Should You Have an Emergency Raft Onboard?

life raft

If you want to maximize the safety of your vessel, you might consider having an emergency raft on board. How exactly does an emergency raft work? Are they worth the cost? And should every vessel have one ready to go?

How Life Rafts Work

Ideally, you’ll never have to use a life raft. It’s designed to be a measure of last resort, after all your other safety measures (such as your bilge pumps and fire suppression systems) have failed. Most modern life rafts tend to be inflatable, capable of holding significant volumes of air to provide buoyancy and durability – the perfect combination for a temporary watercraft to keep you afloat if your primary vessel fails.

Standard life rafts are typically deployed by throwing them overboard and using a davit. Passengers can then jerk a cord that releases compressed gas from a storage canister, thereby inflating the raft quickly and efficiently – often in a matter of seconds.

Alternatively, some life rafts use hydrostatic release units (HRUs), which connect sealed life raft containers to the deck of your chosen vessel. If and when the boat starts to sink, the increased water pressure will automatically trigger the HRU to release its tie to the raft, essentially deploying the vessel automatically.

When Are Life Rafts Beneficial?

It's very rare that you'll run into a situation where you need to use a life raft. In most emergency situations, you'll be able to use a plethora of different tools to prevent your boat from sinking or provide safety for the people onboard. But there are some cases where life rafts have the potential to save lives.

Consider the following variables:

  • Your boat. The quality, condition, and shape and size of your boat will play a role in determining whether a life raft is a good fit. If your boat is old or unreliable, having a life raft onboard could give you a little more confidence and assurance that you'll have an emergency escape route if things get dicey. Similarly, if you're operating a large commercial vessel that carries a lot of people, having a life raft can mitigate risk.
  • Your destination. You'll also need to think about your destination and how you're going to travel. If you're not traveling far from dock for a simple fishing trip, and you plan on returning in a couple of hours, a life raft is probably overkill. Conversely, if you're going to be spending a full weekend on your boat, if you're going to head into the ocean, or if you know you're going to travel vast distances, a life raft starts looking like a more important investment.
  • Your crew. Who is going to be onboard? A life raft probably isn't necessary if you're the only one traveling or if you have a very small group of people. But if your vessel is going to carry several people, a raft may be more valuable.
  • Your budget. Life rafts aren't cheap. Even for an inexpensive model, you'll likely pay hundreds, or even thousands of pounds/dollars/euros. Think about your budget and whether you would feel better investing in other safety equipment instead.

Tips on Choosing a Life Raft

There are many different types of life rafts available, but there's no one size fits all recommendation that works for all boaters. Instead, you'll need to consider the following and make the best decision for your needs:

  • Brand and reviews. What is the reputation of this brand? And what are the reviews for this particular raft like? The more reputable the company, the better.
  • Size. How big of a life raft do you need? Should it be capable of fitting four people? A dozen people or more?
  • Material and construction. What is this life raft made out of? Does it have separate buoyancy chambers to keep the raft afloat no matter what? Is it weighed down with ballast compartments to prevent capsizing? Does it seem tough and durable, and capable of withstanding the elements?
  • Ease of use. How easy is it to inflate and deploy this life raft? Thanks to HRUs, it's possible to get a life raft that deploys automatically, almost like an airbag. But this isn’t necessary in all conditions.
  • Storability. Is the life raft easy to store in a place that's out of the way? More compact life rafts tend to be more convenient.
  • Insulation. Certain rafts provide additional insulation to protect passengers from cold water and cold weather. This is especially important if you're going to be travelling in cold areas or during cold seasons.
  • Visibility. Also consider the visibility of the life raft. Most rafts are designed to be large and brightly coloured, so they're easy to pick out. Some vessels also have onboard lighting to improve visibility further.
  • Budget. Of course, you'll also need to think about your budget. How much are you willing to spend to get everything you want?

Servicing Your Life Raft

If you do invest in a life raft, you should be aware that you'll probably never have to use it. Unfortunately, you can't depend on your raft serving you reliably indefinitely. It's important to service your life raft regularly, inspecting it at least annually for damage and functionality. After many years, you may need to replace it.

Investing in Other Forms of Safety

Whether you invest in a raft or not, it’s vital to invest in other areas of onboard safety. Make sure your vessel is equipped with a radio (and backup batteries) so you can call for help when necessary, bilge pumps, fire suppression systems, tools for improving visibility (like extra lights and a flare gun), a first aid kit, and plenty of fitted lifejackets for everyone onboard. All of these safety upgrades have the potential to save lives or save your vessel – long before you get an inflatable raft in the water.

Do you want to get the most out of your aquatic adventures? Having the right boat makes a big difference. Check out our selection of new and used boats for sale – and find the perfect fit for your maritime needs!

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