Let's weigh the pros and cons.
We are going to be coastal cruisers initially, probably no more than 5nm offshore
SAR services are pretty good around most of the coast of Oz.
There are rules and regs regarding carriage of life jackets, EPIRBS and life rafts, depending on circumstances.
Let's review that. Remember this is for private vessels, with South Australian registration
. It's no doubt different elsewhere.
Vessels over 8m in unprotected waters
one personal flotation device (PFD) Type 1 for each person on board
two suitable anchors with cables
two bailers with lines attached and
a bilge pump
if the boat has an engine
facilities - two
one waterproof and buoyant torch or lantern
a two-way marine radio
capable of communication with onshore stations
two hand held red flares and two hand held orange smoke signals
four litres of fresh water
the boat must be fitted with a compass
, preferably liquid damped.
NB: A GPS
one life-buoy with line
one fire bucket
Additionally, vessels in unprotected waters more than three nautical miles from shore, except in Lakes Alexandrina and Albert, or more than five nautical miles from shore in Gulf of St Vincent or Spencer Gulf must carry:
one EPIRB (emergency distress
beacon) (406Mhz Satellite
type, registered with AMSA)
one V distress
All vessels in unprotected waters more than ten nautical miles from shore must also carry (in addition to the above):
two distress rockets with parachutes
a map or chart of the waters in which the boat will operate.
(This is in addition to a chartplotter
, i.e. a real, live, paper chart.)
Note that none of these regulations
REQUIRE carriage of a liferaft
for a private pleasure vessel. (IIRC, the rules change above a certain size, we're just over 10m so this is what we are required to have, even if we decide to sail the Pacific.)
will kill you slowly. Very cold water will kill you fairly quickly.
A life raft won't keep you dry, but it keeps you out of that cold water,and should keep you out of the wind
Sharks are common in our waters. The Great Whites live and love less than a hundred miles from here and we get some very big sharks quite close to home at times. Sharks can take a liferaft
too, but they are far more likely to grab someone floating feet down in a lifejacket. They're known to have taken bites out of glass and wooden boats at times, so I wouldn't guarantee a life raft was a truly safe haven where they hang out. (Down around Port Lincoln and Dangerous Reef is where they shot much of the shark footage for 'Jaws' - just 'down the road' from home.)
Wife's Uncle had such an encounter and they had to bail all the way home, and that was quite close to here. It was a smallish wooden boat... ... so...
There is considerable evidence that people sometimes abandon their vessel far too soon for the 'safety' of a life raft. Boats that have been abandoned and crew lost
(or rescued) sometimes are found still afloat days or weeks later. There is no doubt that any hull
that is still (mostly) above water is likely to be better than a liferaft. I will not abandon my boat until it is definitely going under for the last time and I will be fighting to prevent that right up to then. Will I launch the raft if I have one? Yes, when it appears likely to be needed, but I won't actually abandon until there is absolutely positively no option. You may find it sufficient to inflate the raft and 'park' it on the deck
or even the upturned hull
. If you elect to tie up to it, make sure it can be slipped in seconds in the dark if the hull decides to take the plunge.
Cost is an issue, most things safety
related in Oz have ridiculous prices attached and life rafts are no exception.
of a crash pump is an interesting one. We have a 2.8kva genset that will power a fairly substantial pump. We'll have several high volume bilge pumps on automatic. If I can slow the rate down with pumps, it might give me time to plug
the breach and reduce to something the pumps can cope with longer term. So I'm going to find a 240v high volume pump that will run off the genset.
I would still like to have either a life raft or (preferably) a rib
or something like it fully equipped with a storm cover and survival gear
ready to rock and roll. If it's hard to launch in bad weather
, it probably won't be much easier to get into a raft you've tossed over the side. Worst case, sit in it and cut the falls when the boat sinks. I've seen several comments about dinghys and I think the RIGHT TYPE of dinghy
(and a rib
is close to perfect) might be at least as good.
A punctured or otherwise torn up liferaft will sink, with you in it. Some dinghys are filled with floation and essentially unsinkable.
We plan to have a raft (if I can get one at a price
I can afford) an EPIRB and a good dinghy
filled with survival gear
We have several hand held radios in addition to what's in the boat and phones and even the internet
work up to 50 miles offshore
where we are going to be sailing for the next few years. So I'd say we should be covered.
I've worked in marine rescue
and a liferaft has its place. The number of people that go to sea (even a few hundred yards can be too far for some) with not even a lifejacket is ridiculous. Or they try and put a child in an adult jacket (guaranteed to drown the child if they fall in). Children
must have child sized life jackets, adult ones will probably kill them.
If you are offshore or inshore with kids
and such, you should have a raft or boat that can be quickly launched
(stowed deep below where you need to shift half a ton of gear to get at it is futility) so a decktop cannister or a valise in the cockpit
please, or don't bother.
That said, a sound dinghy, preferably inflatable
with multiple compartments, with survival gear, EPIRB, radio
etc is probably just as good or possibly better, as you may be close enough to shore to self rescue or at least get close enough to get out of danger
A life raft is a drifting, floating bag of people that depends on others coming to find it, better if you can help your self. Much of the time, a good inflatable
boat, properly prepared (the last two words are critical) may be a better/safer prospect than a raft in other than extreme seas.
That covers coastal.
Offshore, you must have something that will at least FLOAT in the worst case scenario and liferafts are designed for that.
If you have an inflatable or unsinkable dinghy as well, so much the better, but you need that last possible haven too. You can't self rescue if you are a hundred miles from land, so the raft is the best option if you really, really, really have to abandon (which to my mind is when the boat actually sinks and not before) or is on fire. I've heard of a ferro
boat that caught fire and the crew abandoned, either to raft or tender
, not sure, the fire eventually burned out, having consumed most of the interior
, but the hull was still sound and the sails
When it cooled off, they reboarded and got it home. I believe it's still around after a major refit
hulls don't burn, but everything in them can, including you, so we plan to carry several small extinguishers plus a couple of larger ones and have a firefighting pump (a decent bilge pump
will work pretty well).
The most overlooked thing here I believe might be communications
. If you can communicate your position and situation to rescue services in your vicinity, or even ships/yachts not too far away, you chances of survival go way up. Make sure you have good radio gear. On long cruises, a sat phone
is excellent, make sure it stays charged. A phone
call to a competent Marine Rescue Centre can be your best bet. If you don't trust the locals, phone home or any 'westernised' nation with a decent rescue capability and have them light a fire under the locals. That may be far more useful than calling a coast station in Rinkydinkland that might not bother with you.
Yell for help on everything. VHF
, Ham bands, CB, Marine HF frequencies, Twitter, Facebook, Email
, whatever you have. If you have a VHF
radio that covers air band, 121.5Mhz AM may get you an airliner at Flight Level 350 that can stay in contact for some time on VHF and call out rescue for you via satellite
or HF. Don't worry about rules or licenses, if you are in distress, you may use ANY MEANS to call for help, without fear of consequences for transmitting on an unauthorised frequency.
Well, that's gone way beyond just liferafts, but hey, why not?
One last thing. A teenage Dutch girl was attempting to emulate Jessica Watson
and got into trouble in the Indian Ocean
. She set off her EPIRB and aircraft went out, found her, still in the (dismasted IIRC) boat and established comms. She was later rescued. The boat is still out there somewhere if it hasn't gone down. EPIRB. Carry one. If you can afford it, carry several, including personal ones, ideally with the GPS
option. If you have an EPIRB someone will find you. If it has your exact position someone will find you quicker/easier. Time is crucial, particularly if you are cold and wet.