Life Rafts ... To Have or Not to Have ?

Life Rafts -For the most part, recreational boating activities do not raise to the level of risk that requires having a life raft onboard. While newer boats are highly reliable, and we seldom hear of one sinking; these emergencies do happen. So, if you have a large yacht, sail boat, or sport fishing boat; and you engage in long distance offshore cruising, deep sea fishing, or offshore sail racing you should consider having a life raft onboard. These rafts are designed to keep a crew that has abandon a ship alive while confined in a hazardous offshore, or inland lake environment.

Abandoning a Ship is a Last Resort … We have all heard stories of boaters who pass away in small, improperly equipped rafts after abandoning a ship. We’ve also heard of ghost ships found adrift and uninhabited. One of the most famous ghost ships is the freighter named Baychimo. This ship went missing in 1931. It was last sighted adrift in 1969. The lesson here is to abandon ship only when it is the last option available. The Baychimo’s crew was never seen again. The ship lived another 38 years. Situations that would require abandoning a ship are a rapid intake of water with no means to stop the flow, and fuel or electrical fires. You can learn more about abandoned ships at

Types of Survival Rafts … Coastal, Offshore, and Ocean life rafts are the most common types available. Coastal Life Rafts … These are the least sophisticated design and should only be used for short-term emergency use on warm, Inland and Near Coastal waters. These types of rafts generally include canopies and feature a single layer floor with low walls along their sides. Offshore Life Rafts … These rafts are designed to provide protection in demanding climates. They are equipped with dual tubed sides and a canopy shelter. They have enhanced stability and do not capsize easily. Offshore rafts feature an inflatable floor which provides additional insulation between its occupants and the temperature of water. Ocean Life Rafts … Ocean life rafts are packed with plenty of survival gear, they have canopies that provide a barrier against the elements and double-layered floors that help keep occupants warm and safe.. They also feature stability enhancing ballast bags that minimize chances capsizing. Ocean life rafts are designed for use on vessels that travel long distances across vast oceans.

Inflation and Deployment - Self Deploying Rafts … These types of rafts are common on large boats. They are designed to deploy automatically as the boat is sinking or capsizing. When properly maintained, these rafts float free from the mother ship and self-inflate. However, in situations such as a fire on board; the ship must be abandoned before it sinks which may take a long time. In this event, the life raft must be manually deployed. Manual Deployment …To manually deploy a life raft follow these steps: 1- Remove the raft from its canister, or be prepared to throw the unopened canister overboard. 2 - Manually secure the painter line (the raft's bowline) to a strong point on boat’s deck such as a cleat or railing. 3 - Toss the full canister or the uninflated raft overboard. 4 - Pull painter line to actuate cylinder that inflates the raft. 5 - If practical, pull raft alongside and board the raft directly from your boat. 6 - Place extra equipment and supplies aboard the raft. 7 – Float free from the mothership, and deploy a sea anchor. 8 - Secure the canopy. 9 - Allow the raft to drift away from the abandoned vessel. Using a Raft to Rescue People on a Vessel in Distress … When conditions are too dangerous to maneuver close to a distressed vessel, a life raft can be used to rescue people onboard or in the water. To do this follow these steps: 1- Establish communications and make sure all passengers are advised to wear a PFD. 2 - Approach the vessel in distress from the windward side. 3 – Attach a long line to the rescue raft and allow it to drift downwind to the distressed vessel so that it’s passengers can board the raft. If necessary, a heaving line can be used to enable the vessel’s crew to pull the raft to their ship. 4 - Once the life raft is alongside the boat, direct the passengers to board the life raft, one person at a time. 5 - Use an additional line as a heaving line to retrieve people who are already in the water. 6 - After recovering all victims, bring the rescue raft aboard the rescue boat and deflate it. 7 - Clean and repack the raft. Maintaining Proper Conduct on a Raft … When you abandon a ship, you may not have a rescue ship nearby. In these cases, the safety and survival of everyone in a raft depends on clear thinking and common sense. To be safe follow these guidelines: 1- Maintain a positive attitude. 2 - Inventory all equipment. 3 - Ration water and food. 4 - Assign duties such as keeping a lookout and other tasks to raft mates. 5 - Keep a log that records the following: A: The physical condition and family contact information of raft mates. B: Maintain a food ration schedule. C: Keep a record of key navigational data that will enable you to approximate your position. Survival Gear … Adding a measured amount of survival gear on-board takes your boat’s preparedness to a new level of safety. If you engage in nearshore and ocean cruising and deep sea fishing, it’s a good to have at least one survival vest readily accessible.

Be Prepared … A competent Skipper always has an eye out for the unexpected event. Smart boating is safe boating.

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