Choosing the right life raft for your boat
Choosing the right life raft for your boat

Ensure the safety of your family and crew while sailing by choosing the right life raft for your boat - read our comprehensive guide to learn about the factors to consider and make an informed decision.

Choosing the Right Life Raft for Your Boat

As you embark on your sailing adventure, leaving the rat race behind and embracing the open sea, the safety of your family and crew should be your top priority. One of the most critical pieces of safety equipment on any boat is the life raft. In this comprehensive guide, we will explore the various factors to consider when choosing the right life raft for your boat, ensuring that you are well-prepared for any emergency situation that may arise.

Table of Contents

Why You Need a Life Raft

While we all hope to never find ourselves in a situation where we need to abandon ship, the reality is that accidents and emergencies can happen at any time. A life raft serves as your last line of defense in the event of a catastrophic event, such as a fire, collision, or sinking. It provides a temporary shelter and survival platform for you and your crew, increasing your chances of being rescued.

In addition to being a crucial safety measure, having a life raft on board may also be a legal requirement, depending on the size of your boat and the waters you plan to sail in. Many countries and sailing organizations have specific regulations regarding life rafts, so it’s essential to familiarize yourself with these requirements before setting sail.

Types of Life Rafts

There are several types of life rafts available on the market, each designed for different types of vessels and sailing conditions. The main categories of life rafts include:

Coastal Life Rafts

Coastal life rafts are designed for use in relatively sheltered waters, close to shore. They are typically lighter and more compact than offshore life rafts, making them suitable for smaller boats with limited storage space. However, they may not be as durable or well-equipped as their offshore counterparts, and they may not meet the requirements for boats sailing in more challenging conditions.

Offshore Life Rafts

Offshore life rafts are built to withstand the harsh conditions of open ocean sailing. They are generally more robust and better equipped than coastal life rafts, with features such as insulated floors, heavy-duty canopies, and more extensive survival equipment. These life rafts are suitable for boats that venture far from shore and may be required for boats participating in offshore races or cruising in remote areas.

ISO 9650 Life Rafts

The International Organization for Standardization (ISO) has developed a set of standards for life rafts, known as ISO 9650. These life rafts are designed to meet specific performance criteria and are subject to rigorous testing and certification. ISO 9650 life rafts are available in two types: Type 1 for ocean use and Type 2 for coastal use. Choosing an ISO 9650 life raft ensures that you are getting a high-quality, reliable product that meets international safety standards.

Capacity and Size

When selecting a life raft, it’s essential to consider the number of people it needs to accommodate. Life rafts are available in various capacities, typically ranging from 4 to 12 persons. It’s crucial to choose a life raft with a capacity that matches or exceeds the number of people on board your boat.

Keep in mind that the stated capacity of a life raft refers to the number of people it can accommodate in an emergency situation, not necessarily in comfort. In a real-life scenario, you may need to accommodate injured crew members or additional supplies, so it’s a good idea to choose a life raft with a slightly higher capacity than the number of people on board.

In addition to capacity, consider the size and weight of the life raft. Smaller boats may have limited storage space, so it’s essential to choose a life raft that can be easily stowed and deployed. Some life rafts are available in compact, lightweight models designed specifically for smaller vessels.

Life Raft Features

Life rafts come with various features designed to enhance their performance and survivability in emergency situations. Some key features to look for when choosing a life raft include:

  • Canopy: A canopy provides protection from the elements and helps to maintain body heat. Look for a life raft with a high-visibility canopy that is easy to erect and has adequate ventilation.

  • Insulated Floor: An insulated floor helps to protect occupants from cold water and provides additional buoyancy. This feature is particularly important for life rafts intended for use in cold water environments.

  • Ballast Bags: Ballast bags are weighted compartments that fill with water, helping to stabilize the life raft and prevent it from capsizing in rough seas. The more ballast bags a life raft has, the more stable it will be.

  • Boarding Ladder: A boarding ladder or ramp makes it easier for occupants to enter the life raft from the water, particularly in rough conditions or when wearing bulky survival gear.

  • Survival Equipment: Life rafts should come equipped with essential survival equipment, such as flares, signaling devices, a first aid kit, and water and food rations. Some life rafts also include additional items like a sea anchor, fishing kit, or repair kit.

Storage and Deployment

Proper storage and deployment of your life raft are critical to its effectiveness in an emergency. Life rafts are typically stored in either a hard container or a soft valise. Hard containers are more durable and provide better protection for the life raft, but they can be bulky and heavy. Soft valises are lighter and more compact, but they may not offer the same level of protection.

When choosing a storage location for your life raft, consider the following factors:

  • Accessibility: The life raft should be easily accessible from the deck and cockpit, even in rough conditions or when the boat is heeled over.

  • Protection: The life raft should be protected from damage caused by UV exposure, chafing, or impact.

  • Deployment: The life raft should be stored in a location that allows for quick and easy deployment in an emergency. Some life rafts are designed to be mounted on deck or in a dedicated storage locker, while others can be stored in a cockpit locker or below deck.

Maintenance and Inspection

Regular maintenance and inspection are essential to ensure that your life raft remains in good working order. Most life raft manufacturers recommend that their products be serviced and inspected every three to five years, depending on the model and usage. This service typically includes a thorough inspection of the life raft’s fabric, seams, inflation system, and survival equipment, as well as any necessary repairs or replacements.

It’s also a good idea to familiarize yourself with your life raft’s operation and practice deploying it in a controlled environment. This will help to ensure that you are prepared to use the life raft effectively in an emergency situation.


Choosing the right life raft for your boat is a critical decision that can have a significant impact on the safety and well-being of your family and crew. By considering factors such as the type of life raft, capacity, features, storage, and maintenance, you can select a life raft that meets your specific needs and provides the best possible protection in an emergency situation. Remember, a life raft is an investment in your safety and peace of mind as you embark on your sailing adventure, so choose wisely and sail with confidence.