What is a life raft?
Life raft is a life saving appliance (LSA) carried on board all shipping vessels and passenger vessels to evacuate ship in case of emergency. Hence Life Saving Appliance. It is stored in compressed form inside a small white cylinder. This is done to safeguard and reduce the adverse effects of weather when not in use also to conserve space.
Uses of life rafts
- To carry out training of sailors to respond effectively in case of any emergency in form of drills
- Can be used to perform search and rescue operations (SAR).
- Can be used to leave ship when captain gives abandon ship order verbally.
One of the worst situations a sailor can face during his sea time is the Abandon ship order given by the master. This is extreme situation and only used as a last option. The order is given when the master/captain feels that now the ship cannot be saved and is sure that the ship will sink/explode so he has to protect his crew at all costs. Hence, to avoid errors and panicking of crew in such a life-threatening situation drills are conducted to familiarize the sailors about the tasks they are assigned to do so when the actual emergency arises, they know beforehand and do their tasks perfectly.
Different stages of drill
At first, the general alarm is sounded to indicate the start of the drill. General alarm is seven short blast followed by one long blast and on radio it is announced ‘Abandon ship drill in progress, report to respective muster stations. That means now abandon ship drill has started proceed to your designated spots with your lifejackets for further orders. They also have to carry immersion suit which is a protective clothing to reduce loss of body heat inside water and prevent hypothermia whereas lifejacket prevents sinking and its bright orange color helps the rescue teams to identify from afar. The officer in charge must rectify that all are present and report to the master.
Lowering life raft
When all sailors are present with their lifejackets and immersion suits, the lowering of life raft takes place. Launching of life raft can be manual, by davit (small crane) or Hydrostatic release unit. We will see these topics later on. When the life raft is lowered completely embarkation takes place which is going inside the life raft.
Embarkation is done as soon as the life raft is in appropriate position. All crew must be boarded and then the master is the last one to board. After boarding, the master briefs the crew about survival in these conditions, food and water distribution timings and most important keeps the morale up of his mates in these difficult times. Before lowering all must secure their seatbelts to avoid injury during free fall. In drills, the engine is started and run to check its operational status.
This is carried out only after drills and not in any actual emergencies. Debriefing means that the drill is over and the crew can put forward their views about the drill. Like any difficulties faced during launching of life raft or the engine did not start in appropriate time or any crewmate did any mistake which he should avoid in future.
Maintenance of life raft
- All life rafts must be serviced not exceeding 12 months from the last date of service. If not possible such as the vessel is at sea at that date, a relaxation of 5 months is given
- The maintenance work shall be done by professionals at authorized centers only.
Equipment onboard life raft
- Non folding knife. If accommodates more than 13 persons, extra knife must be provided.
- Rescue quoits with minimum 30m length
- 3 tin openers
- 2 sponges to keep inside dry.
- 2 buoyant paddles
- 2 sea anchors used to reduce the effect of movement of water by increasing drag
- One pair of scissors
- Means to collect rainwater inside and store it.
- One first aid kit and one whistle to attract attention.
- One waterproof torch with spare battery and bulb.
- Survival book consisting instructions to survive.
- One fishing tackle
- Food ration having 10,000KJ for each person.
- 1.5 liters of freshwater for each person.
- Water proof graduated vessel for drinking water.
- Anti seasickness medicine for each person
- 6 hand flares
- 4 rocket parachute flares
- 2 buoyant smoke signals (orange)
NOTE– Sometimes people get confused between life rafts and life boats, both of them are life saving appliance used onboard but are different from each other.