Life rafts are provided as a life saving appliances on every sea going merchant or passenger vessel in addition to the lifeboats. Life rafts are much easier to launch as compare to life boats and in case of emergency situation, evacuation from the ship can be done without manually launching any of them as the life rafts are designed with auto inflatable system. SOLAS chapter III gives all the details for types and number of life raft to be carried as per the size and type of the ship.
Life rafts are normally located on muster station, on port and starboard side near the life boat, and fwd and aft of the ship. The location generally depends on size of the ship. Life rafts are stored in a fiberglass container, incorporated with a high pressure gas used for inflating life raft at the time of emergency. A Hydrostatic Release Unit (HRU) is connected to raft container and ship, which release the raft even after the ship sinks in water.
The particulars of the raft is stenciled 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 basic survival items are already stored in the raft which includes rations, pyrotechnics, life jackets etc.
Some ships carries a davit launching system which allows the crew to inflate and board the raft on deck, avoiding the risk of going into the sea water.
Basic Construction Details of Life Rafts:
- Life rafts normally come as partially or fully enclosed by a canopy to protect the crew members from rough weather and direct sun.
- The canopy of the raft is in highly visible orange colour with reflective stripes.
- The rubber tubing of the raft is generally of double layer type so that if one gets punctured, the other layer can keep the raft afloat.
- The floor of the life raft is a water proof insulated so that any water collected inside the raft can be easily removed.
- Pockets are also provided for carrying ballast water, which helps the raft to be stable at rough seas so as to avoid tipping over of the raft.
- Anchors are also provided for better stability of the raft.
- A boarding ramp or ladder is also fitted for easy boarding of crew members even at rough waters.
- A bright illuminating light for easy location of the life raft. It is generally fitted at the top of canopy.
- Outside lifelines and inside bracing ropes are present to hold the raft.
- The raft consists of various ventilation, observation ports and rain water collection ports for drinking purpose.
SOLAS Requirement for Life Raft:
- On every merchant vessel, annual servicing of life raft has to be done by a specialised shore body and cannot be opened by crew members onboard for inspection.
- The life raft must be capable of withstanding more then 30 days of sea exposure.
- A hydrostatic unit must be fitted for auto inflation of life raft when the ship sinks.
- The container in which the raft is stored must be buoyant in nature.
- It should be strong enough to withstand repeated jumps of crew member from a height of 15 ft.
- A painter/rope line must be provided, whose length should not be less than 50 feet, to open the raft from remote position.
- Highly visible canopy with sufficient headroom and rain water collecting arrangement should be there.
- At least one observation port should be there and the entrance should be of quick closing/opening type.
- Minimum two separate buoyant compartments along with ballast ports to carry at least 220 litres of ballast water should be there.
- The floor must be waterproof and have minimum one boarding ladder.
- Survival pack as per SOLAS along with manually operated lights needs to be provided.
- The raft must be easy to right in case it has been toppled over by rough seas and lifelines must be present inside and outside of the raft.
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