- Your lifesaver on board -
The golden rule is: do not abandon your ship as long as it remains afloat, or until you are able to reach a safe place, as there is more rescue equipment and provisions on board than your life raft can hold. Your yacht is also more visible to rescue teams than a life raft or a person floating in the water.
While life rafts for commercial shipping have always been subject to high requirements and tests, life raft standards for recreational craft did not come about until the early 2000s with ISO 9650 certification. There are two types of ISO liferafts:
ISO 9650 -1 life rafts for long distance sailing / offshore life rafts
The life raft standard ISO 9650-1 is again divided into Group A and Group B for different operating temperatures: Group A for life rafts at temperatures from -15 to +65 °Celsius and Group B for life rafts at temperatures from 0 to +65 °Celsius. These liferafts are available with various equipment packages. There are life rafts which are equipped for an estimated rescue period of less than 24 hours and which do not contain drinking water. Some liferafts are equipped with drinking water and emergency provisions for an estimated rescue period of more than 24 hours.
ISO 9650-2 life rafts for high seas, such as offshore life rafts
A life raft that conforms to ISO 9650-2 standard can be safely deployed at temperatures between 0 and +65° celsius. These life rafts are suitable, for example, for sailing along the North Sea or Baltic coast, on large lakes and inshore waters. They are supplied with a standard emergency package without drinking water but with signalling devices and have the additional advantage of French Bureau Veritas approval and Italian RINA approval.
Not only should the ISO type be considered when buying a life raft, but also the number of persons that can be carried. The principle "the bigger the better", i.e. the bigger the raft, the more space it has, does not apply here, as the buoyancy of the raft is optimised depending on the weight of the occupants. If the life raft is too big or too small, there is a risk of capsizing.
The life raft is delivered either in a handy bag or a sturdy container. When storing the life raft on board, make sure that the storage location is quickly accessible for the entire crew. The ideal solution is a stainless steel mount on deck, where the life raft is firmly attached to its safety line.
In an emergency, one must first check whether the grab rope on the life raft is connected to the vessel. Afterwards, the life raft should be thrown into the water. Pull the grab rope out of the bag/container and the bag/container floats in the water. The grab rope can now be hauled from the deck until you notice that it cannot be hauled any further. This spot is marked on most life rafts. You have now reached the rip cord. As the name suggests you must pull hard on the rope. The inflation mechanism of the life raft activates and the life raft inflates fully. The grab rope is now on the ship's side (on sailboats this means it's on the winch). The life raft should always be pulled toward the ship's side and never be pulled toward the stern. The stern of a ship in a swell is like a guillotine, it destroys everything in its path.
The fittest crew member should climb into the life raft first. This person can then help the other crew members best into the liferaft. Ideally all persons should climb into the liferaft with dry feet. If this is not possible (debris blocking direct access to the raft), there are ladders or entry ramps to facilitate entry from the water. Only when all the crew members are in the raft and the ship begins to really sink (usually many hours later), is the securing line to the ship seperated. All liferafts are equipped with a knife for this purpose. Check in advance the emergency equipment available on the liferaft and replenish it if necessary. If a crew member is in urgent need of certain medication, these can be added in advance to the life raft by a maintenance station.
Distress life rafts can only function in an emergency when all of the safety features are in perfect working order. Regular maintenance of the liferaft is therefore essential. Each manufacturer has its own guarantee and maintenance interval regulations, which should be strictly adhered to (guarantee up to 18 years; maintenance usually every 3 years). SVB is a maintenance station for liferafts made by PLASTIMO, XM, ZODIAC, SEAGO and SEATEC. SVB is regularly trained, tested and the quality certified by these companies. The life raft maintenance carried out by SVB is fully documented for you in a log or control book.
- Checking the general condition of the liferaft. e.g. ballast chambers, roof and bottom
- Replacing parts such as seals, masking tape, signalling equipment, etc.
- Inspection and replacement of emergency provisions and water for damage and expiry date
- Testing the function of the ignition head
- Pressure test and leak test of the individual air buoyancy chambers
- Testing of the regular opening and closing of the intake and pressure relief valves
- Packaging and sealing of the liferaft in a vacuum bag and in its original packaging (container or bag)
In 2013, the two-man crew of the Sweden 45 yacht “Ciao” were sailing from Indonesia to the Coco Islands when just before coming into eyesight of the coast, they collided with an object below the surface. The impact tore off the rudder, immobilizing the vessel and causing it to take on water. The crew sent out an emergency distress call and tried their best to save the vessel. The “J’Sea” received the distress call and arrived to help along with two other ships. Despite all of their efforts, the crew of the “Ciao” still had to abandon ship and seek refuge in their life raft. Their vessel sank shortly after. The video linked below was taken from on board the “Spirit of Alcides,” a Challenger 39 owned by Australians, Gus and Linda Pallot.
In 1914, the idea of a legal regulation for the application of life rafts and other safety equipment was created, as a result of the sinking of the Titanic. In 1960, the legally recognized convention of the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) was formed. This means that commercial shipping vessels, pleasure crafts, charter boats (if they are chartered with a crew or skipper) and traditional ships, must be equipped with life rafts.