Liferafts are expensive, bulky and something we all hope we’ll never need to use. However, they probably constitute one of the most important items of safety kit carried on board a yacht.
Rafts are designed for different regulations covering different vessels, number of crew for which the vessel is designed and the sailing area. The types of raft used by most leisure users on small yachts will be 6 - 12 man in size and they’re designed to be deployed from a height less than 6 metres.
In simple terms, Liferafts are designed for either inshore use or offshore use. Namely for short term use of less than 24 hours or longer term use of over 24 hours. Liferafts designed for longer term use will be supplied with a larger inventory including dried food, etc.
Liferafts are also categorised as A or B class, with the former being designed for colder weather. This will include additional insulation, usually provided by a double floor.
The specification of Liferafts you require will be set out in regulations but there is an ISO regulation to help you determine each raft’s specification. Many Liferafts will include emergency water, high calorie biscuits, a signalling mirror, fishing line, sea sickness tablets and Thermal Protection Aids (TPAs), to help guard against hypothermia, a big killer at sea.
Most small vessels have Liferafts packed in a soft valise bag, located in a deck locker. Whilst this is fairly secure, thought should be given to ease of deployment, especially if there is a rough sea and crew are sea sick or relatively weak. Liferafts are heavy!
An alternative to the valise pack is a hard plastic case that splits open when the raft is activated. In each case, the raft should be attached by the painter to the vessel. Hard case rafts might be located in a purpose built cradle located on the deck or transom. On ocean sailing yachts, the liferaft may be attached by straps attached to the vessel by way of automatic hydrostatic release mechanisms. This is particularly useful in the event that the vessel sinks very quickly or is inverted.
Whatever liferaft and mounting mechanisms you choose, make sure the specification is sufficient for your use and that you understand what is included within it, how to deploy things like drogues, water ballast and boarding ladders and arrange for the raft to be serviced at the required intervals. This is usually every 3 years but can vary.