Bobble-Head Doll

Never test your life raft

It was a teeth-chattering 45 degrees Fahrenheit, not including wind chill, but there I was heaving a 116-pound Switlik SAR-6-MKII valise life raft into the water. Crazy? Probably. But because you can't test yours, I wanted to simulate an emergency.

From the dock, I tugged the 30' static line, which activates the carbon dioxide/nitrogen canister. The life raft inflated in 30 seconds. (Steady it quickly before it inflates upside down.) Once inside, it took less than 2 minutes for me to jump in and zip up the two 4'-wide canopy doors, giving me 360-degree protection. Next I unfurled and attached the canopy top. Big mistake. I became queasy, fast. I reopened the top-ahh, saved by the sky. The raft automatically deploys a sea anchor.

I opened the equipment bag. Flares? Check. First-aid kit? Check. Drinking water? Check. Hand inflation pump. Huh? The raft's already inflated, but I'm supposed to blow up the drop-stitch floor, which separates me from the ocean with 3" of material. It took seven minutes to inflate, got my blood flowing, and raised my feet above water. (No matter how hard I tried, I couldn't avoid getting water in the bottom.) Then I just sat in the life raft, hoping to be rescued from the cold. Wait, this isn't real-I could just get back on the dock.