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Old 02-18-2007
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Choosing a life raft

I am considering the purchase of a life raft and any thoughts members can share on the topic would be greatly appreciated. I will be buying a 6 person ocean/offshore raft in a cannister. Does anyone have thoughts/experiences with manufacturers? Also what are the pitfalls of buying a used raft. Thanks in advance for your thoughts.
Tom Shannon
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Old 02-18-2007
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Switlick and Winslow seem to have well thought-out designs and a variety of different models to suit differing needs. French sailing websites seem to have lots of complaints about the ones Zodiac and Plastimo make. Have not heard much about Avon.
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Old 02-18-2007
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Practical Sailor has done several liferaft tests. They are not comforting. You can order them for a few dollars each from the PS website.

FWIW, we got a DBC 4-man raft -- seemed to be decent value, and a disinterested re-packer said "It's not a mistake."

Charles
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Old 02-18-2007
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teshannon-

I would ask how many people will normally be aboard your boat... I doubt the number is six... Most liferafts are designed for a specific number of passengers, and as such, take their weight into consideration in their design. Having too few people in a life raft can cause it stability problems. If you're normally going to sail with just two or three people aboard, then you'd probably be much better off getting a four-person life raft, rather than a six.

I would also go with a SOLAS-approved raft, as their standards are very high. You can read more about liferafts at this link.
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Old 02-19-2007
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[QUOTE=sailingdog]teshannon-

Most liferafts are designed for a specific number of passengers, and as such, take their weight into consideration in their design. Having too few people in a life raft can cause it stability problems. If you're normally going to sail with just two or three people aboard, then you'd probably be much better off getting a four-person life raft, rather than a six.

My Question: What do you do with 4 person L/raft when there is six of you. I hope never to need to find out, but I have been on board a yacht with 5 crew when it was pointed out the raft was for 4.....
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Old 02-19-2007
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There are problems - both ways - with the number of crew and the size of the liferaft. If only two crew get to the eight-person raft, they can get tossed around and possibly hurt in the open space available. Liferafts are supposedly designed to be tight fits, so you don't get thrown far in nasty conditions. (And you thought sharing space on the boat was stressful.) Destabilizing a partially full raft with weight off-center has already been mentioned. If six have to squeeze into a 4-person raft, it is perhaps a better problem to have, especially if the last person in is the one who remembered the ditch bag. For morale, having a liferaft sized to match the number of crew aboard is preferable. You don't want to HAVE to go down with the ship. Standing on the bow pulpit, yelling out "I'm King of the World!!!" as the boat slides under no longer considered good form.
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Old 02-19-2007
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Teshannon....
I would hesitate to buy a used raft unless I:
1. Was not planning to cruise for more than a couple of years.
2. Could see it fully inflated and re-packed at an inspection facility and re-certified.

Used rafts have spent time in their cannisters on deck and in the hot sun and will deteriorate over time. So, it is important that you understand their true condition before purchasing and the only way to do this is with an inflation and re-pack.

I have a Zodiac myself but believe any of the major brands will be fine. We bought a 6 person raft even though a 4 would suffice as we are big people and in sitting in an inflated 4 person at a boat show, we couldn't imagine another 2 people in there with us!
The other thing would say is to consider the type of cruising you will be doing as there are coastal rafts and offshore rafts and big price differences.
If you can count on being rescued within 24 hours, you may not need the more expensive "ocean" models.
You also need to consider how and where you will mount and place your raft. Bag or cannister...hydrostatic release or manual...where will cradle mount? I find that most people focus on the raft and the rest can come as an expensive after-thought!
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Old 02-19-2007
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Quote:
Originally Posted by paulk
...If only two crew get to the eight-person raft, they can get tossed around and possibly hurt in the open space available...
I looked at specs of SOLAS rafts and they include underwater ballast bags to compensate for the weight of passengers, plus require sufficient handholds inside. It will probably still be somewhat like rolling around the drier but at least a bit softer around the edges.
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Old 02-19-2007
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Here is the raft we carried.

http://www.boatersworld.com/product/396810095.htm

They are not cheap. Let me give you some advice on them. This is all to the best of my knowledge (and I have two kids so my memory is not really good anymore), but here goes:

1) Do not buy it until right before you are ready to punch off. If you are just gearing up right now, remember they do not pack (new) until right after purchased. Since you have to repack every 12-24 moths, wait until the last minute. By the way, a repack is better than $500, typically, as I recall.

2) Used raft. I personally do not see the problem with it, if it is not too old. Just have it repacked after you buy (which you will want to do anyway to pack your own stuff in there, read below).

3) When you repack, buy a hand-held watermaker, unless you are 24-48 hours from rescue. If that is the case, it is up to you. Most packers can stick in a watermaker at time of repack.

4) Someone earlier talked about mounting, and I agree. The things are big and bulky and heavy. Be conscious of where you are going to put it and be conscious about how/where it is going to deploy so it does not get too tangled in the rigging.

5) If this is for occassional use, you may consider just renting one??? It is a whole lot cheaper, you do not have to worry about someone stealing it, mounting it, the annual repack, etc. http://www.westpacmarine.com/rentalrafts/default.asp

6) SOme people prefer the non-canister type so they can just throw below on their passages. I can see the merit in this, though we opted for the mounting. Also, make sure the raft comes with its holder, most do not and you will have to order seperate.

7) Sailingdog is usually right about things, but I will mention that my piss-poor memory told me to go one size up. If you have 4 people (don't forget to include pets, unless you plan on eating Fido) go to a 6, not the smallest you can get into. But, you may want to double-check that. I cannot remember for sure. I did oversize. I was less concerned about being in 50 foot breakers and being thrown around than I was a couple hundred miles offshore and hitting a whale or shipping container and sinking in nice weather. Thus, the larger the better for me... but that was just me.

Hope that helps. Take care.

- CD
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Old 02-19-2007
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My only concern was that he might get a raft for six, and only normally have two people aboard...

I can't think of many small sailboats that will sleep six people comfortably for any extended period of time. Most boats are like my friend's C&C 38, which he has described as sails with six, feeds four, sleeps two for extended periods of time. We've done a weekend cruise with six aboard her, but it was crowded, and I don't see doing it for anything much longer than a weekend.

If you and your crew are larger than average, then it might not hurt to go up a size. If you've got large animals that you want to abandon ship with, then going up a size is probably wise...

Hopefully, if you're ever in the situation where you have to abandon ship, and have six people and four-man raft, rescue will be quick and your stay in the raft short...

As for the ditch bag... I wouldn't pack the watermaker in the liferaft, as you can't really check on its condition, and then when you need it, it may not be functional. I think it is a better idea to pack some water in the raft, and pack the watermaker in the ditch bag, where you can do maintenance and check its condition. Same thing with handheld VHF radios... the exception being the "emergency ditch VHF" radios that have a long-life lithium battery, like the ones found in the EPIRBs.

As a rule, I rotate new batteries into the ditch bag, and use the ones from the ditch bag to power the equipment on the boat about once a year. All of the gear: handheld GPS, VHF, flashlights, laser flare, radio, etc; I have in the ditch bag uses AA batteries, as then I only have to carry the one size.... and all of the AA batteries in the ditch bag are the "photo lithium" AA batteries that have a 10-year shelf-life and last about four times as long as alkalines. Another plus is that the lithiums are slightly lighter than the alkalines.
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Last edited by sailingdog; 02-19-2007 at 10:12 AM.
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