Steve Parton: A matter of some concern

Four years ago I faced a very serious problem that could have bankrupted me or at the worst seen me jailed for Corporate Negligence. Had all gone wrong at the least the lawyers would have got a fair bit richer.

I had taken to manufacturing float tubes after a decade of importing them and, because I am an obsessional tuber I settled on the best hull design I had found and tried, did a deal with the designer in the USA, improved the pocketing and superstructure and set about making the things.

Within 6 months I hit a problem, the purpose built PVC Innertubes (bladders to you) began to develop leaks and I began to have to replace them free of charge, no problem I thought as the Americans sportingly replaced them free of charge to me (apart from the postage which was damned expensive.) Except suddenly there was a positive flood of leakers and things began to get out of hand altogether.

I sat and thought it through, examined the basic manufacturing of the PVC Bladders involved and then came rapidly to the conclusion that they were fundamentally so unsafe as to be potentially lethal. As were all other PVC and similar cheaply made internals.

The only saving grace of potentially leaking inners is that they tend to fail on the waterside before the user sets out - it is the failure on the water that can kill and one of those had happened but fortunately with a slow leak only and the guy had got ashore and he had on a lifejacket as the Float Tube Associations Rules require.

I put the problem formally to a pal of mine who happens to run the largest law combine in Nottingham and his opinion (for which he charged a lot) was that as Importer/Manufacturer and Distributor /Retailer I was wholly responsible at law for failure in service and the potential consequences of a lawsuit from the grieving relatives. No getout on the basis of selling on crap from America or the Far East is a defence in law in the UK or the rest of Europe.

The only viable defence is to supply on the basis of having made the best efforts to minimise structural failures in a potentially dangerous sporting scenario - the same law that applies to manufacturers etc of Microlights, Hang Gliders and the like.

I halted sales immediately (fortunately by this time it was December) and set about redesigning the system and the method and materials used in the manufacture. It took me over 4 months of frantic organising and arranging and cost me dear but by the May I had in my hands my own design inners - expensive but virtually bombproof twin bladder inners with a pressure failure overload of x4 (far far safer than aeroplane design standards) and a valve system that allowed a tuber to inflate to rock hard by lung pressure alone.

Then I did a deal with the Americans involved and managed to replace every set of their potentially defective inners by June and I went right across Europe and cleared the issue helping European Distributors free of charge on the way. All the defectives went back to the USA and I am still owed in excess of $1400 on the deal.

Being a decent sort I then sent copies of the expensive legal opinion to every other Float Tube Importer I could contact and even went so far as to inform the Trade Press of events.

And ever willing to turn a potential disaster into a positive advantage I rang up the British Standards Institution and enquired as to the possibilities of a CE stamp and a Kitemark on my nice bladders. They were very congratulatory and told me that although undoubtedly worthy of both accolades there was no category for watercraft less than 2 metres from stem to stern but I could probably get one set up for around 25,000. So I didn't bother, what with sales being of the order of 30 a year!

I have no problems now. But I have vague concerns because approximately once a month some poor unfortunate contacts me for help with his bladder problems. They span most makes of float tubes from a wide variety of sources. All have to do with the failure of PVC Bladders. Some folks have had three or four replacements (always free) before they get sick of it and on to me.

PVC is absolutely the wrong material to make float tube bladders from - it suffers from the same phenomenon that all PVC Floating fly lines suffer from. They all crack in the end. In the case of flylines this is not life threatening and there is a massive comfort and fishability advantage in using PVC flylines rather than Polyurethane ones which are not so good but last for a very long time.

In the case of Float Tubes it is a very bad thing indeed because one day there is going to be a PVC failure on the water rather than on the bankside prior to going afloat. And to complicate matters the unfortunate tuber will probably not be wearing a lifejacket and he will die of it.

The right material to make float tube bladders out of is Fabric Reinforced Polyurethane - you buy it from Messrs Carrington High Performance Fabrics at Dewsbury - there is a better material that they use to make the Petrol Tanks of Formula 1 Racing Cars out of but sadly bladders made from it would retail at around 7,500 a set.

I suppose I shall have a degree of malicious satisfaction when the grieving relatives call me as an expert witness after a PVC Bladder nasty has failed - but I would rather that this never happens because one dead fisherman is one too many.

Good British Bladders cost around 90, American one skin non reinforced single bladder ones around 45, and cheap Far Eastern PVC ones around 2:50.

What's your life really worth to you?

Steve Parton

Steve Parton needs no introduction to the UK readers. Midlands reservoir angler, obsessional float tuber, author and "in the trade", Steve owns Sparton Fishing Tackle (drop by for a visit!) and is well known in the UK for his in-depth flyfishing knowledge.

Return to whence you came
Return to home page