Saturday, March 24, 2012

Would I buy a life raft?

In answer to a question that was poised on a cruising forum, my response was

Re: Liferaft: Yes or No
I'm still wrestling with the question as a coastal-inland sailor who's about to start doing shorter near-offshore passages. I would get a raft before doing a several-night or far offshore passage.

But (long-winded "It Depends"):

(1) the raft is only part of a whole system of safety that needs to be balanced according to how much total resources a boat owner can put into safety overall.

(2) the whole safety system needs to be customized to the boat, owner & crew, their health, cruising grounds, environmental conditions, etc.

(3) not all rafts are equal, rafts are far from infallible, and not all sailors understand their limits, not all rafts hold up as well as others against capsize and deterioration, and without additional survival equipment (good ditch bag) well secured, a raft is a very limited and incomplete survival system.

(4) boats may survive a storm, but if they aren't well secured and designed, they might injure or kill their passengers -- a tiny amount of money spent on securing everything could pay for itself hundreds of times over.

(5) do you have a back-up plan in case the raft fails, blows away, etc.? Survival suits, or at least float coats, wet suits, etc., might be an answer. And maybe there are ways to ballast and sea anchor a non-liferaft dinghy to give it capsize resistance more like that of a life raft.

(6) Money is a real constraint for most people and budgets shouldn't be scorned. There is value in doing the best you can with what you have and not deferring your dreams indefinitely.

I could almost see putting out a rough talking guideline to try to trade off safety gear for a given environment and budget. It's way hard to try to answer the original question without knowing the boat's cruising environment, the owner's safety budget, the crew and its training, and all of the other safety-related equipment and systems on board. If I were buying a liferaft minimally worth having (preferably offshore or SOLAS with multiple tubes, inflatable floor, good ballasting, decent reputation), I'd would probably also be spending at least a couple of thousand dollars/euros on other safety and survival gear and also be getting myself trained to use the equipment.

-- And, maybe I need a good friend in the UK who can get me a killer deal on a raft when I need to buy one.

The raft is part of a whole system. You may not know in advance which part of the system may save you -- or which weakness might kill you. If you can afford it, redundancy is good. Back-up plans are good. Training is very good. Adaptability and the will to survive is extremely good. Do what you can with what you have, know your limitations and be honest with your crew, and remain in awe of the sea


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