Westpac Marine Services, Inc.

Types of Life Rafts for Recreational Boats

In the United States, life rafts that are used on recreational boats fall in to three broad categories:

Inshore

Inshore covers lakes, bays and sounds where one can expect rescue within a very short period of time. Being in Western Washington, the Puget Sound is my closest example where an inshore product might be the correct choice.

Common features of inshore products:

  • Small pack size
  • Light weight
  • Normally no canopy
  • Ballast pockets are not always found
  • Single buoyancy tube
  • Packed in a soft valise for stowing in a locker

Coastal

If you are boating around the perimeter of the United States within helicopter rescue distance from the shore you should consider a "coastal" life raft. Of the three categories of life rafts this is the one with the most variation in products offered and you also have a USCG approved "Coastal" life raft designed for commercial fishing vessels confusing the mix.

Common features of coastal products:

  • Some form of redundancy in the buoyancy tubes either by two tubes or one tube with bulkheads
  • Ballast pockets (but usually smaller or less in number than an offshore raft)
  • Self erecting canopy
  • Non-insulated floor
  • Webbing boarding ladder
  • Minimal equipment pack
  • Packed either in a hard container for mounting on deck or a soft valise for stowing in a locker

Offshore

Perhaps the simplest category to figure out. Going to Hawaii, you need an offshore life raft.

Common features of offshore products:

  • Twin tubes
  • Insulated floor
  • Boarding ramps are common rather than webbing boarding ladders
  • Large ballast pockets
  • Self-erecting canopy
  • Extensive equipment pack
  • Packed either in a hard container for mounting on deck or a soft valise for stowing in a locker

revised 6/2017