The Offshore Voyaging Reference Site

Liferafts For Cruisers—Positioning and Mounting

So far in this series we have covered why Phyllis and I carry a liferaft and our recommendations for types and brands.

Now let’s look at liferaft positioning and mounting:


By far the best answer is a purpose-made locker in a place that makes deployment relatively straightforward. Great to say, but if our boat did not come to us so equipped, and most don’t, hard to do.

For the rest of us, where to mount a liferaft is one of those annoying problems with no perfect answer, since pretty much every option has drawbacks.

The Worst Position

For example, on most boats the easiest position to deploy from is the cabin top, since the raft can just be skidded over the side without lifting it, but that’s also the most vulnerable position to being washed overboard, and on most boats results in a hit to visibility from the cockpit.

Given those two problems, Phyllis and I would not stow a raft on the cabin top. After all, it would be upsetting to end up in the liferaft because our boat was sunk by a collision due to the blind spot caused by the liferaft!

The Best Position

So with the cabin top rejected, what’s left?

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More Articles From Liferaft and Survival Equipment:

  1. Liferafts For Cruisers—Purchase Criteria
  2. Liferafts For Cruisers—40 Years of Real-World Experience
  3. Liferafts For Cruisers—Positioning and Mounting
  4. Q&A: Portland Pudgy Tender And Liferaft Combo
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Mitchell Allen

These Life raft books are very timely for me. Our boat came with an out of date Avon 8 person raft. I am in the midst of choosing a new smaller raft and storage space for our boat. A Morgan 383.
I too, have come to the conclusions that you and Phyllis have. The Lazerette on our boat is the proper place. I will go with a smaller coastal raft, in a valise, so I can handle it.
The Avon in a valise must be near 100lbs or more. It had been stowed inside, below the salon table. Both in the way and difficult to get out, even while the boat wasn’t in crisis. And, as you say nearly impossible to heave up the companionway ladder on my own.
Thank you so much for all your hard earned experience and knowledge.
Best regards,
Mitchell Allen

George L

Depends on the boat, of course and how the weight affects the balance, but on deck at the very aft end of the cockpit works really well for us – we don’t have rails there.

We don’t have to worry whether we should use this or this equipment or whether we could just get by with the dingy – the code is crystal-clear: Two SOLAS A units with automatic release.

So we ended up having the cradles done in aluminium and welded to the deck with enough clearance that the rafts would (hopefully never will – meaning never have a reason to) slide out forward or aft. The biggest benefit is that they are where they would be needed and that they simply can be pushed over board without need to lift them.

I am not in favour of putting much if anything on the rails. Most aren’t that strong to start with and stuff that ain’t there can’t be washed away and create damage in the process. Clean decks rule …

For a center-cockpit boat, I would probably go with your position.


On our Westsail 32 we mounted the 4 person raft just forward of the dodger between the centerline and starboard edge of the raised cabin top. There’s a hand rail on the edge of coach roof so we fabricated 4 risers using epoxy filled 5oz plastic cups. ( plastic removed after curing and epoxy painted ) Just the right height to clear the rail and mount the cradle parallel to the deck. The cradle feet where through bolted through the 3/4 ” plywood fiberglassed incased deck. Holes were drilled oversized and epoxy filled then re-drilled. 3″ backing plates for nuts. Additional webbing added to secure hard case to the cradle. The raft is inline with the boarding gate so it’s easy to slide the 80lbs over the side. The offset mounting has minimal impact on sight lines on our vessel. Going forward from the dodger the bow and bowsprit have a significant rise so one really needs to stand anyway to have a good view which gives you a sight line over the raft.

I think we checked off a lot of John’s boxes. The mounting is well secured, far from sources of fire, easy manual deployment, minimal weight impact on the 10 ton vessel and low sight line obstruction.

Andrew Craig-Bennett

I enjoyed this. Kukri, a Nicholson 55, arrived after 44 years in the British Army as an “adventure training yacht” having been coded 0 with a stainless steel cradle for a 12 man canister on the foredeck.

Looking carefully I saw that she had been built with a pair of self draining lockers outboard of the seat backs in the cockpit, to take two valise life rafts and that is what she has once more – a six man to starboard and a four man to port. Each with two flare canisters – one with flares and one as a “grab bag”.

Matt Marsh

This *really* ought to be considered at the concept design stage, when the boat is just paper and ink and digital files. If only that were true of real boats….

For catamarans, if there isn’t a liferaft locker in the bridge deck that’s accessible from both above and below, then I’d usually want to mount the raft canister(s) on the vertical face of the aft crossbeam. Yeah, a lot of cats hang their dinghy there, but it’s usually possible (with some clever bracket-making) to get both to fit without conflict. With the boat upside-down, you can cut the release straps and drag the raft onto the underside of the bridge deck to serve as temporary shelter.

Dick Stevenson

Hi John,
Nice finish to the series of articles.
I know of 2 boats who have lost their rafts on knock-downs (one roll-over that “cleared the decks”).
One of the boats used a tiller and kept the raft on the cockpit floor and did so for years and many passages.
Winslow will custom pack a raft to any reasonable shape and shrink wrap it for a 3-year life before servicing.
We had our Winslow raft made in a valise style and custom packed long and narrow so that it fit just kissing the lid when sitting on the floor in the starboard sail locker in the cockpit (keeping it secure from ever getting “buried” in the locker). (Additionally, it was more secure from the elements, from UV and from theft). This positioning allowed it to be quickly lifted straight out from the locker and placed on the cockpit floor ready for deployment, and also safely behind the dodger. Crew also did not have to expose themselves unduly and were situated in the safest part of the boat.
We considered this locker our emergency locker: it not only held the raft, but it held our “grab” bag, flares in a waterproof river rafting bag and other safety related items. All items had lines attached so they could quickly be tied together.
This locker was not right next to the engine room, but not far away either, but we considered that our smoke detector in the engine room would give us ample warning before any heat got to the locker. Also, the plan was, in a fire, for one to fight the fire (if possible and wise) while the other got the raft etc. out and made preparations to abandon ship. All lifelines were lashed replacing the turnbuckles (allowing them to be dropped to the deck for ease of deployment of the raft) and the grab bag has a serrated dive knife tied to the outside of the bag.
My best, Dick Stevenson, s/v Alchemy

Simon Robinson

Thank you for these liferaft articles – it’s been very useful thinking. On smaller boats – we are 34ft – liferafts don’t get conveniently smaller. Ours is between the mast and the forward hatch where it not only clutters an already small working deck space, but has also allowed me to happily continue procrastinating about ever running a central jackline/tether between the mast and the bow.

As one positive learning from this presumably builder-fitted standard setup, when I first idly looked at re-siting it to the stern rail, without a lot of thought, I got a good look at the very solid backing holding it in place through the cabin top and thought “Hmm – they clearly didn’t think this mass should be taken lightly” and left it where it was, for now.

I’m really not strong, nor is my crew, but it may be a good tradeoff for us to risk an awkward lift from the lazarette and instead improve our “staying on the boat” up forward. Especially where some of those trips forward are to flip a sheet out from under the liferaft.

Dick Stevenson

Hi Simon,
“Not being very strong” makes a good case for an argument to lash your lifelines (remove the turnbuckle) so that, with the swipe of a knife, you can lower the lifelines to the deck. In that way, you do not have to lift the raft, merely slide it to the side deck and on into the water after tying it on.
My best, Dick Stevenson, s/v Alchemy

Simon Robinson

Thanks for that thought Dick. The lifelines are already lashed, so it’s really the initial lift out of a (smallish) locker that has me thinking

Dick Stevenson

Hi Simon,
Got it. I was thinking of the original position where you could just slide the raft from where it is in front of the mast and not have to lift it over the lifelines. Dick

Simon Robinson

Ah – I get your context, thank you. Yes, in the current position it’s literally downhill all the way, through lashed lifelines. Subject to all the good caveats in this article and the comments, easy for one person and tempting as is.

Dick Stevenson

Hi Simon,
When you are anticipating a raft replacement and want it in a locker, think of my earlier post with the options that Winslow gives for custom packing. Winslow’s are, if memory serves, lighter to begin with and are certainly lighter/easier to lift/handle when in a valise.
My best, Dick

Simon Robinson

Yes – I liked the sound of Winslow. I wish more manufacturers offered that option.

Dick Stevenson

Hi John,
Yes, that would work. My knee-jerk reaction to pelican hooks is a relic to the down sides they had in the earlier days.
I would also like to note that leaving the upper lifeline intact while releasing the lower allows the raft to easily be slid overboard and lessens the likelihood of the crew prematurely following the raft overboard into the sea.
My best, Dick

Dick Stevenson

Hi Simon
I believe most pushpits are not built/designed for this weight and the movement it will generate in the base-to-deck connection where leaks may start and get into the core.
I would also worry that if/when pooped or when getting hit crosswise by a big wave when offshore, the raft will launch itself or the force of the hit will damage the pushpit.
On Alchemy (a 40 foot boat), for years I used to have a 2 stroke 8hp outboard on the corner of the pushpit rail. I considered it to “wag” the pushpit enough to rig a support to take both the weight and the athwartships stresses.
My best, Dick Stevenson, s/v Alchemy

Whitall Stokes

Well done, John.

I had a discussion with the manager of the largest raft sales & service company here in SoCal. He said he sees many more problems with rafts being mounted vertically rather than flat, horizontally – especially on rails. He thinks water makes its way into the raft and then bad things happen. He didn’t have failure data, just his experience.

On many boats it is tempting to mount the raft on the stern pulpit, but there are downsides like everything in life.

Paolo Sheaffer

Timely! This month we glassed shut the trapdoor meant to release our liferaft from its locker in fwd. bridge deck of our Catana 471. We built a box for liferaft out of 10mm Klegecell (what was available in Martinique) and cut an aperture in our aft bridge deck. I intend to mount four Wichard folding padeyes (two bolt version) inboard of corners to secure raft (Viking in a fiberglass case) with 5mm Dyneema Y configured bridle. Another bridle will have an eye & trapeze handle to help eject raft once unrestrained from first bridle. Self adhesive PTFE sheet and/or acetal skids will help motion. Presently debating on 316 pelican hook or Sparcraft #10 snap shackle with trip lanyard, knowing that Sparcraft will need periodic lube and cleaning. This all sounds theoretical as we are still building this set up. Constructive comments welcome.
Thank you.