SOLAS, the international Safety Of Life At Sea commission began in 1974 to help regulate all maritime occupations and pursuits of pleasure. From containment shipping to pleasure boating, passenger liners to sport fishing boats, the SOLAS regulations help determine what safety equipment must be on board to protect a boat's occupants. Life rafts are a main component of protection, especially in large bodies of water. Boats that do not venture out further than a few miles from shore or only navigate inland lakes or rivers do not require a life raft. All commercial boats must carry proper life raft equipment.
Types of Raft
Rafts come regulated for a specific number of persons. On boats required to have life rafts there must be enough room on any combination of rafts for every person on board the boat. Another difference between rafts is the type of anchor used. A common method is through buoyancy tubes that inflate with air to hold the raft afloat. These can be manual or automatic inflation. All offshore or ocean-going rafts must have double tubes to guard against punctures. The second tube must have the ability to support at least two-thirds of the total capacity of the raft. Another method of flotation is water filled pocket ballasts. The pockets are primarily for stability in heavy seas so the raft does not flip over. An anchor weight dropped from the bottom of the raft on a single long line is another way to keep the raft in place.
Any raft that can be in a position of having to support its occupants far from land during the hottest parts of the day should have a canvas canopy. There are various styles from full to partial shade. The canopies protect passengers from the wind and water along with the sun, but the enclosure can make occupants feel seasick or claustrophobic. If a raft has them, they must be bright coloured materials to make them easier to see from a distance. While they do provide added protection, there is a drawback to a canopy, too. They are easier to catch from the wind and can capsize faster than a raft with no cover.
Rafts are heavy even when fully deflated. The heavy rubber makes them difficult for small people or children to carry and the best way to stow them is to have them close to the deployment area. Life rafts come in two containment styles, canister and valise. The valise is popular because it folds more compact and is easy enough to bring down into a lower storage area so it's out of the way of everyday activities. That also makes it harder to get at in an emergency. The canister style container is stronger, and can withstand the elements so you can store your life raft right on deck.
The heavy rubber and air tubing provides a good insulation from the wind and water on the sides of the raft. The floor can be either single or double lined plastic. There's no air in the floor of the raft, so all of the insulation comes from the rubber. The single lined floor will not be as warm or sturdy as the double. Most rafts get wet inside from waves, wind, rain, or bumps from ocean critters. Some rafts have porous canvas material to help absorb the water and keep passengers drier.
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