Choosing the Right Life Raft: A Guide to Life Raft Types

Table of Contents

Chapter 1:Introduction to Life Rafts

Most sailors are still determining what to consider when choosing a liferaft. That’s why we’re exploring a crucial aspect – life raft types and how to choose one. You don’t need to be an expert. Our comprehensive guide will help you from the legal liferaft requirements to maintaining your selected life raft.

1.1 Importance of Life Rafts

Life rafts are your lifeline when the sea gets rough, especially when your boat starts sinking. They are designed to keep you and your crew afloat when waves crash upon your vessel as you wait for help.

1.2 Legal Requirements and Regulations

Now let’s talk about the maritime world’s nitty gritty and its strict regulations. For instance, all life rafts on ships must have a permanent painter attached to the vessels. This allows for easy deployment in case of a tragedy at sea.

Legal Requirements and Regulations

If you’re using an inflatable raft, it must automatically inflate when the ship sinks by springing into action on its own. In addition, the way your life rafts are stowed matters a lot. Ensure they are positioned for easy manual release and that you can access one raft at a time.

That’s so important, especially when dealing with davit-launched life rafts. For overboard launching, your life raft must be easily transferable to either side of your ship. After all, flexibility is a lifesaver when seconds count.

1.3 Factors to Consider When Choosing a Life Raft

Now, let’s get into the exciting part – choosing the perfect life raft for your sea adventures. Remember, your choice is what makes the difference between a safe return to the shore and a maritime nightmare. To choose between different life raft types, look at:

  • Ease of use and certification:Imagine fumbling with a complicated life raft in an emergency. That doesn’t sound good, right? Go for a life raft with simple and clear instructions to give you peace of mind.
Factors to Consider When Choosing a Life Raft

Always prioritize safety. Double-check to confirm that your raft is certified and complies with regulation standards such as FAA or SOLAS requirements.

  • Your cruising area and needs: Are you an open-sea explorer or a lake enthusiast? A dingy or inflatable life raft will be enough if you prefer smaller water bodies. Off-shore rafts are suitable for voyages, while coastal rafts will be ideal for those who prefer staying close to the shore.


  • Buoyancy: Choose a life raft that will keep you afloat in emergencies. After all, nobody wants a sinking life raft as their lifeboat. Check and confirm that it won’t capsize during rough sea conditions.


  • Size and type of boat: Size really matters, but perhaps not as much as you’d imagine. We understand you prefer specific life raft dimensions, but your size should be guided by where you sail frequently.
Size and type of boat

If you’re worried about limited deck space, opt for a valise life raft to store below the deck. Also, don’t oversize! Maintain a cozy fit in your raft for better beat and weight distribution for survival when the se gets rough.

  • Budget-friendly options: Life rafts are often significant investments, but you should never compromise safety. If you have budget constraints, purchase re-certified preowned rafts from reputable sellers. These always offer a cost-effective yet secure solution.

Upto this point, you’ve analyzed everything, and it’s time to choose a life raft. Here are some types of life rafts you can select.

Chapter 2:Types of Life Rafts

In our exploration, we’ll delve into two types of life rafts – inflatable and rigid.

2.1 Inflatable Life Rafts

You can compactly store inflatable life rafts when not in use, but they spring to life when an emergency arises. They are a must for aboard sea-bound vessels with strict adherence to SOLAS standards and often bearing certifications.

Inflatable Life Rafts

Types of inflatable life rafts include the Open Reversible Inflatable Life Raft (Type K) and Throw-over Type Self-Inflating Life Raft (Type AZ), to name a few.

2.2 Rigid Life Rafts

Rigid rafts don’t rely on air for buoyancy but maintain their solid shape throughout. They can withstand harsh maritime conditions and offer more space and stability.

You’ll commonly find them in commercial and industrial applications where a high level of reliability is crucial. For instance, cargo ships, industrial vessels, and offshore oil platforms heavily rely on rigid life rafts.

Chapter 3:Key Features and Components

Before launching your raft, check if it has the following life-saving features and devices:

3.1 Buoyancy and Capacity

Buoyancy is what keeps you and your crew afloat in times of sea adversity, but it’s also about capacity. An overcrowded craft can capsize, while the one that’s too spacious can be difficult to maneuver.

Buoyancy and Capacity

Small life raft types can accommodate 2-4 people, but large ones can carry up to 8 souls. Just have enough room to ensure you’re comfortable to guarantee your raft’s stability.

3.2 Inflation Mechanisms

Automatic inflation is a game-changer for inflatable rafts. Generally, your raft should come with ingenious inflation mechanisms. Should disaster strike, it should spring into action with a hands-free approach.

3.3 Canopy and Survival Equipment

Canopies are equivalent to a roof in your life raft. They protect you from the elements and shield you from the drenching rain, scorching sun, and biting winds.

You’ll also find survival equipment carefully stowed away inside your life raft. These include first-aid kits, drinking water, seasickness medication, and fishing gear. It is more of having a survival store on board to help you weather the storm while waiting for rescue.

3.4 Ballast Systems

Ballast systems provide the needed stability when the sea is less welcoming. These weighty components are strategically placed in your life raft to keep it upright and prevent it from capsizing.

3.5 Emergency Signaling Devices

You never know when a sea emergency could arise, and that’s where emergency signaling devices come in. These devices include the PLBs (Personal Locator Beacons), EPIRBs (Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacons), and more.

Emergency Signaling Devices

When in trouble, all you need to do is activate these gadgets, and they will instantly transmit your distress signal to the rescue teams. They also pinpoint the exact location, ensuring help arrives when needed.

3.6 Lifelines and Boarding Aids

Lifelines and boarding aids ensure you climb aboard securely without slipping back into the water. Think of them as safety ladders that will help you transition from the treacherous sea to safety in a life raft.

Chapter 4:Selecting the Right Life Raft for Your Needs

Once you’ve considered the earlier factors, focus on your needs to get the perfect fit. This is what should guide you.

4.1 Considerations for Recreational Boaters

Your choice should mirror the spirit of your escapades. If you’re the type who loves tranquil lakes or leisurely sails on short coastal cruises, a compact, and easily stowable life raft may be your best friend.

A coastal life raft will balance size and functionality for those with ample deck space on large vessels.

4.2 Commercial and Industrial Applications

For commercial and industrial mariners, rigid life rafts are durable and reliable to withstand the demands of cargo vessels and industrial ships. However, the number of crew members you sail with should tell you the specific size to choose.

But remember that maritime regulations often require vigorous service schedules. So, stay close to a certified service center if you are to go for commercial life rafts.

4.3 Aviation and Marine Transport

Unlike other settings, aviation and maritime transport are different. With these industries’ stringent requirements, you must follow regulations such as SOLAS for the type of life raft required.

For instance, if your aircraft is over 12,500 lbs, you need TSO’d life rafts. On the other hand, your chosen vessel for marine transport must be certified to provide maximum safety at sea.

Chapter 5:Maintenance, Inspection, and Training

Proper maintenance, inspection, and training are essential for all life raft types, but let’s look at each component separately.

5.1 Life Raft Maintenance

Life Raft Maintenance

Check for signs of damaged seams, wear and tear, punctures, and corroded parts. Ensure the canopy and inflation mechanisms are in top-notch conditions to detect issues before they escalate into full-blown tragedies.

While doing all these, don’t forget essentials like cleaning and drying your life raft after use. Sun and saltwater are harsh taskmasters, so a little TLC is needed to extend your liferaft’s lifespan.

5.2 Regular Inspections and Testing

These inspections are your life raft’s health check to ensure every component is functional. Check inflation systems for functionality and leaks and perform buoyancy tests to ensure your life raft can still float its weight. Inspect the survival equipment for expiration dates.

To test your life raft, inflate it periodically to ensure it holds air properly. It’s an excellent hands-on approach that reveals any hidden issues that visual inspection might miss.

5.3 Training and Familiarization

Training and Familiarization

Take your time and go through the manual that comes with your life raft to understand its features. Please attend safety courses on life raft deployment and survival techniques. This can be a whole game-changer when an actual life-saving situation arises.

Chapter 6:Conclusion

Consider legal requirements and regulations when choosing a life raft. Ensure it has all the essential safety features and components. Depending on your needs, choose one that serves you well. Also, ensure regular maintenance, inspection, and training on properly using it. Stay informed, and your maritime escapades will always return safely to the shore.