I have bought, owned, and had liferafts serviced for close on forty years.
And we just bought a liferaft for our new-to-us J/109. If memory serves that's my fifth.
Here's what I have learned, other than the fact that I hate the damned things:
Like with almost all cruising-boat gear, starting off the acquisition search for a liferaft with the idea that all we need to do is figure out which raft is "best" is a fool's errand.
Rather, the first step is to think about why we even want a liferaft in the first place, and then progress to a set of purchase criteria, assuming we decide the answer is "yes" to the first question.
That process can be further broken down into four parts defining:
- The types of emergencies we are making provision for in order of likelihood.
- The likelihood that the liferaft would actually do its job and save our lives in each type of emergency.
- How long we are likely to be in the raft before rescue.
- The type of sailing we plan to do.
Of course this process is highly subjective, personal and likely to be wrong a lot of the time:
No plan survives first contact with the enemy.
Who knows, but let's go with Helmuth von Moltke
So why even go through the process?
Plans are worthless, but planning is everything.
Phyllis and I agree with both quotes. Even though it's unlikely that things will go according to plan in an emergency, only a fool fails to plan.
If nothing else, the thinking we will have done to formulate the plan will make it more likely that we will do the right thing when said plan turns to dust in an emergency.
So here's Phyllis and my thinking:
I believe your thinking and advice to be very solid. We went through the same process a few years ago when it became clear that out last ocean passage was likely behind us. And came to very similar decisions about fire, length of time before rescue etc.
I look forward to reading the decisions you and Phyllis make.
My best, Dick Stevenson, s/v Alchemy
I agree with everything you say here, and Louise and I went through the same questions before we bought our last raft.
As with yourselves (and Dick) we’re now in a completely different position so the parameters have changed and the main question we are debating is whether a life raft is necessary or not.
It will be very interesting to read your further thoughts and see how they chime with ours – so far.
I read the same books as you in the seventies. When I started going far foreign in the eighties I decided on a Tinker Traveller inflatable sailing dinghy with a CO2 bottle, a flimsy attachable roof and a drogue. I don’t think it would have lasted long in a big sea but it might have got us to land following a fire or a catastrophic breach of the hull, as recently experienced by Tapio Lehtinen. (By the way, congrats Kirsten, I was cheering for you all the way round).
These days I would probably grab the EPIRB, step up into the liferaft – they should be banned from calling them that – and wait for someone to come and get me.
I remember the Trinker well, and think it was a good option too. And I second your congrats to Kirsten.
Would be interesting to hear your thoughts on liferaft that came with the boat and require service.
Is it worth servicing 6-person 5-year old raft or better get a new 4-person one, assuming usually it’s only 2 people on board and sometimes 4.
I had a similar question and spoke with the servicing outfit. They offered to inflate the old raft and do a basic check for a much lower cost before proceeding. My wife and I were then able to inspect it and actually get inside. To fit six people in there would only work shoulder to shoulder sitting up. Very tight. If someone was injured and had to lay prone six really wouldn’t fit. We sometimes carry six and injury’s in such case are possible if not likely. We serviced that one despite the smaller stowage size of a for man.
That was what I was going to suggest too. I will expand on the size decision in a later article.
I will cover a lot of that in the next article.
Immersion suits & acclimation
Do you think it worth considering immersion suits in the mix? While not easy to put on during a potentially overwhelming storm I imagine the task easier and less risky than inflating, launching, and getting into a life raft. Also the suit can be put on before the conditions become overwhelming. Deployment becomes the relatively simple task of jumping overboard with a grab bag.
Even the immersion suit might be overkill. Cold water swimmers acclimatise themselves against the three dangers of cold water immersion; immediate cold shock, subsequent incapacitation, and eventual hypothermia. Subcutaneous fat assists considerably. I tested this in my 48F (9C) sailing waters and found breathing techniques sufficient to manage the cold shock. After surviving the shock, research confirmed that my BMI would see me survive indefinitely.
Icelandic fisherman Gudlaugur Frithorsson swam 5 hours in 42F (5C) water after his fishing boat capsized on March 11th, 1984. The cliffs were too steep where he landed so he got back into the water and swam another hour to a suitable landing spot. His BMI was 30. He survived and recovered.
Regular cold-water acclimation, a life-jacket, & a grab bag with “what absolutely should be packed” might be a sufficient life-raft alternative. Slim or unacclimated folk might chose to add an immersion suit.
Anyway, long story short; any thoughts you might have on immersion suits and acclimation will be valuable I’m sure, when you get to part 2.
p.s. I agree that abandoning ship only makes sense when the ship has become more life-threateningly hostile than the environment you’re abandoning to, which is really only the case if the ship is on fire. In the case of sinking you have no choice – the ship is abandoning you.
I will cover immersion suits and cold water in the next article. One thing I will say, I don’t think that taking into account an edge case like Frithorsson or cold water swimmers is a good idea when planning for this kind of thing. Most of us in cold water will be non functional in 15 minutes and dead in an hour, so planning needs to be done for those averages, not edge cases. I would also question that you would survive indefinitely in 9C water, hours, maybe. Guide line for Atlantic Canadian fishermen says: get into your gummy suit, you live, don’t, you die.
I’m sure there are others who have more experience on this topic, but being in cold water (0°C) regularly for diving, plus having worked on picking up people (rescue helicopter), I would say that for cold climate (think colder than about 5-10°C), an immersion suit would be close to vital to your survival. Depending on conditions, it’s unlikely you’ll manage to get in the raft without getting wet.
Once in a liferaft, you will have extremely limited chances of drying things in anything but the nicest weather. You’ll have very limited ability to increase your body heat through exercise. And hypothermia is just a matter of time. An immersion suit would substantially increase this time.
P D, To a certain degree I support your statement of just an immersion suit and a grab bag. If you’re in an area within reach of rescue helicopters, what you need is to let the rescuers know you’re in distress and where you are (a modern EPIRB), and a way to survive till they come (immersion suit). This could work for some hours. Maybe a day or two of you’re lucky. For inshore and slightly offshore it could certainly be an option. However, I’m not sure it’s cheaper or takes less space or time than a life raft for 3-4 people. I do not agree to getting in the water without a drysuit. It’s rarely a happy outcome.
Next, the liferaft is what we see as a “get out of jail card”, but we never practice using it. Going once to a survival course 10 years ago in a pool does not count. We rely on a piece of gear that we have never tested or trained with, while we are most likely in the most stressful situation we will ever be in our lifetime. We don’t even know if it works (as I’m sure John will cover in the next article). An immersion suit you can check and practice with often. A non-trivial point indeed if we choose to do so.
For me, I have “all four”: a liferaft, a dry suit, an EPIRB, and a grab bag. I use a drysuit designed for diving, because it is what I have, it is comfortable, robust, and I use it all the time anyway so I can put it on correctly inless than a minute in a tight place on a moving boat. I use it quite often while sailing in rough conditions because it is totally dry and warm, not so much because I think I’ll go in the water. But it is a factor. Most of the time I sail within helicopter range, so I consider the liferaft secondary. But I sometimes have others onboard, and they usually don’t have drysuits, so a liferaft is still smart, it fits all sizes, even kids. So I have a life raft. For more offshore trips I require people to bring a drysuit of sorts.
A major selection criteria for me is serviceability, as the liferaft that the previous owner had installed is impossible to have serviced for me without shipping it abroad.
I don’t mind so much about the liferaft content package, as I have a grab bag that is securely attached to the liferaft and I don’t need to grab it.
My next thing would be a rib on deck, because diving is part of what I do, and as such a sturdy rib is necessary, even if it is not ideal for sailing. I have it attached with two massive ratchet truck load straps, and I’m experimenting with the idea of adding hydrostatic relate to those. Not sure if it’s ideal, but I’m thinking it can work.
Further, I would say I completely agree to what John says, and I also do what I reasonably can do to keep the boat safe, prevention first. And I especially like the comment of reducing risk by limiting fire hazards in severe weather. This is a universal way of thinking about risk management, not just fire hazards. This whole subject is very interesting and constantly evolving, with technology, sailing ambitions, physical condition, money available (for me at least), and risk acceptance. Looking forward to the next article and all the comments, as this is something we all have an opinion on, but very few knows what is correct. So having my mind challenged on this is good!
One last thing I know that works, is that I always find it MUCH easier to find someone that are floating, and with bright colours, lights and reflective patches…. So festoon yourself, your life jacket and your liferaft with those things.
Also, I only know cold waters (around freezing and sometimes below), so everything I wrote is in this context.
I will get into it more in the next part, but the trade off of survival suits and/or liferafts is a vital one to think about. We ended up with a raft for much the same reasons you state. Anyway, more coming soon.
Great article and interesting discussion about a topic that far from being completely solved.
I’d like to share the perspective of a very famous european sailing school, Les Glenans, that in his manual suggest, based on their experience, that as the liferaft is very seldom used, it’s not sufficiently relaiable. Better a small inflatable with a bottle of compressed air attached to the transom. As the inflatable is used very often it’s quite sure is in working condition. An attached canopy would add some form of cover against rain and wind. If the inflatable can be deployed easily (obviously should be on deck) could be not very different from a liferaft once you add a grab bag and a proper floating anchor.
I think that’s a very interesting argument, and one I could certainly get behind. However, one of the common issues with this kind of less usual solution is practicality, so before going that road I would want to see and experiment with an actual dinghy all tricked out for this use, just as I have with liferafts.
For example issues to solve that come to mind (after just a moment) are entering the dinghy from the water, righting from upside-down, and what happens to all the gear and stuff including the inflation bottle when the dinghy is being used for it’s primary purpose?
Probably all solvable, but the question must be how elegantly? I will say that my experience has been that the more different tasks we ask a given piece of kit to perform, the harder it is to get it right, and those challenges tend to escalate at a far higher rate than linear.
John, Thank you for another interesting article. We just replaced the life raft on Aurora after a frustrating struggle to get our then current raft through its first scheduled service.
The big name, highly regarded international raft company customer service was so questionable that we bit the bullet and replaced the raft.
Looking foreword to Part #2 and your experience with having rafts serviced.
I’ll share a few more of our lessons learned at that time.
Ray & Janice
I have had a similar experience. It will be interesting to compare notes on the next article.
A couple of years ago we decided our Winslow Ultralight had reached the end of its useful life, and we decided to inflate it on the dock before donating it to a sailing school.
I pulled the tether smartly. Nothing happened. I pulled and pulled while the raft, a good sixty pounds of dead weight, slid towards me with each pull. We had had the raft serviced in the Med a few years previous. In the post-service vacuum bagging the bag had been heat fused to the raft tether. To pop the raft we had to cut the tether away from the thick plastic bag.
To this day I can’t believe we sailed several years blissfully ignorant of our peril in the Eastern Med without a dependable raft. This kind of thing is hard to spot, given the tightly compressed, laced packaging for a valise raft, and without a practical possibility of pre-testing its actual inflation.
Hi Reed and all,
I believe I am correct in remembering that Beth and Evans Starzinger, when on the other side of the world (Australia?) and, to save money got a bunch of liferafts/cruisers together to service them en-masse. They all pulled the cord to inflate prior to servicing and an appalling number were defective. I forget the details. I will try to find the write-up.
As a Winslow user, I wish to point out that your raft’s failure was a servicing issue and not a Winslow issue (except for the probability that it was serviced by an approved Winslow service center). I hope you have apprised Winslow and the service center of the problem. I would be interested in their response and whether they suggest a way for other skippers to check on this having occurred inadvertently.
My ocean level Winslow had seen 5 servicings, which seemed like enough, and I was moving to coastal cruising, so we bought a coastal level raft. It was also 2-3 years past due for its sixth servicing. I was in a yard/marina (Shining Waters) and we thought others might be interested and, after posting a notice of a weekend event, had a bit of a crowd.
The inflation went off without a hitch. Ginger and I had the opportunity to be hands-on to the many packed accessories that we had only read about or had minimal contact with before. We spent a bit of time inside getting acquainted and imagining what life would be like living in a raft. We learned a lot. It was quite valuable. Others did the same as we left it inflated for a week or so during which time I do not remember it needing topping off of air.
My best, Dick Stevenson, s/v Alchemy
These sorts of things can be tricky to sort out design versus servicing/use. Sometimes a design makes a failure like this much more likely. In many industries, having a formal human factors program is now the standard but it definitely wasn’t a few decades ago and I kind of doubt that there is the money in the liferaft business to do it. It does help deal with these sorts of failures but at the same time it takes a lot of time and resources and many people don’t like the feedback they get. Some things are obviously bad but others only show up in extensive HFE testing or in real customer use and the manufacturer will rarely let you know the real reason. In this case, I have no idea where the fault lies.
Agree. Many a product has garnered a poor reputation because of poor installation practices. And then there are the unrealistic demands some make on their equipment (and then complain).
Your post reminded me that, years ago, in helping another boat install a raft cradle: there were instructions on the releasing the raft and inflation etc., but not one word on the installation of the cradle and its need to be very secure. A paragraph would have likely sufficed.
In looking back now, my cynical side says that, were they to have mentioned the cradle install at all, someone said they would then be liable.
My best, Dick
A scary story indeed, and very hard to see how you could have caught it in any way. I will take a look at this issue in more depth in Part 2, but I certainly don’t have any magic to prevent this kind of thing.
I do admire how you start each new topic with your critical thinking and planning, the essence of good seamanship. And great topic by the way.
Since a number of our offshore passages would be double handed, our first mate with slight build needs to be able to lift, drag and then launch our raft single-handedly. This in case I am incapacitated by, or during, an emergency event. This one criteria ruled out most stowage positions and most liferafts for us.
It especially ruled out rafts over 4 persons, rafts with higher daily ration / water allowances, and all those in the hard and unwieldy plastic shells – she couldn’t move these on the showroom floor, let alone launch them from a moving boat.
I’ll hold back what we did chose and comment if not covered in Part 2.
Very good point on ease of launching for the smallest crew. Definitely a vital criteria.
Regarding abandoned boats later found afloat, an extreme example is the Westsail 32 that was abandoned by her crew when removed by Coastguard rescue in the famous Perfect Storm. She washed ashore on the east coast somewhere 2-3 months later, with the abandon ship bag they had left behind unsecured in the cockpit still there. So not only did she stay afloat (dismasted), but whatever rough treatment she experienced during the rest of the storm and later months was not violent enough to wash the bag out of the cockpit. The rescue was much more dangerous for the yacht crew than riding it out onboard, not to mention risk to the rescue crew.
I am glad you mentioned the risk to the rescue crew. I think it is an under-emphasized concern for recreational skippers many of whom seem to feel if they get unhappy offshore, they can call for rescue.* Few would quibble with a yacht calling for help in the Perfect Storm, but, every year, we hear reports of yachts calling for SAR help and putting the SAR men and women in danger when they should not have been where they were, on that boat, with that crew, in the first place. SAR is there, to my mind, for well-prepared boats and crews who have bad luck.
My best, Dick Stevenson, s/v Alchemy
*Your description of the boat’s condition makes clear that had the crew been willing to endure discomfort for another day or so, they would have been alive and well, albeit perhaps without a mast.
I had forgotten that one, thanks for reminding me. Just another example proving the point that getting in a liferaft in a storm should be the very last option considered.
The beaching of Satori, the Westsail 32 in question, had an interesting afterstory left out of the movie. https://www.westsail.org/satoristorm
In reading the article on the Satori that accompanied the link that Marc posted, one of the reports stood out for me as worth comment. It is that they had their raft ripped off their deck in a knock- down which then inflated tethered to the boat and needed to be cut away.
It is hard to overestimate the forces that occur to on-deck items in a knockdown or rollover (my data in this area is accumulated the best possible way: from anecdotes from friends who have had this experience and reports from others who have written about same).
It is my observation that far too many installs of on-deck life rafts are inadequate, sometimes laughably so except that the danger is so apparent.
The most common error is to just screw the cradle for the raft to the deck: this is often done by owners who ask the yard to do the install. Sometimes the cradle is placed on the “garage” for the companionway hatch: and these garages are not only not built for this, but are not attached to the deck with adequate strength.
Sometimes, the install is well done with good backing plates and the cored deck back reefed and filled, but the cradle does not look, to me, up to the task: like it will get twisted about when forces are extreme and the pads are of too thin metal.
And, I have wondered about those rafts with hydrostatic releases when immersed, even if briefly, and when there is much water flying about.
Random thoughts, My best, Dick Stevenson, s/v Alchemy
First-order rough approximation:
Fd = 1/2 * ρ * U^2 * Cd * A
Put a 6-person liferaft in a canister on deck and hit it with a wave breaking over the boat at 9 knots.
ρ = 1025 kg/m^3
U = roughly 4.6 m/s
Cd = damned close to 1.0 for a chunky round-ish box
A = let’s look at the dimensions in Viking’s catalog and call it 0.6 m^2
Fd = 6500 N
Hmm. Is your liferaft bracket capable of withstanding two-thirds of a ton of lateral force? What if the breaking wave or knockdown is faster? (Twice the speed = four times the force.)
Very useful numbers. I shall plagiarize shamelessly for the next post…with a credit line. Thanks
Is there any etiquette, liability, or insurance guideline around abandoning ship, i.e.; is it OK to leave a floating hazard? I thought that it might be obligatory to open sea cocks if the boat wasn’t already sinking. An obligation like that might also give focus to whether abandonment was the right decision.
I used to think we could setup an inflatable tender as a life-raft, with sun cover, drag device etc. but was told by Panteanius that they would not insure for off shore without an approved liferaft, so that ended our DIY musings.
But the necessity was brought home to us by the story of sv Katarina (Walter Cronkite’s 64′ Hinkley) that was lost (sunk) in the Philippines and the 3 Aussies on-board spent 4 days in the seas off Dinagat Island before a local fisherman spotted them clinging to floating debris. Anthony Mahoney died of exposure. They had set off a 406 Epirb and Australian SAR recorded it & had the location, but passed the ball to the Philippines SAR. Four days and nights! It was a holiday in the Philippines…….
So, lesson learnt. SAR is (maybe) wonderful in first world jurisdictions, but in remote areas or third world countries, not so much.
So they had neither liferaft or dinghy ready to go? Do I have that right?
My limited understanding is that they were hanging onto a deflated tender, it may have been punctured in the storm. No mention of a life-raft. They had been in very rough seas for a couple of days from a nearby tropical storm. The yacht was found washed ashore on the nearby island the day after the EPIRB was activated, dismasted but otherwise in not bad shape. So they were still in the sea off that island, but it does not sound like there was any SAR effort by the Philippines rescue services.
Why they would abandon sv Katerina for an inflatable in a storm, is a mystery. I have not seen or heard anything from the 2 surviving crew that could explain exactly what happened, which is a shame since I think it would be very instructive. After our launching and extensive sea trials, we will be cruising Thai, Malaysian and Indonesian waters before heading to Oz, so very interested in how SAR works, or more likely it seems, doesn’t work in SE Asian cruising.
I also searched to see if there had been an inquest/ accident report/ or coronial report on Mahoney’s death, but zilch.
Thanks for the fill. As you say, it’s a pity that, as so often with yacht disasters, we don’t have complete information to learn from.
For Lake Ontario, we worked through the same analysis in the article above, and decided not to carry a last-glimmer-of-hope raft.
– The most basic raft that could fit us and a typical set of guests was $3500. That kind of coin buys a lot of good lifejackets, extinguishers, and fire prevention (eg. replacing most of the wiring and fuel hose to modern standards).
– On a 35-footer, the life raft storage places that leave it accessible to deploy when the boat is sinking tend to leave it vulnerable in a fire, and vice versa.
– Time and money spent maintaining the raft would detract from time and money spent keeping the boat in her best condition.
– SAR resources, both professional and volunteer, are excellent here. I once called in a “mayday relay” for a burning boat two miles away. By the time we arrived on scene, the guy had already been plucked from the water, with a fireboat and two sets of cops on the way. And I once investigated an incident where a SAR station picked up RF leakage from a radio training simulator in a classroom; the helicopter scrambled so fast that it had eyes on the purported coordinates before the instructor’s call of “hey Coast Guard, we think this sim hardware might be faulty, did you pick up any practice calls from this callsign?” reached the base.
Obviously the picture is not the same everywhere, but that’s how the logic works out in our case.
We made the same choice with our 33 footer in Lake Ontario. We just filed float plans with the CG and, realistically, not only were we always within VHF “big red button” range, but often cell phone range as well.
I think your ranking of what you would use the liferaft for makes a lot of sense. I also agree that we need to think differently about the amount of time in the raft, it isn’t that there are not problematic areas of the globe but for most people, a long wait is too statistically improbable to put time and effort into.
We ended up deciding on gumby suits with no liferaft for the style of sailing that we do many years ago. The time to don the suit and need to do it before getting in the water always bugged me for fires but the ability to practice with it (how about an occasional hour long drift around an anchorage in 50F water?), my perceived higher likelihood of survival and easier service is why we chose it. Now that our kids are old enough that we are spending more time >30 miles offshore and at night, I have realized that I need to rethink the strategy as I doubt kids and gumby suits go well together. I will be interested to see what your thoughts are in the coming article.
Yes, Phyllis and I very nearly ended up with survival suits and no life raft. More on why we ended up with a raft next, but I would be the first to say it’s close run decision.
while I agree with the contents of your article I am surprised the use of the liferaft is never mentioned in a man overboard situation. My wife and I sail our 53 ft Bestevaer mostly with the two of us and we have agreed the liferaft will go overboard immediately if and when we were to be successful to return to the MOB. If the casualty is conscious he or she can than climb into the liferaft before attempts are made to get back on board. With just the two of us the chances of getting back on board are next to zero due to the high freeboard, no bathing platform etc. We do have a really deep swimming ladder ready to be deployed, we have practiced and concluded that it is impossible to use that in any kind of sea but flat water. Especially when wearing an inflated life jacket. So for us the liferaft serves another purpose as well, I have considered buying one of the really lightweight two person rafts for this purpose.
I believe there is a lot of wisdom in your suggestion: especially for bigger boats where a small raft for this purpose could easily find a home. And a raft of this sort could be light enough to be easily handled by the weakest crew member.
Thanks for your thoughts, Dick Stevenson, s/v Alchemy
BTW, I love the looks of Besteaver sailboats boats: just seeems like a really smart design.
I agree, but with this kind of article, we must stop somewhere. That said, I’m planning to revisit POB recovery based on some practice Phyllis and I planning for this summer, so I will look at that too, then. I can say at this point that liferaft deployment has always been in Phyllis and my POB plans too.
Hi again Douwe,
I totally agree on the impracticality of ladders on big boats. Phyllis and I decided years ago to not even bother messing with ours in a POB situation. Just a distraction. I’m even skeptical of ladders on smaller boats like our J/109. Might work in smooth water but offshore? I don’t think so.
Douwe, I have performed hundreds of person overboard drills in many conditions, assuming that the person is incapable of helping themselves. Two aspects: most of the time they need to be on your leeward beam with the boat drifting onto them, the person overboard will get pushed along with the hull. There needs to be tether on the lifejacket that can be scooped up and attached to whatever system you have for pulling people up I use block and tackle dedicated for this at 8:1, others use their electric winch halyards). After decades of overboard drills, boat hook in the lifejacket lifting strop, lying down and leaning over the side to grab the lifejacket strop, persons in climbing harnesses and other stuff being lowered, I came across “Duncan Wells MOB Lifesavers”, you can Google that phrase. On my test dummy, me, my partner, who is not as strong as me, easily lifts me out the water.
I only offer this as an observation, not an endorsement, and based on my experiences as a system that works on my boat and lifejackets. I also will not enter into a debate or further discussions on this matter, as this topic is not the place. I just felt that you have options that are better and faster than deploying a liferaft. For clarity I have no association with the seller of MOB Lifesavers, except as a buyer of the product.
I agree that if we can lean down and touch the POB the MOB Lifesaver would be very useful.
I certainly agree as well, however my arms are to short given the height of our freeboard, which is still quite low compared to modern designs. Also I started off by saying it’s only a two handed boat.
Please also discuss raft locating onboard. It can be rather a puzzle. My very experienced raft servicer said he sees many more problems with canisters not mounted flat. Midship mounting flat appears horrific to my eye with green water coming aboard. The Admiral getting the valise out the companionway during a fire also feels less than optimal. Always trade-offs and compromises.
I much prefer a dedicated life raft locker on deck, as long as the designer has had the chance to decide where it should go, for (a) launching purposes and (b) weight distribution.
Deck mounted canister rafts are indeed vulnerable and the mountings are often not as well attached as they should be.
I will give it a go, but I’m the first to say it’s a tough one to solve really well, and the smaller the boat gets the harder it gets. As you say, there will always be compromises.
My Viking liferaft has two plastic packing straps that keep the clamshell case closed, hopefully breaking upon a jerk of the painter and inflation. One splintered due to abrasion on the outside rail/bracket so I had the local Viking repair shop come to replace it. When he came he forgot the strap material and said he would come back in an hour, which he did. The new strap material was obviously larger and when I asked him where he got it from he told me from a hardware store! Good lord…the thing might have never opened if needed.
I agree, that is disturbing and not the level of professionalism that I have general experienced with liferaft service outfits.
Hi John, Dan and all,
Yes, John, I agree about generally good experiences in raft service.
A suggestion to those who have a bad experience: the mother company should be told about shoddy practices. That kind of slippery practice is likely not an isolated event.
Best to have someone committed to good work, but it is also acceptable, to me, to have good work emerge from good supervision.
My best, Dick Stevenson, s/v Alchemy
An observation: In Europe the raft servicers allowed us to see the raft opened up and spend time with it and its contents. We learned a lot. In the US, this request was always denied, always with a “good” reason. I think a skipper’s presense makes good work more likely also.
Interesting how two people experiences can be different. I have been welcomed to see my raft being packed by two NA service outfits, one in Maine and the other in Charleston, and have never been refused, either side of the Atlantic, when I have asked.
Bad luck on my part. That being more the case, I would urge skippers to be present if posible as I learned a good deal.
My best, Dick
I have always carried a liferaft. Humans are fallible creatures and while I try and do my best, risks are realised and we are not designed to survive in the water for any length of time. So, for me, a predominantly coastal sailor these days, I will always fit one. The logic that drives my decision is not scenario based, it is purely driven by consequence management: I don’t want to die of hypothermia or drown because my boat can no longer support my life, irrespective of the reason for loss of boat. Loss of a body at sea, carries other consequences on life insurance claims, inheritance and will execution and emotional responses. Of course for some these are not issues, but for many with assets, this is an important consideration. Going down heroically with your vessel can just turn a bad situation into a difficult administration situation for those left behind. Better to survive in my view.
Whatever the event that causes me to abandon the vessel, I want a liferaft option, over launching a tender, irrespective of whether it is deck stored or davit stored. That does not mean that using such tenders in an emergency is not a better solution, just that the liferaft for me, is the last option. I agree strongly with the view that today, we are very likely to communicate distress quickly and somewhat efficiently, so time to rescue can be reasonable, rather than long.
Regarding hydrostatic releases, I fit them, they appear robust enough and do take time to fire the blade, so it is not an instant cut at 1.5-3m hydrostatic head, so I have wondered if they are metering before tripping to allow for that deluge event that is not an actual sinking.
I opted for a larger raft than the usual solo sail or 4 people crew compliment that is more common, it is not so rare that I sail with a full yacht, and they deserve to survive as well. Modern life rafts that meet ISO standards will remain upright even when empty, as I understand it. The capsize risk is on inflation, before the water bags have had time to properly fill. Hence the older requirement that they needed the compliment of persons for stability is less relevant these days. Anyway, everyone can end up on the low side when a big wave tips the liferaft up, yet they don’t flip. That is direct experience in an environmental pool with big wave machine and wind.
Understand the standards that your choice can be designed and built against e.g. ISO 9650-1:2022(en)Small craft — Inflatable liferafts (used to be two parts, is now amalgamated into a single standard). Also there are different standards for fitting out based on likely time to rescue e.g. I opted for SOLAS less than 24 hour pack, supplemented with my grab bag.
If considering buying one, it is worth getting hold of an old one. In the UK, old life rafts at a maximum of GBP50 (USD63) are offered for sale and they are an easy way to see what they do and how they look. If they don’t work when pulling the pianter, open and inflate by hand with a pump. Dispose of at the local recycling centre.
Go on a sea survival course, where you can inflate and board a liferaft in the safety of a pool. Even with modern floating, smooth ramps, with grab points, an inflated lifejacket makes it awkward and tiring to haul oneself in. These courses are great for developing your emergency plans. You get to use all the kit and see what it is like and how it is stored.
Slide, don’t lift life rafts, one reason to have guard rails that can be quickly slackened, is to allow the liferaft to slide under or tip over the slack top guard wire.
Mats calculations on water loads makes me wonder about the strength of my fastenings. My liferaft sits on low profile chokes, not in a cradle. It is secured with 4 robust straps and a pelican hook, secured with the hydrostatic release. I am wondering if the strap mounts and straps really are wide enough and strong enough. If storm conditions were developing, could I remove the raft to the cockpit floor and update my Emergency Response Plan? In fog, on yachts with under helm seat liferaft stowage, I would always remove the liferaft to the cockpit floor as speed of collision could result in loss and rapid sinking without sufficient time to clear away and launch the raft (Cheekie Rafiki liferaft was still under the helmsman seat). I have experienced a coastal cargo vessel, in fog, appear and disappear out / in the fog right in front of the yacht and we had no idea of the direction it was coming from, based on the muffled noise of its engine.
Once again, thanks for a great article, always new stuff to learn and new considerations to ponder.
I agree with pretty much all of that. Like Matt, you will be shamelessly plagiarized in the next article.