How to launch and board a liferaft

31 January 2017

Anyone with sea survival training will know that evacuating to a liferaft is a last resort measure and in most cases you should be ‘stepping up’ into a raft as your boat sinks below you. The obvious exception to this rule is when your vessel is on fire or you are obliged to use a liferaft to transfer from your own vessel.

The first thing you should be prepared for is the sheer weight of a liferaft. A six man liferaft is heavy and awkward to carry. Trying to unclip it from its mounting points and launch it over the side is easier said than done. It’s probably and two or three person job in a big sea.  Secondly, it’s worth making sure that your liferaft is securely fastened to your boat (probably on a cleat) so that you don’t lose it over the side whilst you watch it inflate and float away, or worse still, sink to the bottom of the ocean!

Most iferafts come in either a fibreglass or valise case which burst open as the liferaft inflates. Inflation occurs when the painter attached to the raft is pulled tight, triggering a cartridge of compressed gas. 

It’s worth planning your evacuation to a liferaft when you have time. Get together anything you might need for your trip including water, extra clothing, logbook, passports, wallets, phones, VHF Radio, charts, flares, tinned food (and a tin opener), cushions (to insulate the cold floor), sea sickness tablets, medication and anything else that might be useful. This may include extra clothing, TPAs, the boat’s dinghy, paddles and anything else that might be useful including a handheld GPS or sextant and reduction tables.

It makes sense for all crew to be briefed at a muster point before evacuation and make sure you all drink what you can BEFORE you leave the boat and take sea sickness tablets. AFTER evacuation you will be abstaining from drinking water for a few hours, so as to acclimatise your body to rationing, so you may as well hydrate yourself properly from the plentiful supply of water on your vessel before you leave.

It is accepted practice to launch a liferaft from the windward aft quarter and the strongest, heaviest member of crew should go first to both stabilize the raft and help other crew into the raft afterwards. When in the raft, cut away the painter and deploy the drogue. You are then looking to reduce risk to yourselves, which means protect yourself against the elements, regulate and measure water intake so as to keep all crew sufficiently hydrated and keep your spirits up! 

Knowing where you are, where you are drifting and how likely you are to be spotted by a passing vessel all helps morale enormously.

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