Have you noticed a difference in the way our boats look this year? It’s not that they are clean and sparkly, they’ve always been that way. It’s not that they have been painted a different color. What you are noticing is that we do not have orange life floats on the back. The iconic orange floats have been replaced with white canisters that contain an upgraded safety system, an Inflatable Buoyant Apparatus, or IBA.

We sat down with Billy Shepler this week to start our “5 Questions” series and he gave us the history of why we have these devices and why it is important for your safety.

1. What is the difference between the life floats that we have always had and these new IBAs?

The life floats are smaller in size and would not keep people out of the water. They also took more effort to deploy. There were up to 15 life floats on each boat and in the case of an emergency evacuation, the crew would need to detach each raft and throw it into the water. With the new system, the crew just needs to detach two to four IBAs, making the evacuation much faster. Also with the IBAs, everyone will stay dry inside the inflatable raft.

2. Why the switch? Is this something that the Coast Guard requires?

A2016-04-19 04.00.01ll new boats need to have the IBAs, which we discovered when we were building the Miss Margy last year. The Coast Guard also requires vessels to have IBAs if they are running past the regular summer navigational season, or they are ocean-going. In the future, we believe this is going to be a Coast Guard requirement for all boats, so we were proactive and installed them on all of our boats this year. We are always trying to stay ahead of the curve in safety.

3. What is the procedure for deployment of the IBAs?

As we mentioned before, the old life floats required a lot of time to deploy by the crew members. These new systems just need to be rolled off the boat. It is not an instant inflation when they hit the water. There is a line called a painter line that has to be pulled out 105 feet and then the canister opens and the raft inflates. Watch a deployment demonstration here.

4. We always had a lot of maintenance on the orange life floats, with painting and cleaning every year. What is the maintenance on the IBAs?

The Coast Guard requires that the IBAs be inflated and checked after the first two years and then every year after that. We send the canisters to a facility in Chicago where the IBAs will be inflated, checked for leaks, repaired if needed, and then packed back into the canisters and sent back to us for reinstallation. (So the Captains will be pretty happy that they don’t have to scrub down 65 life rafts at the beginning and end of every season!)

5. What type of training do we do with our crew on the IBAs?

Our safety training is a combination of man overboard drills, abandon ship, and manual deployment of the IBAs. We have safety training every morning with the boat crew. Training for emergency situations is the most important thing that we do. We want all of our crew to know exactly what to do in case of an emergency – safety is our number one priority.

So, as Billy would say, “There you go, and there you have it.” The new Inflatable Buoyant Apparatuses are just another way that Shepler’s is staying on the leading edge of ferry operations. Watch for our next blog on the history of the Lilac Festival, which kicks off next week!