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How to stow a liferaft for quick launching

Choosing a liferaft is possibly one of the most important considerations when equipping a yacht ready for a big voyage, especially for long distances away from land. Ensuring that the raft is designed for at least the minimum number of people on board and that it has a suitable pack of survival items inside are just two aspects to think about when choosing the raft.

A third, and equally important factor, is to think about how the liferaft is going to be launched, in (the hopefully unlikely) case that it is going to be needed. Liferafts are heavy things and launching one is almost certainly going to be undertaken under duress, often in extreme weather conditions with a violent sea motion, sea sick crew and in the dark.

To make deployment as easy as possible take some time to decide upon the most accessible place to stow the liferaft. Make it a priority to create space for it in the best location before you load other equipment on board. Anywhere that puts the raft below deck level is a no-no, particularly if the boat is already filling up with water or listing, not to mention the heavy job of lifting it out onto the deck. A liferaft is most easily moved by lifting downwards so it ideally needs to be on a high point on the deck and above the waterline. Many cruising boats typically store the liferaft so it is held very securely in a cradle or bracket on the coach roof or in a not-too-deep cockpit locker.

A deck position provides the option of fitting the raft with a hydrostatic release system, which means if the boat sinks or turns over with little or no warning the raft will automatically release, triggered by the water pressure, and come up to the surface. Racing yacht owners, who prefer their decks to be clear, can store their rafts aft strapped down onto an open cockpit near the open transom or in a shallow aft locker. On all boats cockpit locker spaces are better for protecting the raft from theft and deterioration caused by the sun’s rays but you should make sure there is nothing in the way or on top of the raft and that it is easy to lift out. It’s a good idea that the same crew that are taking the boat on its next voyage should practice making sure they can move it before leaving the dock.

Where you stow your liferaft will also determine what sort of casing is most suitable to protect the raft. Most leisure boating liferafts have the option of either a hard case container or a soft bag valise. The container will be required for external storage to fully protect the liferaft while a valise fits more easily into a locker where it is not subject to knocks and wear and tear.

The best stowage option will, of course, depend on the design of the vessel – further options can include transom or pushpit mounting – both in a hard container – but the liferaft should always be stored in the best possible position to combine the optimum combination of ease of launching with security and protection – hopefully for its whole life!