Whats inside my life raft? Where should I keep it on board? What should I pack in my grab bag?

Life Raft on board a sailing yacht

Life rafts are an essential piece of safety equipment on board, but just how well prepared are you should you need to use it in an emergency? I take a look at the different storage solutions on board as well as the contents of your grab bag.

There are many life rafts on the market varying in size, features and contents. Coded and commercial vessels are mandated to carry an ISO or SOLAS rated rafts, whilst there are many others available for the leisure industry. When purchasing a life raft it is good practice to ensure it is rated and safe for use, bought from a reputable outlet and is the size you require. You can find out more advice on the type of raft you should purchase by speaking to your local chandler or safety equipment supplier.

What’s inside your life raft?

So you have your raft on board, but what’s inside? Depending on the raft you have will depend on what equipment is already packed within it. It’s important to know what’s already within it in order to correctly stock your grab bag.

A list held within the Ships safety file works well as a reminder.

Life Raft Contents

Where should I keep my life raft?

There are a few options when it comes to storing your life raft. This may also depend on the type of case you have purchased, either a soft valise or a hard canister. Ultimately for leisure cruising you need to secure the raft somewhere it is safe from accidental damage and most importantly somewhere you and your regular crew can launch it with ease. There is no point burying it in the bottom of a locker if you sail short handed and therefore will struggle to get it out in a hurry!

Locker – Probably one of the most common choices on board leisure boats. Whilst not an issue in its self, it is worth practicing how easy it is to man handle out and get into a position ready to launch; noting how long this takes you. If a locker is you choice of storage it is good practice to have the raft in a dedicated locker with only itself and associated items stored in it such as the grab bag. You don’t want to be emptying outboards and lines in a hurry to launch your raft! Some more modern yachts now come with a designated life raft locker built in. A great idea but ensure the one you intend to purchase fits in this space.

Deck Mounted – A common set up for many yachts is to have the life raft situated forward of the companionway hatch mounted on the coach roof. In order to secure your raft to the deck you are likely going to need to purchase a cradle for it. Deck mounted life rafts should ideally be fitted with a hydro-static release mechanism to allow the raft to float free should the vessel sink. Be sure to follow the manufacturers fitting instructions to ensure correct operation.

Stern Mounted – Similar to deck mounted rafts, many race boats choose to fit their raft to the Pushpit on the stern of the vessel. Again commonly fitted with a hydro-static release system. The main benefit of this storage solution is your raft is always ready for immediate launch.

The Royal Ocean Racing Club now mandate for vessels taking part in their races the life raft must be ready to launch at the lifelines, or launched within 15 seconds.

What should I keep in my grab bag?

Depending on what your raft already contains,you may want to consider adding the following items to your grab bag:

  • Flares
  • First Aid Kit
  • Torches or Light Sticks
  • Emergency Water and Food
  • A knife (ideally a safety knife)
  • Handheld GPS
  • Thermal Protective Aids
  • Handheld VHF
  • Repair Kit
  • Paddle
  • Sun Cream
  • Seasickness Tablets
  • Charts and basic navigation tools
  • Hand Bearing Compass
  • A Watch or Clock
  • A pump

This list is by no means extensive and the contents of your grab bag will differ depending on your intended voyage and cruising environment.

As a skipper of a vessel, whenever I undertake a longer passage I also ensure I have a small waterproof bag with my personal items in that I am able to grab in an emergency. For me this contains:

  • Passport
  • A list of contact numbers for next of kin’s
  • Any regular medication
  • House/Car Keys
  • My certification
  • Credit Cards
  • Wet notes and a chino-graph pencil



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