In fact, the practical test is a feature at all stages of the liferaft design, production, verification and delivery process, Gert emphasizes. A tensile testing machine is used to test the strength of all materials, for example, which stretches them at high pressure to find their breaking points.
Again, during production, samples are taken of the water-resistant adhesive in use for analysis after one day and seven days to verify their resilience, while sewing work on the canvas canopies is checked frequently and random samples from each batch of liferafts will be inflated to double their required working pressure for test purposes.
Even then, however, the internal testing process is not over, says Gert. Also critical is the role played by the company’s Development Test and Verification (DTV) department. The 14-strong DTV team base their work at facilities at the port of Esbjerg, with a test of a VIKING Life-Saving Equipment system underway or under preparation at any given time. In addition, the DTV team takes responsibility testing systems in harsh weather conditions, making regular sea trials an essential part of verifying liferaft performance.
Maritime safety is subject to other variables than weather which can affect its regulation and, in turn, life-saving equipment design. Gert observes that inclusion, for example, is increasingly becoming a topic for discussion. “Overall, VIKING’s R&D has been focusing on the effectiveness of evacuation procedures for wheelchair users, for example, and this is an area we can also foresee benefiting from regulatory oversight.”
Again, current regulations work on the basis that the average weight of the liferaft passenger is 82.5kg. Clearly, this is an average figure designed to accommodate a range of regions of origin, as well as different age groups and genders.
“We know that this is something that will affect us at some point and, perhaps we will have to go significantly higher in the years ahead,” he says. “Ultimately, we may need to have more freeboard to accommodate regulation on this point, or consider how larger individuals change seating arrangements, or think about reducing capacity.
“However, for the offshore market, we have already developed approved liferafts with lower capacity for people weighing above the 82.5 kg.” When it comes to measuring our own performance perhaps the most interesting thing is that the test reports showed what knew before - that our liferafts could withstand the challenge without any problems.”