When I hear things like the "average" response time is 270 minutes and "we can tough it out for four hours" it concerns me.
Even in warm water
- 80 degrees - you will start losing coordination and get tired after a few hours. Off shore the water
temperature drops more than near shore. Its easy to think about how the water is when you are swimming and snorkeling in the sun drenched shallows. Go a few miles off shore where its 1,000+ feet deep is it isn't quite so warm. Hypothermia affects you FAST, much faster than you think it will and it can make you non-responsive and uncoordinated long before it kills you.
WRT to 270 minutes from EPIRB
launch to pickup, I wouldn't count on that. Even in the Caribbean
which is pretty populated, though there are a lot of boats around, they need to get things moving and come find you. Off shore...no way would I expect that. For everyone that gets picked up half an hour after they abandon ship there is someone out there for much longer.
Philosophically I dislike putting myself in a positions of being THAT dependent on shore side support. Although getting into your liferaft
is an admission you need outside help, it is still based on a plan that you will be able to survive for quite some time after the loss of your boat until help arrives. It does NOT assume that help is expected to be prompt and on demand.
Beth & Evans make a good point about life rafts, in that you might not be inclined to fight as hard to save your ship if you can bail. But I differ in that I think whil ethere may be a point where the ship is lost
no matter what you do, at that point I'd rather not die. I like to think I have the good sense to be stepping UP into my life raft if I ever have to use the thing.
And the points about visibility when you are in the water is are spot on. Tiny little heads are hard to see, and you can carry all sorts of visibility tools in your raft that you won't have if you are floating in a PFD
When it comes to "using your dinghy" keep a few things in mind. For most of us sailing off shore our dinghy
is secured VERY tightly so it can take waves without moving and not chafe. So it is not going to come up off the deck
quickly. Think dark, choppy conditions, maybe rain and you are either trying to wrestle something that is secured in the davits
, or up on the bow trying to cut the lines loose and manhandle it overboard
. An inflated RIB
is a pain in the tuchas to manhandle on a deck
in flat calm at anchor
- off shore and pitching decks at night it will be way beyond that.
Your life raft is installed in a canister with a hydrostatic release it should deploy on its own if the vessel sinks completely, or be fairly easy to chuck overboard
and auto-inflate. That's my objection to valises below decks BTW, we rented one once...just getting it up and down the stairs was a pain!
I don't think the dinghy
is a super viable option, really only last ditch for coastal cruising. We cruised coastally for a while with nothing but that when our life raft failed inspection
; I didn't like it much as I knew our kids
were at risk. But we were never out of VHF
range of help. When I knew we'd be out of VHF
range of help it was time to get a new life raft (we had one that came with the boat...but it failed inspection
spectacularly and could not be repaired).
If you are truly sailing off shore I'd at least consider renting
one for the big passages, but the cost and logistical difficulties if its a one way rental may be more of a pain than it is worth.
We have a Portland Pudgy
. We love it, its a tough little boat and a great second dink. We do not have the life raft option. I've sailed in the boat, rowed in the boat, and seen it used by our teenagers a lot.
It is approved for the USCG 4 person rating because it has the requisite square footage of floor space for 4 people - which is 4 square feet per person. Sixteen square feet, and that is about the size of the inside of the boat. So each person has a 2' x 2' space to sit in. But its not square, so you don't have a 2x2 space really, its 4sf in an rectangular/curved shape.
have had three teenagers at once instead the boat. It is sort of crowded but it can work. Four though? They wouldn't even try it.
Based on my experience with the Pudgy I can see it as an excellent two person life raft solution. Maybe a 3rd if they were smallish people. Four people are going to be jammed into that like cordwood, you won't be able to scratch your nose without hitting someone else. Which is probably fine for a few hours, I can't see it for a few days it may take you to get found off shore. Legally yes its four people, I'm not sure how practicable it is for four people off shore.
We sail with four - two adults, two teens. We have a six man Switlik on a hydrostatic release strapped in a canister on the deck. I wanted to go with an eight man, but my wife did point out that as a rule
we don't really sail offshore
with more than four people so it would be excessive as when guests are about we're close to shore.
Yes, we have a big boat with room for it. Yes, we just spent an outrageous amount of money
(NZD $1,300) to service
it and refresh the SOLAS gear
before we left for Fiji
. Yes, it irritates me to no end to have this expensive asset that I hope to never use sit on the deck. That is part of the cost of cruising off shore.
But its like an insurance
policy. You hate paying for it, you never want to use it, but if you have to it can save your bacon and in most cases its a pretty good idea to buy it if you can not afford the downside if the worst happens.
So to the original question - does it still make sense?
Yes, it does.
Because you can't count on the "average" response time, you can't count on the water temperature, the the penalty is death if you are wrong.
Though you can consider the type and model and go for something "near shore" if you aren't doing much more than coastal cruising with the occasional run between the U.S. & the Caribbean
. Keeping out of the water is really what is key and you can get a less expensive model for the appropriate conditions.