Unless survivors step dry shod from the ditched aircraft into the raft, it is inevitable that considerable quantities of water are going to enter the raft. Boarding from the water brings in plenty of water. Single tube rafts are worse than double tube rafts due to the lower freeboard. If the ditching occurs in a storm, or one blows in, even more water will collect in the raft. A leak or deflation can also introduce water into the raft. One way or another, there will be water in the raft, of that you can be certain.
Particularly in cold weather, the raft must be dried out as quickly as possible. The primary means of removing water is a bailing bucket or "bailer." Bailing also helps with morale, it's something positive that can be done. A bailer is a vital piece of equipment. The bailer also has numerous other potential uses such as catching and storing water, holding and disposing of waste, etc. The bailers come in a variety of materials, construction and sizes.
The bailer is another piece of equipment that should be immediately available upon entry into the raft in our opinion. This is especially important in the low end single tube rafts that seem to swamp so easily upon boarding. Air Cruisers, RFD and BFGoodrich pack it in with the rest of the survival equipment in the SEP.
This requires the equipment pack to be opened immediately upon boarding and may needlessly expose the supplies to water damage. Further, they are not secured to the raft once removed from the kit and could easily be lost, as could supplies while digging for the bucket.
Most of the bailers were disappointing. The Survival Products, EAM and Hoover bailers were constructed of sewn raft material. They had no handles which can make them more difficult to use and no place to easily attach a tether. The capacity ranged from 5 qts. for the Survival Products to 8 and 9 qts. for Hoover and EAM. They all leaked at the seams. While not a big issue as far as bailing goes, for other uses it is a definite deficiency. As noted earlier, they are tethered to the raft. BFG uses a bailer constructed of some sort of sewn plastic coated fabric with a wire reinforced rim, making it somewhat better. It holds only 4 qts. and also leaks at the seams. The Air Cruisers bailer isn't even bucket shaped, rather it is just a flat pouch, 11 x 12 inches, of PCF material. There is a 3-inch oval cut-out at the top on one side to serve as a handle. The seams are ultrasonically welded, as on life vest bladders, so it didn't leak. Being a flat pouch, it cannot be stood up, nor the open end easily held open, which can be a disadvantage for some possible uses. The top 2.5 inches is folded over and welded to form a stiffer opening, but only marginally so. Using it was problematic and it was difficult to get much water in it even though it had a theoretical capacity of 10 qts. At tether could be attached to the handle. There is no identification of it as a bailer and it could easily be missed if someone was looking for a more traditional looking, bucket shaped bailer.
The bailer in the RFD Navigator is a 2 pint (2 cup) plastic measuring cup with a full side handle. There was no difficulty in measuring the capacity of this bailer. While it functioned fairly well, it was too small in our opinion. It would be inadequate in serious weather. Single handed operation was easy. While there is no tether, one could be attached to the handle.
The RFD "R" series bailer was wide (approximately 12 inch diameter), but shallow (3 inches deep), flexible rimmed (wire inside cloth), coated cloth construction. It reminded us of the collapsible dog water dishes sold for backpacking use. The most we could get in, due to the rim sagging under load and leaking seams was 4 qts., but for scooping, we could only get 4 to 5 pints at a time unless we set it down, collapsed it and picked it up in deep enough water to substantially fill it. It worked reasonably well, but was awkward and tiring to use since the rim had to be gripped tightly in both hands to be used. It received the worst marks from the volunteers. The bailer was packed in the SEP, folded up around other supplies and had to be unfolded before use. There was no tether and no place to attach one.
The Winslow bailing bucket includes a handle, semi-rigid wire reinforced rims top and bottom and a reinforced bottom. It is constructed of clear flexible plastic material with welded seams. It is, in fact, a collapsible bucket originally designed for camping use. While a bit on the large size (9 quarts), making it somewhat unwieldy in the tight confines of the raft, it was the best by far. The wide wire reinforced bottom and moderately stiff material allowed it to easily stand on it's own. It is secured by a tether inside the raft and immediately available.
I noted one minor point of concern with the Winslow bailing bucket. When placed in the freezer it was very stiff and once removed it took a few moments to warm up and become as flexible as it was previously. In cold weather/water conditions, it might stay stiff much longer, making it a bit more difficult to work with.
The bottom line is that all the buckets could stand improvement. I'm of the opinion that one gallon (four quarts) to 1 1/2 gallons (6 quarts) is about the right capacity. This is large enough to be effective without being so large it gets in the way. It is also small enough to be easily used with one hand. A handle of some sort makes it much easier to bail when you have a lot of bailing to do. Given any choice, I'd prefer a bailer that didn't leak, since it is much more useful for other chores that a leaking bailer is useless for. A wire reinforced top and bottom is a big advantage.
The bailer should be available immediately upon boarding and it should, at least initially, be tethered to the raft and useable in that configuration. If the manufacturer insists on putting it in the SEP, then it should, at least, be the first thing the survivors come to and should not be wrapped around or with other items which might be lost in the process of getting it out. Unless it is obvious to the untrained that it is a bailer, it should also be clearly labeled as to what it is.
While on the subject of drying out the raft, let's not forget sponges. While a bailing bucket will get the bulk of the water out, only by sponging up the considerable amount left will the raft get anything close to dry. Lacking a sponge, clothing will have to do, and that is generally not to best choice.
Hoover, Survival Products, EAM, the RFD Navigator and the Winslow RescueRafts and DualSafe lack a sponge. As small and inexpensive and useful as they are, that seems a ridiculous omission. Even the most minimal optional SEP includes a sponge. All the approved rafts include a sponge or sponges.
Survival Products includes a single small 3 x 4 x 1 sponge.
The RFD "R" series has two 3 1/4 x 3 1/4 x 3/4 inch compressed sponges
Air Cruisers includes a compressed sponge (missed measuring it).
Winslow includes a pair of 6 x 8 x 5/8 inch sponges.
BFGoodrich included a single 6 x 3 3/4 x 1 inch compressed sponge that was very dense and hard to squeeze. That's not a good attribute for a raft sponge.
By and large, it generally seems easier to use a smaller, but thicker sponge compared to a larger and thinner sponge. Our favorite is the 4 x 6 x 1 inch dehydrated and compressed "French" kitchen sponge. These are so compact before expansion that it is possible to include many more of them in the same or less space as any of the sponges here.
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