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Old 03-20-2015, 01:37 PM   #1
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Who has experience with a life raft?

I'm in the early stages of planning for a 4-5 month cruise that will take us around the coast of WA and up into Canadian waters. One of the things I'm looking at getting for this cruise is a life raft. In doing some research on 4-person rafts I find there is a huge difference in price, with some starting around $1500 and going up to over $7000. We'll be using it in cold water areas, so that's something to consider.

I'm looking at a raft with these specs:
near coastal specs
4 person
dual tube
automatic inflating cover

Does anyone have any experience with this type of raft? If you were to buy again, what would you consider "must have" features? What features would you consider "nice to have"?

Also, if I buy a new raft what is the market for selling it at the end of the cruise?

Thanks for any input you can supply.
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Old 03-20-2015, 01:44 PM   #2
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Check Latitude 38 websites classy classified section for an idea on resale value. I've seen a few listed there over the years.
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Old 03-20-2015, 02:03 PM   #3
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They can also be rented.
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Old 03-20-2015, 02:18 PM   #4
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They can also be rented.
Yeah....I would do that for a one-time cruise. Did that with a buddy when we sailed from NJ to Bermuda. It was pretty affordable as I recall...

If you buy used, pay attention to the certification dates...Not sure how long they're good for..
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Old 03-20-2015, 03:30 PM   #5
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They can also be rented.
Rentals | Sals Inflatables Service
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Old 03-20-2015, 03:42 PM   #6
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Old 03-20-2015, 04:01 PM   #7
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I can relate the knowledge gleened from using Switlik and Winslow rafts in aviation. Every 4 years, we were went to survival school in Oklahoma City with a ditch tank. We'd simulate a "water landing" and aircraft evacuation. We'd exit the fuselage onto the wing, deploy the raft and climb into it. We'd also spend a significant training period righting the raft (do it from the CO2 cylinder side), raft boarding from the water and survival procedures. Boarding from the water is not as easy as it might look.

One lesson learned was the bigger the raft, the better. We had 6 man rafts for a crew of 3-4 and it was tight! An integrated self-inflating cover provided better protection from the elements than a manually inflated roof support with a draped fabric cover.

We found the quality of the Winslow raft to be far superior to the Switlik we previously used, although that might have just been a difference between models rather than a difference between manufacturers.

Just as important as the raft is the ditch bag. Food, communication and signaling is important, but a reverse osmosis pump can provide a sufficient water supply for the raft occupants for a long time.

That said, if I could rent a raft for a long trip, I'd consider that option vs. buying. It alleviates the expiration issue. You just need to provide an accessible and safe storage area for the temporary raft.
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Old 03-20-2015, 04:26 PM   #8
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Two things, in cold water not all life rafts are sufficient. There may be insulated floors.

Also the sales people will try to sell you a six person one. I unfortunately was talked into a six when I wanted a four. Now the six is too heavy for my wife to lift.
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Old 03-20-2015, 05:05 PM   #9
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Whatever crew you have, always order a raft with capacity 2 more than crew number.

Unless, you can expect rescues within a couple hours or your entire crew is the size of average 6 year olds with even greater flexibility and tolerance for being sat on.

If the raft is too heavy..and I hate that but inevitable for most..have it mounted so it can be slid off the side. It may require a bit of engineering and cost....but it can mean the difference between misery in the raft and possible injury when there is just no room in there and the seas are bouncing you around.
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Old 03-20-2015, 06:11 PM   #10
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...oh, one more thing...don't forget the gumby suits! Survival suits will make a huge difference in your survivability in the extreme conditions you'll be boating in.

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Old 03-20-2015, 07:00 PM   #11
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Being a retired USN PR(Parachute Rigger) and a survival instructor, this subject is sorta near and dear to me.

We maintained and repaired all survival equipment used in the Fleet, including life rafts. 1 man to 20 man. Most had survival gear incorporated. My recommendation is spend what you feel comfortable, but don't go cheap! This is you and your crew your dealing with. Remember that a life raft is closed up and in a container its whole life until needed. If you get a life raft with out survival equipment, be sure to pack a ditch bag with everything you'll need. You should have a ditch bag anyway!
But first, put on a survival suit ( Gumby my first choice). If time permits after, grab Ditch bag and then deploy life raft.

Practice and have a plan that all crew understands and practice!

40 degree water will incapacitate you in just minutes.

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Old 03-20-2015, 07:13 PM   #12
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Son's a AWR2 stationed in Japan.

Thanks for your service Chief.
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Old 03-20-2015, 07:20 PM   #13
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Two things, in cold water not all life rafts are sufficient. There may be insulated floors.

Also the sales people will try to sell you a six person one. I unfortunately was talked into a six when I wanted a four. Now the six is too heavy for my wife to lift.


While in Maine last year, i spoke to a person of a life raft company and he gave me what I really thought was good advice: I was better going smaller rather than larger, because in the north Atlantic, the big issue will be hypothermia.

I ended getting a 4 person raft from Parks (HopCar), at a very good price, $1800.
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Old 03-20-2015, 08:33 PM   #14
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While in Maine last year, i spoke to a person of a life raft company and he gave me what I really thought was good advice: I was better going smaller rather than larger, because in the north Atlantic, the big issue will be hypothermia.

I ended getting a 4 person raft from Parks (HopCar), at a very good price, $1800.
I have serious doubts that hypothermia will be thwarted by a smaller area.

The threat of hypothermia is wetness so you better be in gumby suits anyway. If not, the water is wicking away heat and it's impossible to huddle well enough in a rolling pitching raft. You are more likely to elbow someone in the eye, or fall on them and break something than obtain any warmth. The canopies will keep the wind off, but not really retain much heat, especially if there is any spray.

I have spent many hours in life rafts in many different training scenarios, plus debriefed dozens of survivors that were plucked from rafts. Almost to a man, all complained about cramped rafts and those not in gumby suits were lucky to live.
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Old 03-20-2015, 08:58 PM   #15
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I would say Gumby suits are more important than a raft if you are in cold water!

Ever done the polar bear plunge? imagine coordinated, physical activity afterwards (IE righting a flipped raft). Not going to happen.

We used to do suit donning drills - under a minute was req'd and it took a little practice.
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Old 03-21-2015, 01:31 AM   #16
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Quote:
They can also be rented.
I've looked at rentals but for a long trip they're just not cost effective. I can buy a 4-person raft for not much more than I can rent one for 4-5 months and at the end of the rental period I have nothing to show for it except the bill to ship it back.

Quote:
Just as important as the raft is the ditch bag. Food, communication and signaling is important, but a reverse osmosis pump can provide a sufficient water supply for the raft occupants for a long time.
I already have a ditch bag that has my EPIRB, a VHF with extra batteries, knife, parachute cord, several days worth of food and water, small first aid kit and I'm not done stocking it yet.

Quote:
Whatever crew you have, always order a raft with capacity 2 more than crew number.
Crew of 2 about 95% of the time so we're buying a 4-person raft. I'll also have the Whaler along as my towed dinghy. It'll always be floating, not on davits or on the deck.

Quote:
I would say Gumby suits are more important than a raft if you are in cold water!
That's probably next on my list.

Any thoughts on whether or not the heavy duty plastic rafts are worth buying? I've seen some that look good and are reasonably priced but wonder about the longevity.

Great comments all. Please keep 'em coming if you have more to share.
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Old 03-21-2015, 06:35 AM   #17
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A really good dink , like a B Whaler , for inshore is far better than a raft.

With a raft , you have to hope the signal is going out and someone will come to save you.

With a good dink, you can simply save your self.

On our 90/90 which is more likely to go offshore in remote areas than the larger boat , we carry a 9 ft aluminum dink with floatation added. It has a full sail package (and oars) , so a modest distance would not be a hassle.

Yes we have exposure suits for both of us so water temperature will be a slower killer.

The EPURB is the antique style , but the commercial aircraft still momitor 121.5
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Old 03-21-2015, 07:40 AM   #18
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If you have gumby suits and practice getting them o in less than a minute regularly...the raft is surely less important.

I say the less expensive coastal rescue platforms are probably sufficient...especially with the Whaler along from the ride. With 2 plus hung on those gumbys, rescue along the PNW and Alaska should be less than 24 hrs unless you are out in very severe weather.

But if you care to try...do the math and see what a never used raft goes for after one owner about a year old. You could buy top of the line and sell it later for a pretty good price. If you had to use it..that couple extra thou will seem insignificant. Plus check your insurance to see if you need a rider or so e thing for adding an expensive piece of gear.
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Old 03-21-2015, 09:37 AM   #19
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Light weight is good - look at aviation models. Re packing in your local area is much better than shipping both ways. You generally want supplies like water in your ditch bag, not in the raft. I started with a Viking aircraft model, and replaced it with same after service costs became not cost-effective. It's great to have a chance to play with your own raft, which I do during every service at the Seattle Viking facility. I would also include a couple of non-stock things like an older pair of eyeglasses for the repack. Insulated floor critical in cold area, but possible to get something separate from raft (keeping raft weight down). Storage and deployment also need thought, as well as securing to boat and - ultimately - cutting it loose safely.
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Old 03-21-2015, 10:41 AM   #20
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When going through a similar decision process a few years we decided the following. Your milage may vary
  • We looked at used rafts. Though there were some good deals around, once recertification costs and worry were factored in we elected not to go that route.
  • We rented a raft for the offshore legs. This worked pretty well. PM me if you want the company name. The rental included some of the basics - food/water - but we made our own grab bag too (radio, EPIRB, etc). It was located for very quick deployment - good for safety - but would have been in the way for a long term.
  • Back in coastal waters we rely on the dinghy (Rendova).
  • We didn't get gumby suits. We already have Mustang exposure suits and while they are not as good we had them, and we typically wear them when things are worrying (ie we don't have to worry about getting into them in a hurry as they are already on!). I did see second hand gumby suits show up online and was considering those. I personally would be comfortable going used here - in contrast with the comment about the life-raft above.
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