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Old 15-10-2021, 09:27   #1
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Life rafts on small bluewater boats

The Portland Pudgy has challenged the practice of carrying a single purpose auto-inflating life raft on offshore passages. For small bluewater boats the appeal to have one auxiliary craft that serves both as a dink and a life raft is compelling for offshore sailors with limited deck space and displacement. I have also listened to cruisers who have prepared their dinks with ditch bags and auto inflators so as not to have to carry a dedicated life raft. I think a pro con discussion based on experience from cruisers who were either shipwrecked or forced to abandon ship is timely. My question "How many offshore cruisers are NOT carrying an auto inflating life raft? Perhaps the case of https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dougal_Robertson can provide useful context for the discussion.
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Old 15-10-2021, 19:04   #2
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Re: Life rafts on small bluewater boats

I am a big fan of the Portland Pudgy, and was actually one of their first customers on the west coast, many years ago. As a compact dinghy, I really liked it.

A couple considerations on using them as the vessel's primary liferaft: It has to be quicly and easily deployable. You have to rig the liftraft canopy for every offshore trip, and be sure it is ready to go. Having it rigged and ready to go isn't a trivial matter, and needs careful thought, and practice to be sure it works for you, your crew, and your boat.

I have always thought that the most likely reason for needing a liferaft is not bad weather. It is VERY unlikely that a liferaft will save your bacon in a storm so severe it has terminally damaged the mothership.

Fire or collision are the much more likely situations for needing rescue. In the case of fire, especially, the ability to quickly launch a fully ready life raft could spell the difference between survival and death.

With the advent of EPIRB's and other long range emergency beacons and communication tools the need to plan for weeks of survival in a life raft have significantly decreased, as has the benefit to being able to actually navigate your life raft. I am not saying it is IMPOSSIBLE it might be needed, but it has become very unlikely, assuming the boat and liferaft were well equipped and prepared.

Is a fully equipped Portland Pudgy a useful tool as a primary life saving boat? Yes. Is it the best possible option for everybody, certainly not. Is one rigged with canopy and full lifesaving kit better than an open inflatable? Most certainly. Can you launch it quickly? I don't know...
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Old 15-10-2021, 20:16   #3
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Re: Life rafts on small bluewater boats

I was aboard a 90' ketch involved in a calm water sinking.
We had three days to prepare.
8 person life raft + a 5.5mt RIB.

Launching the RIB with the Palfinger or lifting gantry was problematic due to the rolling and pitching of the vessel with a load of free surface water in the hull.

Plan B was to load the RIB with additional supplies and float it off the deck.
RIB hung up in the rigging and dropped much of the additional cargo before surfacing.
We recovered the buoyant material and some of the better secured heavy.


Better plan would have been to tie the cargo to a long buoyed line and deploy for later recovery.

Stepping up to the life raft would have been a high risk operation due to the turbulence and aeration caused by the sudden plunge beneath the waves.

Have sailed without a raft since then, but only once.

I have float offs, rescue modules and immersion suits but the raft is what gives me the greatest peace of mind.

Whilst EPIRB gives an almost instant location alert it may be some days before resources can be deployed to your location.

What worked was to

Separate disembarkation events where possible.
Create multiple options for communications and life support.
Have a plan B & C.
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Old 15-10-2021, 21:40   #4
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Re: Life rafts on small bluewater boats

Let me start with I have never owned a portland pudgy or deployed a liferaft in anger. I have no problem with small boat passagemakers who consciously decide to not to carry a life raft.
A liferaft needs to be instantly deployable to be useful. They are a last ditch effort, so predeploying is not an option. Fire and sinking are the most likely deployment needs. A liferaft needs to be deployable by the single, weakest crew member. Having an injured, weak from fatigue crew is more typical than not in these conditions. I do not see how a PP meets these requirements in practice, although it may make you feel like you have justified no raft.
Here's a recent story of a failed use of a liferaft about acquaintances of ours.
https://www.bwsailing.com/cc/2020/07...-off-tanzania/
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Old 16-10-2021, 05:11   #5
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Re: Life rafts on small bluewater boats

'Proper' offshore liferafts can be hard on 30'ers - you already know that. They should be instantly deployable by the weakest person on board and you don't have a lot of acreage. They do need regular inspection and service in qualified service centers.

The odds of deploying one are quite low. And they are pretty lousy devices in a severe storm - more useful in a calmer weather sinking or fire.

BTW - there are 'safety at sea' courses (required for racers) which (should) give you hands-on in-pool/water experience with rafts. Most people's experience with these practical training is to hope never ever to have to use a raft. These training's also (should) give some hands-on fire fighting experience, which I always found useful.

But you do have to have a personal answer for 'but what if we sink or catch fire' question'. In my mind, an acceptable answer is 'I will damn well do my very best to prevent that, but if it happens we will simply die and I accept that'. An alternative answer is 'the odds may be low but the outcome, if I don't have one, is so dire I still need to have one'. There is really no logical way to debate those two perspectives, they represent two fundamentally different outlooks. You are a pilot (do I remember that correctly?) there is some analogy (to be sure, like most analogies, not a perfect direct comparison), to having a parachute.

To answer your question directly - I have sailed with and without rafts. The presence of a raft, given what I know about them, does not give me a great deal of added confidence and it is on my mind not to let their presence distract the crew from focusing on saving the boat. But properly managed, on a vessel with the space and resources, they are a tool that might (at low probability) be valuable.

Dinghies on the other hand are a day to day, used all the time, tool - the best possible dinghy will immediately and continuously improve your quality of life (not this does NOT mean the biggest and heaviest possible one, because lifting and stowing is a real and meaningful concern). So, personally, I would optimize the dinghy for its primary purpose.
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Old 16-10-2021, 06:13   #6
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Re: Life rafts on small bluewater boats

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Originally Posted by Breaking Waves View Post
'Proper' offshore liferafts can be hard on 30'ers - you already know that. They should be instantly deployable by the weakest person on board and you don't have a lot of acreage. They do need regular inspection and service in qualified service centers.

The odds of deploying one are quite low. And they are pretty lousy devices in a severe storm - more useful in a calmer weather sinking or fire.

BTW - there are 'safety at sea' courses (required for racers) which (should) give you hands-on in-pool/water experience with rafts. Most people's experience with these practical training is to hope never ever to have to use a raft. These training's also (should) give some hands-on fire fighting experience, which I always found useful.

But you do have to have a personal answer for 'but what if we sink or catch fire' question'. In my mind, an acceptable answer is 'I will damn well do my very best to prevent that, but if it happens we will simply die and I accept that'. An alternative answer is 'the odds may be low but the outcome, if I don't have one, is so dire I still need to have one'. There is really no logical way to debate those two perspectives, they represent two fundamentally different outlooks. You are a pilot (do I remember that correctly?) there is some analogy (to be sure, like most analogies, not a perfect direct comparison), to having a parachute.

To answer your question directly - I have sailed with and without rafts. The presence of a raft, given what I know about them, does not give me a great deal of added confidence and it is on my mind not to let their presence distract the crew from focusing on saving the boat. But properly managed, on a vessel with the space and resources, they are a tool that might (at low probability) be valuable.

Dinghies on the other hand are a day to day, used all the time, tool - the best possible dinghy will immediately and continuously improve your quality of life (not this does NOT mean the biggest and heaviest possible one, because lifting and stowing is a real and meaningful concern). So, personally, I would optimize the dinghy for its primary purpose.


I entirely agree. Optimise the dinghy for the job it will do day in day out. Multi purpose devices are usually compromised so they excel at nothing.
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Old 16-10-2021, 06:14   #7
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Re: Life rafts on small bluewater boats

Steven Callahan had a 6 man Avon Life Raft aboard his 21' sailboat (6.5 meter) when it sank 1800 miles East Of the Leeward Islands. (about 400 miles West of the Canary Islands)

He made the crossing in the life raft in 76 days.

https://www.cruisingworld.com/story/...0-years-later/
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Old 16-10-2021, 06:27   #8
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Re: Life rafts on small bluewater boats

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Originally Posted by Breaking Waves View Post
'Proper' offshore liferafts can be hard on 30'ers - you already know that. They should be instantly deployable by the weakest person on board and you don't have a lot of acreage. They do need regular inspection and service in qualified service centers.
We carry an offshore 4 man liferaft for coastal sailing, At 28kgs I can lift the valise out of the cockpit locker with one arm, the wifey with two. Fire is the main worry.

Sadly there is no way to carry 60kgs of PP on our 31ft yacht, the baby stay means the foredeck is limited and we need access to the anchor locker. It won't fit under the boom and the stern isn't the place for another 60 kgs. Our solution is a light weight 2.5m inflatable deflated just forward of the mast and a life raft if it goes pear shaped.

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Old 16-10-2021, 06:45   #9
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Re: Life rafts on small bluewater boats

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Originally Posted by thomm225 View Post
Steven Callahan had a 6 man Avon Life Raft aboard his 21' sailboat (6.5 meter) when it sank 1800 miles East Of the Leeward Islands. (about 400 miles West of the Canary Islands)

He made the crossing in the life raft in 76 days.

https://www.cruisingworld.com/story/...0-years-later/


Yes pre EPIRB and GMDSS
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Old 16-10-2021, 08:12   #10
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Re: Life rafts on small bluewater boats

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We carry an offshore 4 man liferaft for coastal sailing, At 28kgs I can lift the valise out of the cockpit locker with one arm, the wifey with two. Fire is the main worry.
That is a very reasonable approach.

I will comment (and it's just a sample of one, so just for conversation rather than any real point) that the only 'fire' we ever had at sea (halfway across the Atlantic was in our cockpit locker - wires to the solar panel shorted and fried alone the back of the cockpit locker - yard did not fuse them (I later asked why not and they said to avoid voltage drop - this was early in our time cruising and I was still learning to mostly do my own work and always 'trust but verify' other people's work). Fortunately, nothing ignited, and we had several good readily acceptable extinguishers (damn they make a mess when you fire them off in small spaces).

Cheeki Rafiki's rafts were still in their cockpit locker when the boat was found (upside down with crew missing) so it is obviously more ideal to have the raft more deployable . . like transom pushpit mounted . . . but it is all compromises, like everything.
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Old 16-10-2021, 08:16   #11
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Re: Life rafts on small bluewater boats

Life rafts are expensive to buy and expensive to maintain, but then again so is my home fire insurance that I have never used. Maybe an immersion suits and an attached epirb should be the choice for you.
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Old 16-10-2021, 09:25   #12
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Re: Life rafts on small bluewater boats

We have a Portland Pudgy, and chose it for itís multipurpose nature. I like the concept of being able to sail someplace after having to leave a sinking mothership. After having sailed ours a few times, it will be very awkward to set up with both of us in it. But doable. And of course it cannot deflate, or fail to inflate.. Our planned cruising will be Great Loop and Bahamas,, probably Caribbean. We store ours on the foredeck, still have to work out a rapid deployment system. But having rowed, motored, and sailed it, I am pretty happy with it.
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Old 16-10-2021, 09:28   #13
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Re: Life rafts on small bluewater boats

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Yes pre EPIRB and GMDSS
Actually he had an EPIRB but of the old school type. He never got a response.....
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Old 16-10-2021, 09:28   #14
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Re: Life rafts on small bluewater boats

I like the look of a Pudgy. I wouldn't mind owning one. But as a replacement for a lifer-aft on "small bluewater boats". I simply don't see it as realistic.


1) Do a search for images of Portland Pudgy on 30 foot boat. You wont find much for a reason, they don't fit. The images you do see are well over 30ft.



2) They weigh 128 pounds NOT rigged as a life-raft. Tie that to your rail and throw it over the side in a disaster.



3) Where do they fit? On a 30 footer? (let alone my 27 foot Vancouver...nowhere)


4) Rapid deployment? No you have to store them rigged, or launch and rig, at sea.


5) Keep it in a Davit? maybe, if the extra cost and 130+ pounds hanging off your stern is manageable for the sailing of your small boat.



6) Cost they are over $5200 Basic boat plus the canopy. Add shipping and VAT to the rest of the world.


On a 40 foot boat I suspect it is a more viable alternative.


My Bagged Raft alone is questionable. I have no real solution for a rigid boat, very sadly. I don't know if a Davit with a rigid or inflatable is even realistic on my Vancouver 27.



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Old 16-10-2021, 09:30   #15
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Re: Life rafts on small bluewater boats

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We have a Portland Pudgy, and chose it for itís multipurpose nature. I like the concept of being able to sail someplace after having to leave a sinking mothership. After having sailed ours a few times, it will be very awkward to set up with both of us in it. But doable. And of course it cannot deflate, or fail to inflate.. Our planned cruising will be Great Loop and Bahamas,, probably Caribbean. We store ours on the foredeck, still have to work out a rapid deployment system. But having rowed, motored, and sailed it, I am pretty happy with it.

How large is your boat? I love the idea too, but cant picture is on a small bluewater boat (not sure what qualifies as small).
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