For the equipment of ships and yachts with life rafts, high requirements and legal regulations apply. A life raft is indispensable on the high seas for seagoing yachts, but also makes sense in the area of the coast. Only a life raft can save lives in an emergency at sea in case of loss or sinking of the ship. It offers safety and protection for the crew until rescue is on the spot. It enables a longer survival time and also protects against swell and cold.
Depending on the sailing area and the requirements of the trip, life rafts are designed and equipped differently. On islands for offshore use the buoyancy bodies consist at least of a double-chamber hose system. Several air chambers offer higher safety reserves in case of damage and pressure loss. A double floor protects against cold, a roof against spray and waves. In heavy seas, sufficiently dimensioned capsize bags should provide stability in the water and largely prevent the boat from tipping over. In the event of capsize, the raft must be self-righting due to buoyancy. Drift anchors, paddles, bellows and repair material are among the standard equipment of a life raft. A practicable boarding system with entry glider is absolutely important to enable a safe and quick boarding into the raft. The material of a liferaft must be resistant to abrasion and weathering, and of course completely airtight and waterproof. Specially welded PVC plastics are also flame-retardant and remain flexible even when exposed to large temperature fluctuations. In addition to the standard equipment a life raft can be equipped with additional survival and emergency equipment depending on the sailing area. This includes an EPIRB emergency transmitter, a VHF mobile phone, water, food and medication. For yachts operating in the area or on larger inland waterways, life rafts are a good alternative when timely rescue is expected.
The international IMO Convention with the SOLAS regulations regulates the obligation to equip ships with life rafts. They must be certified according to ISO standards and have ISAF approval. Mandated are life rafts for commercial shipping and for the equipping obligatory sport shipping. This also includes, for example, charter ships, training yachts and traditional ships.
Life rafts are delivered either in a pannier or in a fixed container. Pack bags are more flexible and are a little easier to stow away. However, they are also more sensitive to pressure and damage. Life rafts must inflate reliably and automatically even in sub-zero temperatures and high temperatures. Nevertheless, they should be stored in winter storage in a dry and frost-free place. This prevents the formation of condensation water and damage due to freezing moisture in the container.
The size of the liferaft depends on the number of people who usually travel on board. It should fit exactly to the crew size. In too large life rafts the shipwrecked persons find little support. On the other hand, the tighter you sit, the less room to move. Where a life raft is installed on board depends on the size of the raft and the type of boat. The basic rule is that a life raft must be quick and easy to use in an emergency. The best place for this is on deck. Life rafts in panniers, for example, which are stored in stowage spaces under bunks, cannot be brought on deck quickly enough in an emergency. For containers, special life raft holders are available for mounting on deck or on the railing. Optimal is the mounting on the pushpit. From there, the life raft can be activated in the best possible way. The container is released from the holder and thrown overboard. A rip cord, which also causes the release, connects island and boat until the crew has boarded. Only then can it be cut from the life raft. For safety reasons, the rip cord has a predetermined breaking point, so that the life raft can detach itself from the sinking boat and is not pulled along.
The reliable functioning of a liferaft depends largely on regular maintenance. A liferaft sailed on deck is exposed to considerable stress due to temperatures, UV radiation and mechanical loads. Every liferaft has maintenance intervals which are mandated by the manufacturer. They have to be observed at all costs, if you do not want to lose your insurance cover. Maintainance is only allowed to be done by authorized specialized firms.