disposed of, the team moved to the rooftop pool of Club Varadero, a local sports club within the marina. There the participants got to experience first-hand how to launch a life raft and practice some basic sea survival techniques. Even the younger ones got to join in as a separate kids-only life was deployed. Everyone had a go both in the life-raft and swimming in a ‘crocodile’ formation, adorned in self-inflating life jackets.
Unfortunately despite resident weather expert Chris Tibbs’s best efforts, rain started to fall and to those still inside, the life rafts began to lose their appeal as giant pool toys. Eventually everyone vacated the rafts and pool, and although it was a fun afternoon the crucial lessons were not wasted on anyone. Evacuating what for many is their home into a tiny inflatable raft under the worst of circumstances is a disturbing idea, but made just that bit less scary with some practice and preparation.