A liferaft is one of the most vital pieces of equipment that you will purchase. It is the last thing you ever want to have to use, but the one you will be most thankful for should you need to abandon ship. If this situation should occur, it is important that your liferaft is stowed in such a way that makes it easily accessible, and deployable.
When deciding on how and where to stow your liferaft, the following key points need to be remembered:
1. Start by accepting that one day you might actually need to use your liferaft
When you accept this, all your earlier thoughts about it being heavy, unsightly and a general nuisance will be the last thing you consider. When you really imagine yourself in a position where deploying your liferaft is necessary, you will understand the importance of having your liferaft properly stowed.
2. Assume that you will need to deploy your liferaft rapidly
There are a number of reasons one may need to abandon ship; ranging from fire, to engine failure, running aground and collisions. In some scenarios you may have some time to gather your thoughts, think of a plan (you should already have one prepared), and then execute your plan however this is generally not the case. More often than not, you will be needing to abandon the ship swiftly.
3. Assume that the raft is going to be deployed by the weakest member of your crew
You cannot gaurantee that your strongest crew members will be able to deploy the liferaft. What if they've injured their arm, they weren't onboard for this trip, or they are unconscious? If your weakest crew member is the only option and they can't physically deploy the liferaft, you are in trouble.
4. If you are going to mount your raft on the deck, ensure that the cradle is strong enough to contain the raft in heavy weather with solid water moving on deck
The cradle must be firmly mounted to avoid losing the liferaft or causing injury by falling on a crew member. You must also ensure that all the straps are tightened, and not damaged.
5. If your liferaft is stowed on the coach roof or somewhere similar, have a plan for moving it to the deck edge
This plan must consider that you may not be in steady seas. You may be in the middle of a storm, with strong winds, heavy rain and high waves all causing the vessel to move around wildly and making the deck slippery. Carrying liferafts, epecially anything above an 8 person, is difficult at the best of times, so consider the risks of doing it on a pitching deck.
6. Is your cradle either fixed to or part of the pushpit?
If it is, consider the additional loads this will place on the pushpit tubes and the fastenings to the deck. Think about additional bracing legs.
7. Liferafts on pushpits are more vulnerable to being swept overboard
This is especially true if they are mounted off the centreline, so make sure the strapping arrangements are strong enough to hold the liferaft if it became submerged in a heavy sea.
8. Many modern yachts and power boats have dedicated liferaft stowage lockers
This includes 'under-seat' type arrangements. Consider carefully how you will access this locker if the yacht is at an unusual angle or moving violently. If you do not know if your vessel has one, or you want advice on how to best use it, please speak to the manufacturer.
9. Make sure your liferaft will come out of the locker
Valise packed liferafts will expand and change shape over the course of a season, so don't assume that just because it went in the locker it will come out as easily. You don't want to find this out when you need the liferaft in an emergency.
10. Is your raft under a helmsmans seat or other type of obstruction and is fitted with a hydrostatic release mechanism?
If this is the case, the raft will not release as required. Importantly, make sure the painter line is tied to the 'weak link' part of the hydrostatic release - if it isn't, your raft will not deploy as your vessel sinks and will follow it down to the seabed.
11. Consider where to keep your grab bag
The importance of a grab bag cannot be overstated. Your liferaft may include a pack with some items to aid your survival, however it will not include everything. Important items to include in your grab bag include those that will aid in the search and rescue effort, medical items, food and water, and personal items. Visit this page for more information on what to include in your grab bag.
Make sure that your grab bag is easily accessible in any scenario. For example, if there is a fire on the upper deck, you may not be able to get to a cupboard on the lower deck. An ideal place would be on deck, or as close to the deck as possible, preferably near the liferaft.
12. Finally, plan and plan again
For every voyage, every crew, and every piece of kit, you must have a plan. These plans will change based on a number of different varients including your destination, route, ability of the crew, climate and tides and therefore it is very important to understand that one plan does not fit all.
Ensure that your raft, EPIRB, grab bag, and any other applicable equipment is easily at hand, ready to be deployed quickly and safely. Also ensure that all your crew know exactly what the plan is, what their jobs are, and ensure that they all know how to use/deploy the equipment. Looking back at point 3, it may not be your most capable crew member who is available so it must not be only them who knows the plan and how to execute it.