The compasses included in these kits are generally of pretty poor quality, but since they are likely to be of no practical use on an aviation raft, we cannot get very worked up about it.
Paddles have two primary uses on a raft. The obvious one is to help maneuver the raft, especially if near shore or trying to make landfall, or to move away from a sinking aircraft. Still, no one is likely going to paddle very far in a raft. They are difficult to paddle, at best, and those with adequate ballast are even more difficult (though Winslow provides for pulling the ballast up). The other use is as a cutting board on which to clean fish and do other tasks where a slip of the knife or tool could puncture the raft.
The RFD Navigator is equipped with a single excellent orange plastic and aluminum handled paddle. A cut down version of the paddles commonly used with rubber kayaks and such, it was easy and very comfortable to use. The wide plastic surface makes a good, if not flat, cutting board. There is no lanyard.
Air Cruisers use a pair of similar two piece plastic paddles which work reasonably well. You must slip the handle into the paddle where it is retained solely by friction. They are not equipped with lanyards.
The RFD "R" series had the worst "paddles" I've ever used. They are really hand paddles as opposed to conventional paddles with some sort of handle. The wide, coated cloth covered, thin boards, approx. 8 1/2 x 14 inches, have a 1 inch strap at the top and a wide strap covering most of the midsection of the paddle. To use, you insert your hand in the straps. In order to use them you must lean way over the side of the raft and immerse your hand and arm in the water. They don't function worth a damn, are very hard to operate and would be impossible to use in colder waters. This is a significant deficiency.
BFGoodrich, Hoover and Survival Products use the traditional blue plywood paddles with a while reflective bead back as used for years in aviation rafts. These were never the best, though reasonably functional, and are not comfortable to use as the handle is difficult to grip. Cloth tape wrist lanyards are fitted.
EAM's paddles are a foam, fabric, wire and aluminum tube contraption that were easy to use once the locking pins started working after being immersed in water for a while. They aren't much good for anything else.
Winslow has abandoned their beautiful laminated and varnished wood paddles. They now use a plywood paddle similar to the traditional aviation paddle, but slightly longer and with a sculpted handle. It is fitted with retro-reflective tape on the back instead of the reflective beads. The sculpted handle makes these a bit more comfortable and easier to use than the traditional blue plywood paddles. They are equipped with parachute cord wrist lanyards.
For aviation raft use, a fishing kit is not as important as for marine raft use where survivors have a greater likelihood of finding themselves in a long term survival situation where they must depend upon the sea for sustenance. Still, if you're going to include one, it ought to be up to the job.
No fishing kit is in the RFD Navigator. Revere told us that the RFD "R" series will include Revere's USCG approved fishing kit which is well equipped with a good assortment of line, hooks leaders, lures, etc. Survival Products also uses this same kit. Winslow uses the Datrex version of this same USCG fishing kit, which is virtually identical. Winslow also includes their own laminated instruction card with essentially the same information as in the included instruction book, but waterproof.
Air Cruisers and BFGoodrich to use the well equipped and compact mil-spec fishing kit. Like the USCG kit, it includes a multitude of liens and lures and is generally effective and well thought out. The kit also includes some other useful items such as single edge razor blade (though it will rust promptly), safety pins and needles. The plastic case can be useful to keep the small items from getting lost, but there is no place for the rest of the tightly packed items. The instructions are adequate, but not excellent, and waterproof.
The biggest problem is that the fishing lines are simply coiled and not wrapped around the provided plastic winders. You can make a heck of a mess of things before you sort it all out. The small plastic bags of hooks and lures and other items are not resealable, so maintaining any useable order is next to impossible. In most instances where I've watched people try to use the kit, it becomes a jumbled mess in short order. The fishing instruction book is not waterproof. but reasonably well done otherwise.
Some means of organizing all the small items in these kits would be a boon to anyone who has to actually use them. Even a few 4 or 6 mil, small zipper lock plastic bags would make a world of difference and would take up virtually no space at all.
The SEPs also include a variety of other equipment, some of which we will review here.
Survival Products, BFGoodrich, Winslow and Air Cruisers include a metalisized "emergency space blanket." While useful to help combat hypothermia, these are technically included as a "radar reflector" and it will indeed work as such, to a degree, if the occupants know to rig it up somehow, though no instructions are included. While BFGoodrich label it as such, nobody else mentions this use.
BFGoodrich also includes a single LAND/SHARK Emergency Survival Bag. This is an advanced thermal protective device developed by Corporate Air Parts The bag is constructed of a microthin layer of metalisized film laminated to a brightly colored International Safety Orange, composite reinforced, ripstop plastic material. The silver metalisized coating reflects up to 80% of radiated body heat (according to the manufacturer). It is completely windproof, waterproof and acts as a vapor barrier. The tightly woven ripstop reinforcing adds considerable strength and prevents tears, a frequent critical failure in common unreinforced thermal protective aids.
The LAND/SHARK is large enough to completely enclose the survivor, including the life vest, up and over the head. A drawstring at the top can be adjusted as necessary. The bag serves to slow the drain of this vital body heat and provides protection from chilling wind and sea spray. This would be an excellent piece of equipment for any raft, especially those without canopies. It is vacuum packed to minimize bulk and to prevent damage.
Survival Products include an approximately 75 ft. hank of 1/8 inch nylon line. Winslow includes 75 ft. of parachute cord. Both would be useful for many things. Hoover includes an approx. 100 ft. length of 3/8 inch nylon "tape" which might also be useful.
Winslow includes either a small Bible (Old Testament) or Koran in their kits. It is actually a selection of spiritual guidance from these texts, not the complete work. Needless to say, it isn't waterproof.
This is probably as good a place as any to note that Winslow offers a very extensive selection of additional survival equipment, including upgrades for some of the standard equipment. For example, the full-sized Storm Survival Whistle is an option for the basic survival whistle they include. The customer is free to equip their raft with whatever assortment of survival gear they want and can either modify an existing SEP or assemble one from scratch. Winslow will also pack into your life raft any special equipment you supply, within some limitations. So, if you want to include a set of eye glasses or special medications, it's no problem. Among aviation life raft manufacturers, Winslow is unique in this regard.
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