Chandlery March 1, 1998 Issue

Lifesling Goes Throwable

We’re safety conscious at Practical Sailor. Readers know that, from the numerous articles about our in-the-water and bench tests. We rarely fail to comment on any new product specifically designed for life-saving. We’re also fussy about anything on which you may bet your life.

Among many such products, the Lifesling® has received quite a bit of attention, beginning with its introduction by the Sailing Foundation in Seattle, Washington. Basically, a flotation collar in a bag with a long, floating line (which permits one to tow the apparatus in a decreasing-radius curve to get the flotation to the man in the water), the Lifesling has gone through a healthy span of improvements by its manufacturer and distributor, West Marine.

One of the improvements, a better, less-kinky towing line, resulted from a PS test in which the original polypropylene line payed out very poorly in the water.

The new Lifesling has a 7/16" braid made by New England Ropes and is similar to that firm’s Regatta Lite.

Because of development, Lifeslings now come in three flavors, all Coast Guard approved. There’s the basic Lifesling in a soft or hard case ($149.95-$189.95); an economy model in a soft case only ($79.99), and a commercial version with SOLAS-approved reflective tape in a soft or hard case ($159.95-$199.95). One version or another hangs on the transoms of a lot of boats.

Now (and the reason for this report) there’s a fourth version. It’s called a Rescuesling®. It’s an automatically inflating, throwable version of the Lifesling. Cost is $189.99.

It comes in a soft bag, about half the size of the standard Lifesling. The bag attaches easily to the pulpit and one stanchion with three buckle-type straps. The end of the yellow tow line, covered with a sleeve of black nylon to protect it from UV degradation, is tied securely to the base of the stanchion.

When needed, one rips up the hook-and-loop secured lid and extracts the small packet (a little smaller than a lady’s pocketbook) which contains the inflatable sling (which has 70 lbs. of buoyancy). Using the handles, the packet is thrown to the person overboard. If you’re alert and have practiced at least once, you probably can get the packet to the man before boat speed takes you out of range. If you’re a sluggard, you can treat the Rescuesling like a Lifesling and tow it to the person. “Tis claimed that you can heave the packet “about 70 feet”.

When we next hauled gear out to Viva, our Tartan 44 test boat, the Rescuesling was included.

After mounting and a photo or two, the editor, without even warming up, said, “I’ll throw it.”

He fumbled a bit with the lid. The hook-and-loop fastenings require a good strong jerk. Out came the packet and, with a casual sidearm, the editor threw it, straight and true, about 54 feet. From start to touchdown in the water, it took him about five seconds—which would have been halved had he not fumbled with the lid.

With the boat going 6 knots, the package would have reached the person in the water before the boat had gone 40 feet, easily within range of even a mediocre throw.

After the packet hit the water, it took just short of 10 seconds for the packet to swell and pop out the inflated sling. It seemed like a fairly long delay. The boat would have covered more than 100 feet before the sling was inflated.

To check this, back on land, we triple-rinsed the entire package in freshwater and dried everything overnight. It takes a long time to dry the polypropylene line. Then we installed a new Halkey-Roberts bobbin and 16-gram CO2 cartridge and repacked everything, which took about a half hour. Untangling the 125' of line before flaking it down in the case took the most time.

Replacing the bobbin and CO2 cartridge was complicated by the fact that the little plastic bag containing three replacement bobbins ($5.99) also contained both red and green bits of plastic (identified as “safety clips”), which the brief instructions on the bag say are for use with different model numbers. The Rescuesling instruction booklet (otherwise well done) seemed to imply that we didn’t need either the green or red safety clip. Folding the sling and inserting it in the packet (with the bobbin poking out a slot) is easy.

Then, we dropped the packet in the water off a dock near the office. It went off instantly and inflated fully in about four seconds. On our first test, the “pocketbook” apparently landed in a position that took a few seconds for the water to get at the bobbin.

With some reservations about usage in severe weather or at night, when we’re most comfortable with Forespar’s very superior C-Buoy and pole with a light attached, we’ve always thought well of the Lifesling and, in fact, carry one aboard our test boat.

Because we have no hang-up about automatic inflatable gear if it has both a mechanical trigger and oral inflation, we think we’ll replace Viva’s Lifesling with the Rescuesling.

Like what a lot of readers think is going to happen to their letters, this last paragraph probably will be expunged in the editing process, but note that our editor barely passed the heaving test. If the boat had traveled another 25 feet, that poor devil in the water would have had to wait for the wagons to be pulled in a circle.

(West Marine, PO Box 50050, Watsonville, CA 95077-5050; 800/538-0775.)

WOW ‘Head Lamp’
Five and a half years ago, a Practical Sailor reader named Alexander S. Beller thought so highly of a little flashlight he had run into that he bought an extra one and sent it along. He suggested that we recommend it to other readers.

After trying it out, dismantling it and checking with the maker, we did so, with enthusiasm, in a short item in this column. We still have and use personally this clever little flashlight called a TopSpot.

We disagreed with Beller’s statement, “It’s the only flashlight you’ll ever need,” only because one ought also to have aboard a waterproof light of some kind.

The company that makes the TopSpot now has a new flashlight. It’s called the WOW. Like the TopSpot, it’s meant to be used conventionally, but also can be adjusted to wear on your head, leaving your hands free to read a chart or, perish the thought, bleed the diesel.

The patented WOW has a swiveling head, a rotating-lens-type switch, a Krypton bulb and is said to run for 3.5 hours on two AA alkalines, which are carried in the handles. In yellow or white with black trim, it sells for $19.95. (Believe it or not the original TopSpot still sells for $19.95.)

It’s difficult to choose between the two. The new WOW is a very avant-garde design, an eye-catcher for sure. It’s also a bit lighter, if you’re going to be wearing it on your head. However, the old TopSpot has a separate on/off switch, can be adjusted for a spot beam or flood, is very nice to handle and carries four AA batteries (which we assume will last longer than two AAs). We prefer the old one, but admit to being fetishistic about things that are trouble-free.

(Streamlight, Inc., 1030 W. Germantown Pike, Norriston, PA 19403; 215/631-0600.)

Stripe Removers: 3M LASR vs. The Stripe Eliminator
Not long ago, we heard about a product, the Stripe Eliminator, that promotes itself as a better way of removing baked on striping and lettering without acetone, heat guns, and putty knives—and without damaging or discoloring the hull. We bought one and matched it up with a similar device from 3M called the Large Area Stripe Remover (LASR) Disc.

We ordered a Stripe Eliminator ($19.95 plus $2.20 shipping & handling) directly from Tenco, the small Michigan company that sells it; we got our 3M Large Area Stripe Remover from a nearby auto body supply store ($52.98 plus $6.67 for an adapter). Right off, there is a significant difference in cost.

The Stripe Eliminator is a 3-1/2" diameter (1-1/2" thick) disk made of a rubber-like material that is hard but resilient. It comes with its own adapter, including a chuck which fits into a standard drill (we used our Bosch cordless). 3M takes a slightly different approach: The Stripe Remover “assembly” consists of a pile (16 layers) of thin vinyl pads. The adapter is an attachment that permits the device to be hooked onto an adjustable speed drive tool (we used a sander/buffer) with a standard 5/8-11 shaft.

As it happened, our son’s dinghy (named, appropriately, Go Fish) had old, baked-on vinyl letters that had been exposed to many seasons of weather (one of our criteria was for vinyl that could not simply be peeled or pried off). As we were planning to repaint the dinghy, Go Fish fit the bill.

We began with the Stripe Eliminator, following instructions to operate it at low speed (800-1,200 rpm) and high-torque, bringing the side of the disk into contact with the lettering to be removed and moving from right to left with a slight up and down motion. Finding the right speed and the right pressure involves a very slight learning curve, and will vary from job to job.

We had one problem in that we misinterpreted a graphic that (we thought) showed the disk moving in a counterclockwise direction—there were little arrows that denoted this. So we put the drill in reverse instead of forward. But this inevitably led to a loosening of the disk and, in one instance, its flying off the drill. In talking to a company spokesman, we learned that no, we were supposed to run the drill on forward; the arrows apparently refer to the direction the entire device should be moved. (Note: The company should do up a new instructional diagram.)

We’d expected to spend at least an hour removing the six letters, but in fact, the letters began coming off in a matter of seconds (see photo); there is a bit of residue left over (much like that left by an eraser, which the Stripe Eliminator, in effect, is), which can be brushed off by hand. There is slight heat build-up on both hull and disk (Tenco says the disk material is intended to absorb most of the friction heat), but, as advertised, no scorching or discoloration. In all, we found it very impressive.

The 3M LASR disk differs in that the thin layers are floppy, but become a whirling solid of sorts once the power is on—much like twirling a lasso. It, too, is designed to run on a grinder/buffer with a range between 1,500-3,000 rpm. At 8" in diameter (4" and 6" disks are also available), the LASR covers more territory, but at the same time is not as precise. And while it took the lettering off (again, we adjusted for speed and pressure) quite easily, it fared less well with the underlying adhesive. The instructions recommend going over any “smear residue” with another LASR treatment or using a low VOC cleaner, such as 3M’s General Purpose Adhesive Cleaner. We used the Stripe Eliminator, which did the job nicely.

We’re generally impressed with the quality and efficacy of products (of any kind) from 3M, but sometimes Goliath must bow before David. And we think this is one instance.

Both devices do the job, and we might choose the LASR for clearing large surface areas. However, the Stripe Eliminator clearly wins on cost (replacement disks are $15.95, but you may not need a whole one for any given job), as well as convenience—we prefer using our cordless drill rather than dragging a power cord across a yard or dock—and performance. It seemed to remove the letters a bit faster and better, and took care of the adhesive residue. We also felt we could operate a bit more precisely with the smaller, solid disk. And, as with electric oil changers, once you try one of these, you won’t be returning to the old heat gun and putty method—or farming it out for an expensive yard job. (LASR, 3M, Marine Trades Bldg., St. Paul, MN 55144; 612/736-2436. Stripe Eliminator, Tenco Industries, 35200 Union Lake Rd., Mt. Clemens, MI 48045; 810/792-6001.)

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