The Complete Guide To Liferafts on Ships

Life rafts are survival equipment provided as a life-saving appliance on every seagoing merchant or passenger ship, in addition to the lifeboats.

Life rafts are much easier to launch than lifeboats. In emergencies, evacuation from the ship can be done without manually launching any of them, as the life rafts are designed with an auto-inflatable system.

SOLAS Chapter III gives all the details for the types, and the number of life rafts to be carried according to the size and type of the ship.

Liferaft on ship

Where Are Liferafts Located On Ships?

Life rafts are typically located on the muster station, on the port and starboard side near the lifeboat, and on the aft of the ship. The location generally depends on the size of the ship.

Life rafts are stored in a fibreglass container, and a high-pressure gas inflates them during an emergency.

A Hydrostatic Release Unit (HRU) is connected to the raft container and ship, which releases the raft even after the vessel sinks in water.

dry dock deck ebook

The particulars of the raft are stencilled on the container, which includes the capacity, manufacturing date, servicing date, company name, etc., along with the launching procedure with a photogenic display for easy understanding.

The raft already contains the essential survival items, including rations, pyrotechnics, life jackets, etc.

Some ships carry a davit launching system allows the crew to inflate and board the raft on the deck, avoiding the risk of seawater entering.

life raft

Important Solas Requirements For Life Rafts

  • All liferaft provided on ships should be bestowed with its painter permanently attached to the vessel.
  • Each liferaft or group of liferafts should be stowed with a float-free arrangement complying with the requirements so that each floats free. If it is an inflatable raft, it should inflate automatically when the ship sinks.
  • Liferafts should be stowed to permit the manual release of one raft or container at a time from the securing arrangements.
  • Davit-launched liferafts should be stowed within reach of the lifting hooks unless some transfer is provided, which is not rendered inoperable within the limits of trim and list as required or by ship motion or power failure.
  • Liferafts intended for throw-overboard launching should be stowed to be readily transferable for launching on either side of the ship.

Servicing of Liferafts

All liferafts shall be serviced:

  • at intervals not exceeding 12 months (if impracticable, the administration may extend this period to 17 months)
  • at proper service stations with proper servicing facilities and trained professionals

Davit-launched liferaft automatic release hooks should be maintained following instructions for onboard maintenance

life raft

Essential Requirements for Liferafts and Carrying Capacity

The liferaft of any ship needs to follow the regulations mentioned in SOLAS. Some of the important points regarding liferafts are:

  • The lift raft should be capable of withstanding exposure for 30 days afloat in all sea conditions
  • When dropped into the water from a height of 18 metres, the life raft and all equipment in it will operate satisfactorily.
  • The floating life raft should be capable of withstanding repeated jumps on it from a height of at least 4.5 metres above its floor, both with and without the canopy erected.
  • It can be towed at 3 knots with its complete equipment, complement of persons and one anchor streaming.
  • Canopy to provide insulation and protection against heat and cold by two layers of material separated by an air gap
  • Interior to be of a non-discomforting colour.
  • It shall admit sufficient air for the occupants at all times, even when the entrance is closed
  • It shall be provided with at least one viewing port
  • It will be given with a means of collecting rainwater
  • It shall be provided with a tool to mount a survival craft radar transponder (SART) at the height of at least 1 meter above the sea level
  • It shall have sufficient headroom for the sitting occupants under all parts of the canopy
  • The minimum carrying capacity must be at least six persons
  • The maximum weight of its container, as well as the equipment, should not exceed 185 kilos
  • The life raft shall be fitted with an efficient painter of length equal to the minimum of 10 metres plus the distance from the stowed position to the waterline in the lightest seagoing condition or 15 metres, whichever is greater
  • A manually controlled lamp shall be fitted on the top of the canopy, and the light shall be white, and it must operate for at least 12 hours with a luminous intensity of not less than 4.3 candela
  • If the flashlight is fitted, it shall flash at a rate of not less than 50 flashes and not more than 70 flashes per minute for the 12 hours that it burns
  • A manually controlled lamp shall be fitted inside the life raft, capable of continuous operation for at least 12 hours
  • When the liferaft is loaded with a full complement of persons and equipment, it should be capable of withstanding a lateral impact against the ship side at an impact velocity of not less than 3.5m/s and also drop into the water from a height of not less than 3 metres without damage
  • CO2 does inflation with a small quantity of N2, which acts as an anti-freezing element. Also, CO2 is non-flammable and weighs more than air, adding buoyancy to the raft. The freezing point of CO2 is -78 degrees so that it can inflate life rafts at shallow temperatures
  • Location on a ship:
    – Forward
    – At embarkation stations on both port and starboard sides
  • The painter breaking strength should be:
    – 15kN for 25 people and more
    – 10 kN for 9 to 24 people
    – 7.5 kN Rest (6-9)

Safety Features on a Liferaft

Some of the main safety features on a liferaft are:

  • Pressure relief valve
  • Stabilizing pocket
  • Insulated canopy with two layers for protection against heat and cold

Important Liferaft Equipment

All liferafts on ships are fitted with the following equipment:

  • Rescue quoits with minimum 30-metre lines
  • Non-folding knives with buoyant handles
  • For 12 persons or less, one bailer. For more than 13 persons, 2 bailers should be kept.
  • Two sponges
  • Two buoyant paddles
  • Three tin openers
  • Two sea anchors
  • One pair of scissors
  • One first-aid waterproof kit
  • One whistle
  • One waterproof torch for communicating Morse code with one spare set of batteries and a bulb
  • One signalling mirror/heliograph
  • One radar reflector
  • One life-saving signal waterproof card
  • One fishing tackle
  • Food ration totalling not less than 10000 kJ for each person
  • Water ration- 1.5 litres of fresh water for each person
  • One rustproof graduated drinking vessel
  • Anti-seasickness medicine is sufficient for at least 48 hours, and one seasickness bag for each person.
  • Instructions on how to survive (Survival booklet)
  • Instructions on immediate action
  • TPA is sufficient for 10% of the number of persons or two, whichever is greater
  • Marking shall be SOLAS ‘A’ Pack
  • 6 Hand Flares
  • 4 Rocket Parachute Flares
  • 2 Buoyant Smoke Signals

Markings on a Liferaft Container

Important markings provided on a liferaft container are:

  • Maker’s name and trademark
  • Serial number
  • Name of Authority
  • Number of persons carried
  • SOLAS emergency pack enclosed
  • Date of the last service
  • Length of painter
  • Maximum height of stowage
  • Launching instructions

Markings on an inflatable Liferaft

Important markings provided on an inflatable type of liferaft are:

  • Maker’s name and trademark
  • Serial Number
  • Date of manufacture
  • Name of approving authority
  • Name and place of the last service
  • Number of persons permitted

life raft

Launching of a liferaft when the ship sinks and HRU activates (Auto)

A general overview of the launching procedure of a liferaft when the ship sinks is as follows:

  • When the ship sinks up to 4 metres, the water pressure will activate a sharp knife in the HRU
  • It will cut the securing rope around the container/canister of the raft, and the raft will float free
  • As the ship sinks further, the painter line will stretch, and it will inflate the life raft
  • Due to the increase in buoyant pressure, the weak link will break at around 2.2 kN +/- 0.4, and the raft will be on the surface.

Read: Liferaft release system and launching procedure

Launching the life raft manually

  • Take out the painter of the raft
  • Fasten it to the ship side at a strong point
  • Remove the railing and check overboard for any obstructions
  • Unfasten the hook from the cradle
  • Two people can lift the life raft and throw it overboard
  • After it’s thrown, pull the painter sharp until the life raft inflates
  • With the painter, pull it towards the ship’s side
  • Lower the embarkation ladder or jump directly onto the life raft, depending on the situation and the time at hand
  • Sit wide order face to face to prevent any imbalance
  • Ensure SART and EPIRB have been carried
  • Take a headcount
  • Cut the painter using the knife, paddle, or anchor, clear away from the ship.

If the life raft inflates and is upside down, the raft has a righting strap capable of stabilizing it. Climb onto the CO2 cylinder and pull it in the same direction as the wind to do so.

Watch: How to launch and board an inflatable liferaft?

Launching the life raft by the Davit

  • Remove the ship’s handrail
  • Remove lashings from the container
  • Lower the davit and lock it with the lifting shackle
  • Secure canister lines outboard
  • Secure browsing line
  • Pull the painter out approximately 5-6 metres
  • Secure the painter’s line
  • Pull the entire length of the painter
  • Now lift the life raft canister to some height
  • Pull the painter sharply and let it inflate
  • After it inflates, secure the liferaft
  • One person should go in and make some checks
  • Collect the SART and EPIRB
  • Go inside and sit evenly
  • Release the bowsing line and pass to the raft
  • Check if the launching area is clear
  • Lower the raft using the brake release
  • Operate hook release 1m above the water or allow the raft to ride a crest of the wave to put the load on the water, and it will automatically release
  • Cut the painter and clear away

Disclaimer: The author’s views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of Marine Insight. Data and charts, if used in the article, have been sourced from available information and have not been authenticated by any statutory authority. The author and Marine Insight do not claim it to be accurate nor accept any responsibility for the same. The views constitute only the opinions and do not constitute any guidelines or recommendations on any course of action to be followed by the reader.

The article or images cannot be reproduced, copied, shared or used in any form without the permission of the author and Marine Insight. 

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About Author

Shilavadra Bhattacharjee is a shipbroker with a background in commercial operations after having sailed onboard as a Third Officer. His interests primarily lie in the energy sector, books and travelling.

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  1. How many life rafts are there on ships and how many are sold each year? Any idea?
    Kind regards

  2. As stated in the article, the number depends on the size of the ship. You can refer regulation under SOLAS III/

  3. Can you please provide the reference material used for the Basic Construction Details of Life Rafts section.


  5. What if a liferaft failts to inflate or open? What action to be taken in that case sir ?

  6. Can you tell me what is the minimum length of the ship which requires laftraft in forward sir maam?..pls rply thanks.

  7. Hello,
    I’d like to know about that quantity of water and food ration. In the article says “Water ration- 1.5 litres of fresh water for each person”. This is a daily amount info?

  8. It is allowed to put Ship’s name and Port of Registry to our inflatable Life rafts in the vessel?

    Best Regards,

  9. Remote liferafts asper SOLAS Ch III Regulation 31

    1.4 Cargo ships where the horizontal distance from the extreme end of the stem or stern of the ship to the nearest end of the closest survival craft is more than 100 m shall carry, in addition to the liferafts required by paragraphs 1.1.2 and 1.2.2, a liferaft stowed as far forward or aft, or one as far forward and another as far aft, as is reasonable and practicable. Such liferaft or liferafts may be securely fastened so as to permit manual release and need not be of the type which can be launched from an approved launching device.

    So for remote liferafts:-
    • HRUs are not required.
    • Must have means of rapid, easy manual release, while being secured against sea damage.
    • Must have sufficient means of embarkation (a knotted lifeline is not acceptable).

    These lifeboats shall be of at least for 6 persons capacity since no liferaft shall have a capacity less than 6 people.

  10. A good video, but @3:30 an inflated liferaft does not become “more heavier”, it becomes more buoyant

  11. Life raft hose assembly, non-metallic for our 20 and 10 man life rafts, we use compressed air to fill our tanks and was wondering what the end fittings should be made of….should it be stainless steel , nickel, or brass.

  12. Good Day My name is Charles Merritt and I will like to order life. Kindly email back with the cost of Revere Coastal Elite Life Raft and we can proceed from there. Thank you

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