PS Advisor


Flying With CO2 Canisters
Part of my racing is in the Lake Superior offshore series, though my home is in Florida. I was planning on getting a Coast Guard-approved manually inflatable PFD but noticed in the West Marine catalog that special hazardous shipping was required. I called their adviser line and said, How do I take the PFD with me when I fly up for the Lake Superior offshore series? Basically their answer was, Beats me. They had nothing to offer by way of advice or requirements. Call your regular airline company was the extent of it.

Can you offer any insight on this?

Sam Trickey
via e-mail

We relayed your question to a friend, an airline pilot, who had this to say:

I don’t speak for the FAA, but underneath every seat on any airliner is a life vest with two cartridges filled with some sort of compressed air, almost certainly CO2. The Valuejet crash was caused by a container of mechanical oxygen generators, the type installed in the panel over your seat in all modern generation airplanes. When you pull the mask to your face, and place it over your nose and mouth, it fires the container which produces a byproduct which is O2 for a couple of minutes, allowing the crew to do an emergency descent down to where everyones useful conscious time goes way up. They are much cheaper, lighter, and less maintenance intensive than large O2 bottles and plumbing and regulators all over the airplane. To be shipped, these little generators must be safe-tied, and in the Valuejet case, they were not. On takeoff, one or more of the units fell over and started making O2, burning at 400 or so. Next to them, in the same cargo compartment, was at least one aircraft tire and a brake assembly covered with grease. The whole mess began to burn quickly, creating a highly lethal smoke. Most of the people were dead or unconscious at impact, but its a moot point because when the aircraft hit the Everglades, both cockpit windows were open and the airplane was going 485 knots indicated airspeed.

I wouldnt hesitate to ship CO2 canisters for a PFD undeclared in my checked baggage. Just for fun, take one (maybe even used) in a carry-on next time you fly to see if it attracts any notice. I had a bronze dolphin a guy made for me in Athens last week. When I came through security at JFK the X-ray girl asked quizzically, You been fishin? I guess that proves that they at least do look.

Its not as if carrying CO2 is a penalty or criminal issue. I would not worry, but in the worst case, you can feign innocence and surprise. I would not give a thought to stuff in checked baggage.

I want to add fiddles to my dinette table to keep dishes from sliding off when dining underway. The problem is they get in the way other times, like when playing cards or converting the table to a berth. Any ideas on making them easily removable?

Adrian Peters
Lac La Biche, Saskatchewan

Our old Pearson Vanguard had removable fiddles. They were made of solid teak strips-about 1-1/2″ tall and maybe 5/8″ thick. There was one for each side of the table. Three brass rods were sunk into the bottom of each fiddle. You can buy rod at a hardware. The rods protruded about 1/2″. To make the receiving sockets for these rods, buy copper tubing a bit larger than the rods, cut to desired length, flare one end with a plumber’s flare tool, then drill holes in the table edge where you want the sockets. Tap the sockets home. With a snug fit, you probably wont have to glue them.

Darrell Nicholson
Practical Sailor has been independently testing and reporting on sailboats and sailing gear for more than 50 years. Its independent tests are carried out by experienced sailors and marine industry professionals dedicated to providing objective evaluation and reporting about boats, gear, and the skills required to cross oceans. Practical Sailor is edited by Darrell Nicholson, a long-time liveaboard sailor and trans-Pacific cruiser who has been director of Belvoir Media Group's marine division since 2005. He holds a U.S. Coast Guard 100-ton Master license, has logged tens of thousands of miles in three oceans, and has skippered everything from pilot boats to day charter cats. His weekly blog Inside Practical Sailor offers an inside look at current research and gear tests at Practical Sailor, while his award-winning column,"Rhumb Lines," tracks boating trends and reflects upon the sailing life. He sails a Sparkman & Stephens-designed Yankee 30 out of St. Petersburg, Florida. You can reach him at