A day in the life of a liferaft service technician

Kent and Kent share a first name, a commitment and a pride in servicing safety equipment that can save lives. They both work at VIKING’s servicing station in Esbjerg.

An atmosphere of calm and concentration reigns at VIKING’s servicing station located just a few hundred meters from company headquarters in Esbjerg. Here, VIKING services liferafts with capacities ranging from four to over 150 people, after which the liferafts are packed into containers and shipped to vessels in Danish ports or to offshore oil and gas installations.

On the Tuesday morning in question, service technicians Kent Jytzler and Kent Bjerrum see on their iPad that today and half of the following day will be spent servicing four model 35 DKF+ davit-launched liferafts. Taking a systematic approach to the task, they examine the liferafts’ approvals before unpacking and inflation. The approval determines what types of medicine and equipment must be packed on a given liferaft.

This is just one of many details the service technicians review during the annual inspection of S12 liferafts and the growing number of S30 liferafts which are serviced at longer 2½-year intervals. They must also replace all dated equipment with an expiration date before the next service inspection.

"On the iPad, I can see the liferaft model – and if it’s from a Danish vessel; I have a pretty good idea of what is going to be needed."

Kent Jytzler - Service Technician

"I’ve been on vessels to conduct functional tests on evacuation slides with crew members, so I’ve seen the safety equipment in use, and I know what is important in an emergency situation. We always have this in mind when servicing the liferafts,” says Kent Jytzler.

“The rescue quoit (throw ring) for people from the water into a liferaft must be readily accessible. The flashlight must be on top in the emergency pack, and seasickness medicine must also be immediately available, because passengers need to take it as soon as they board the liferaft. When I service a liferaft, I always imagine that I am onboard the vessel. This is the easiest way to understand how important the things you are working with really are,” adds Kent Bjerrum.

Testing and ever-alert technicians

As part of the service inspection, the CO2 cylinder that inflates the liferaft is dismounted from the liferaft and tested, and then remounted. The liferaft is then inflated with air, and the pressure is measured in both tubes. The liferaft is tested in accordance with international rules that require testing at different intervals.

All davit-launched liferafts are loadtested at every other service inspection, while S30 liferafts are tested at every service inspection. Ballast tubes are placed in the liferaft and filled with water to a weight that corresponds with the liferaft’s capacity. The liferaft is lifted by crane, and all vital parts are inspected.

The visual inspection and overall impression of the liferaft are of great importance at every step of the servicing process. The service technicians keep a sharp eye on every liferaft until the compressor has extracted all air from the tubes and the liferaft is packed into its container. Only then is the job done.

Proud employees

“When I started at VIKING, it was a different and smaller company. When I talk about our work here now, it is much broader and on a completely different scale. We’re really busy from October to May, with a lot of overtime, and I take more time off in the summer. In that sense, the job is very flexible,” says 56-year-old Kent Jytzler, who has worked at VIKING for more than 30 years.

He joined VIKING in 1987 and quickly became a part of the service team. In 1991, he specialized in servicing marine evacuation systems (MES), including evacuation slides and chutes for large passenger and cruise ships. Alongside his career at VIKING, he was also a part-time firefighter at the former Falck station that has housed VIKING’s servicing station since fall 2020. In his free time, Kent cycles avidly in Denmark and abroad, including the 174 km French race La Marmotte and its 5 km of mountain climbs. “You should also mention that I have three children and seven grandchildren,” says Kent.

His colleague, Kent Bjerrum, is a 28-year-old father of two who doesn’t get out on his mountain bike or race with his RC cars quite as much as he used to. He joined VIKING in 2012 and just a few months later began servicing liferafts.

“I also enjoy talking about my work when I meet new people. I’ve specialized in a niche area, and my job is meaningful and makes a difference."

Kent Bjerrum - Service Technician

The operation’s “business card”

Further along in the service hall, 56-year-old Grethe Pedersen has her own little kingdom. She cleans the containers with a good soap and plenty of elbow grease, making sure that they offer an impressive “business card” for the servicing station when they return to the vessel.

“It’s incredibly important that the equipment works when it’s needed. But we also make sure that it has a good appearance, that the lines are in good condition, and that the date of the next service inspection can be read on new, clearly legible signs. When everything looks clean and tidy, the customer can see that we have done a good piece of work, which fosters trust in our products and gives them peace of mind.” says Grethe Pedersen, who has cleaned and inspected containers for damage for the past 15 years.

The logistics man

At the servicing station’s only ground-level office, we find 58-year-old Peter Larsen, a true VIKING veteran who has been with the company since 1978, interrupted only by a five-year hiatus as a night security guard. He is responsible for the daily reception of liferafts from shipping companies and private customers, and for returning them to customers after servicing. Peter was previously part of the servicing team, but when the physical demands of the job became too heavy, he moved into his current function.

“Some days I receive as many as 25 liferafts, as well as chutes and evacuation slides. I’m also responsible for restocking spare parts in our warehouse and for keeping our supplies of CO2 cylinders for the liferafts up to date. And I locate the liferafts and transport them to the service technicians so they are ready for servicing,” says Peter Larsen. His brother and brother-in-law also worked for VIKING back when he was hired to sweep the shop’s floors as a teenager. Apart from the five-year hiatus, he has worked for VIKING ever since – and although the company is now much bigger, Peter says that it’s still a great place to be.

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