ST. THOMAS — You can take it on an airplane, store it under your bed, pack it in the car and have it assembled using no tools within 20 minutes. As of this month, Caribbean Inflatable Boats and Liferafts, Inc. is now the authorized dealer for the SmartKat inflatable catamaran and SmartSUP paddleboard.
Caribbean Inflatable Boats and Liferafts is the Virgin Islands’ only U.S. Coast Guard-approved life raft service station in the U.S. and British Virgin Islands.
“Our main business is life raft service. Everything else stems from that,” said CEO/owner Janis French.
French has a strong and varied business background. She owned her first company, Janis Contemporary Fashion Designs, at the age of 26, supplying uniforms for resorts and hotels in Scottsdale, Ariz. Out of the scraps, she made pajama bags, coverups and other children’s items with her Grandma Zoo line. At the same time, she also ran a printing company. Since then, French has run several publicly and privately held businesses. She moved here in 1995 and bought Caribbean Inflatable from its previous owner in 2006.
“Commercial boats are required to have a life raft on them and they are required to be serviced every year, no matter where they are,” said French. “To service a life raft, you have to have a station that meets Code of Federal Regulations standards for the Coast Guard. We can’t go on the boat or cruise ship to repack them because they have to be packed in an approved shop because of their complicated electric system, inflation system with CO2 cylinders and high-pressure hoses. Just like a life jacket, a life raft should fully inflate in less than a minute. It has to be packed to be able to do that.”
Caribbean Inflatable is licensed to service all major life raft brands, such as Winslow, Switlik, Viking, Avon, Regency, SeaSafe and Ocean Safety, and keeps parts and manuals in stock.
Out of servicing the life rafts, the company evolved to create its own hydro-test facility. Life rafts are inflated with CO2, and all CO2 cylinders are required to be hydro-tested every five years. Caribbean Inflatable will hydro-test any tank up to 60 inches, including SCUBA tanks, and can refill any tank with CO2, including welding cylinders, paintball cylinders and SodaStreams. Hydro-test is the leading manufacturer of industrial gas cylinder service equipment for welding, SCUBA, fire extinguisher shops, fire departments and oxygen re-fillers.
From there, customers with CO2 fire extinguishers prompted Caribbean Inflatable to get accredited by several different fire extinguisher companies so they could install and service fixed and portable fire suppression systems on the boats.
With hurricane season in full swing, Caribbean Inflatable also offers smaller emergency equipment needed for any boat, large or small. They stock items such as emergency blankets, Water for Life 1/8-liter water packets, rations, lanterns, emergency kits, ACR emergency radios and beacons. They often have leftover emergency items such as batteries, rations, water packets and flares from emergency kits that they will share with the community.
“We also have EPIRBs — Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacons — that have revolutionized rescue. It is the most important piece of equipment to have on your boat,” French said.
The addition of the SmartKat and SmartSUP to Caribbean Inflatables’ lineup of products offers customers a new level of ease and convenience. Developed in Austria more than a decade ago, the SmartKat is an inflatable performance catamaran that can accommodate up to four people. Caribbean Inflatable will initially carry two models, the Adventure and Performance, both of which can be altered into racing cats by changing the sails. Caribbean Inflatable received its first shipment at the beginning of August.
The SmartSUP is 50% lighter than the average paddleboard and takes up 50% less packing space. It includes an innovative bag/paddle pump which requires no additional pump. The SmartSUP also comes with a multifunctional dry bag.
Caribbean Inflatable Boats and Liferafts is located at the entrance to Compass Point on St. Thomas. Hours of operation are Monday through Thursday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Friday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Call 340-775-6159 for more details.