What to expect on deployment

What to expect on deployment

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What to expect on deployment of your life raft 

Inflatable life rafts are usually deployed by one of two methods: The first and most common launching method is by manually throwing or dropping the raft overboard. These rafts are often referred to as ‘throwover type’ even though they can also be automatically deployed by a hydrostatic release unit if the vessel in distress rapidly sinks. Water pressure activates a sharp blade within the releasing device which cuts the strong rope that secures the raft to its cradle or mounting position. The raft will float free to the surface and inflate.

In the second deployment method, an inflated raft is lowered into the sea by means of a davit launching mechanism, called the ‘davit launch type’. This type is the domain of big capacity rafts and is usually a feature of large high-sided ships.

On smaller vessels an inflatable life-raft is usually launched by throwing the entire container or valise overboard and pulling its lanyard. A surprising amount of line (at least 9 metres) will need to be pulled out before this action activates a compressed gas cylinder which inflates the various air chambers that make up the raft. The raft will inflate quickly, with excess gas gushing out of the relief valves.

The sea anchor (drogue) will stream automatically on deployment in some raft types and in others it will need to be manually set on boarding (it lays folded on the floor). The drogue will hold the raft up to the wind and waves and significantly reduce the chance of capsize. It should also tend to keep the raft’s opening to the lee of the weather.

A raft is designed to inflate the right way up, (because of the weight of the compressed gas cylinder etc) but there is a small chance that it may inflate upside down. Try to right it from the boat, but if that fails, it will need to be done from the water.

Many people find it surprisingly difficult to get over the high freeboard of the tubes even with the aid of an entrance ramp or ladder and support webbing. Once aboard, it will be necessary for survivors to cut the lanyard and paddle clear of the boat in distress. Checking to see that the sea anchor is streaming correctly, tending injured victims and closing the door of the raft once all survivors are aboard are also priority actions.

Maintaining the raft, familiarising everyone with the contents of the emergency pack, watching for rescuers and achieving best possible comfort levels for all on board will become the ongoing routine.