Liferafts are essential for an offshore passage and cost very little to hire each day. The liferaft must be regularly serviced in line with the manufacturer's recommendations. The raft should be able to accommodate all the crew onboard. The liferaft should be stowed in a position where it is ready for immediate launching. Never stow it below deck or beneath other equipment. If your on-deck liferaft is secured against theft while on a mooring or in a marina, remember to remove the locks before setting off. You should be familiar with how your liferaft works, how it inflates and you should know what survival equipment is inside it.
A valise is made of a tough fabric. A valise raft should be stowed in a locker where it is immediately accessible to crew on deck, for example, a cockpit or similar locker (in a way that it cannot be over-stowed with other kit). Do not drag, sit or tread on a valise-packed liferaft.
A canister provides more protection for your liferaft. Canisters are often mounted on a frame on deck. Do not sit or stand on the canister. If the canister is stored on deck you may lock it to the deck when you are not using your boat. Be certain to remove any lock before setting off.
The painter of the liferaft, whether it is in a valise or canister, must be secured to the boat (not just held). Make sure the water is clear of debris and then pull sharply on the painter to inflate. If the liferaft inflates upside down, right it the correct way.
The liferaft is launched automatically as the boat sinks; water pressure releases a spring-loaded blade that cuts the main line holding the liferaft canister to the boat. A much thinner, weaker line remains attached. As the boat sinks and the liferaft canister floats to the surface, the thinner line tightens and pulls on the liferaft's inflation trigger inflating the liferaft. As the boat sinks further, the thin line snaps and the liferaft floats free.
Types of Liferaft
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- survival craft that you can actively sail or row to safety
- normally an inflatable dinghy with canopy
- not approved by the MCA
- accepted by some sailing yacht race administrations
- tendency to capsize.
- manufactured to ORC (Offshore Racing Congress) specification
- have dual-buoyancy compartments
- normally have ORC survival pack as standard
- very similar to SOLAS liferaft specification
- inflating canopy.
- manufactured to ISAF (International Sailing Federation) specification
- dual-buoyancy compartments
- double floor
- ballast pockets and floor
- high-visibility colour
- entry ramp
- emergency pack.
There are two international standards for liferafts - SOLAS and ISO 9650. The SOLAS standard was originally developed in 1960 for commercial vessels. It's regularly upgraded but is generally considered to provide the highest quality, yet relatively heavy and expensive, liferafts that are not always suitable for small craft. SOLAS liferafts must be able to withstand exposure for 30 days in all sea conditions.
ISO 9650 was introduced during 2005 by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) and provides specifications for offshore (Type 1) and inshore (Type 2) liferafts for craft up to 24m that do not voyage into extreme zones such as the Southern Ocean. The area of use - cold water or warm water - further subdivides Type 1 liferafts. Choose Type 1 liferafts for use around the UK. ISO 9650 and ISAF specifications are broadly similar. The equipment packs for ISO liferafts can be specified for more than or less than 24 hours - see Liferaft packs. Which one you choose will depend on where you sail.