Liferaft Trial

Alastor has a Beaufort 4-person liferaft in a soft valise, normally kept under the dining table. In August 1999, as the raft was overdue for a service, I decided to hold a liferaft trial before taking it in for service.

We were anchored in a sheltered marine park (Plumper Cove near Vancouver, Canada) in ideal conditions with hardly any wind. Unrealistic for an emergency situation except perhaps for a fire on board, but the idea was to become familiar with the raft rather than take any risks.

Normally, a raft would be kept on deck or in a cockpit locker. Alastor's is kept below in part because of the limited deck space on a 32 foot vessel, and in part to protect it from the weather. Getting the raft outside and overboard is quite easy for an adult, and the stowage fastenings need not be so secure (or difficult to undo) as for deck storage, so I am fairly happy with the belowdecks stowage.

After unwinding a length of the line and securing it to a cleat (important step!), throwing the raft overboard was quite easy. It floated right-way-up in the water and after the line was given a sharp pull started to inflate from the gas bottle. This was a fairly quick process. The raft consists of two octagonal tubes with a floor, and another tube acting as a roll bar to support the roof. It is around 20 years old and of somewhat lighter construction than rubber dinghies such as the Avon. It really looks a bit like a toy,

The raft has a variety of equipment on board, most packed into two orange duffel bags. Attached to the roof inside is a knife on a lanyard, which may be required to cut the line if the parent vessel is sinking. A water-activated battery provides power for a small external light on the roof, and another internal light. There is a large front entrance, and a smaller rear hatch in the roof, through which the sea anchor can be set or an attempt made to paddle. Other equipment included a pair of short wooden paddles like oversize ping-pong bats, a canvas bailer, manual air pump, simple first-aid kit, parachute and hand-held flares, packets of drinking water, torch, spare batteries and bulb, repair patches and instructions.

The raft has a slight leak in the floor, probably due to its age and the tightly compressed and folded packing. It wasn't serious and could have been fixed using the repair kit or rubber plugs provided. Trying to paddle the raft with the paddles provided was almost impossible. Although there was hardly any wind or current, the raft drifted slowly away and the crew was unable to return to Alastor. I towed the raft back rowing a small inflatable, and it was quite difficult owing probably to the ballast bags under the raft, designed to discourage capsizing.

Although in an emergency at sea the parent vessel and raft would both be drifting, it seems likely that they would drift at different rates depending on the wind, and that it would be impossible to prevent this by paddling. Therefore the raft must remain secured to the parent vessel until all the crew are aboard or the vessel is actually sinking. The first aboard can stand ready with the knife.

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