Obligation of the life raft: all the rules

zattera di salvataggio
Life raft

In recent years our boats have become increasingly safe. Thanks to the devices on board we can have full control of the situation: think of the echo sounder that gives us information on the seabed, the nautical GPS that gives us our precise position, the VHF radio for emergency communications, to get up to the econometer, which gives us all the information regarding consumption It helps us not to stay dry away from the port. There is no doubt: sailing nowadays is much safer than what happened years ago, for the electronic equipment as for the goodness of modern hulls. Unfortunately, however, security is never total: there are always margins of error, unexpected events and unfortunate events. For this reason, the Nautical Code prescribes precise safety equipment that must be mandatory on board the boat, such as life jacket, life jacket, fire extinguishers and yes, obviously also the life raft. And the latter, among the safety equipment, is at the same time the most expensive and the most important. But when does the obligation of the life raft come into play? How should this emergency inflatable be managed, and what is the difference between a coastal raft and an offshore emergency raft? We review all the rules in a complete and simple way, to erase any doubt.

The obligation of the life raft beyond 12 miles

The obligation of the classic life raft, also called offshore raft – or oceanic – comes into force when you cross 12 miles from the coast. As is known, in extreme situations, the emergency inflatable raft is the only element that can save the crew of a boat while waiting for rescue: for this reason the fine for the boater who does not have it could be very high. It must be said that the penalties for failure to comply with the minimum safety equipment and rescue equipment can reach up to over 1,000 euros. As we will see below, however, it is not only the boats that exceed 12 miles to have the obligation of the life raft.

Life raft within 12 miles: when is it mandatory?

Even those who sail within 12 miles – but beyond 6 miles – from the coast are obliged to have a life raft on board, which, however, is different from the offshore emergency inflatable. It is therefore the "raft", or rather, the coastal raft, which is the heir of the old "atoll", a makeshift means that actually did not guarantee the same level of safety as the modern rescue vehicle: the legislative evolution took place with the Ministerial Decree of 2 March 2009, which definitively retired the atolls. The coastal raft, as we will see shortly, is the simplified version of the offshore inflatable: unlike the atoll, it allows the shipwrecked to stay dry while waiting for rescue.

The difference between coastal and offshore raft

Given how the obligation of the life raft is structured, let's see how the coastal raft, mandatory between 6 and 12 miles, and the offshore raft, mandatory over 12 miles from the coast, differ from each other. The assumption is simple: those who sail within 12 miles of the coast have a good chance, in the event of an accident, to be rescued in a rather short time. Here then that the first and main difference between the two rafts lies in the fact that the coastal model does not provide coverage, nor equipment designed for a stay on board beyond 24 hours. Conversely, offshore emergency rafts have a series of equipment and tools designed to ensure survival even for several days, or even weeks, waiting to be spotted in the open sea. The ocean rafts themselves are made of stronger materials than their colleagues intended for use within 12 miles.

How to manage emergency rafts on board

It should be noted that complying with the obligation to have a life raft on board is not in itself sufficient to ensure that you have an emergency boat on board to be used effectively in case of need. Indeed, the wrong raft could even lead to sanctions: all boats approved after 2000 must in fact boast a raft compliant with ISO 9650 standards, which are decidedly more modern than previous models. It is also necessary to make sure that the emergency inflatable is large enough to accommodate all passengers: a boat that cruises with a dozen people on board should be able to count on a raft approved for 12 people, or even better on two separate rafts of 8 people each.

The position of the raft on board should not be overlooked: it would be naïve and dangerous to store the raft below deck or in lockers difficult to reach. The chosen position must be such that it can be reached in a few seconds, even in the most extreme situations, with difficult weather conditions and panic on board. The raft must be securely secured with resistant webbing, which have quick releases to be able to put the boat in the water in the shortest possible time.

The rules for the revision of the coastal and oceanic raft

Like anything on board the boat, even the raft can be subject to deterioration: both its structure and its equipment can be ruined over time. For this reason, alongside the obligation to have it on board, there is also the obligation to overhaul the life raft, a practice in all respects similar to that of our cars. Let's start with the life raft over 12 miles: the offshore inflatables must be serviced every 2 years. It must be said that the first revision will be Ordinary, and therefore simpler and faster, while the second revision will be Extraordinary, more thorough; The types of revision will then continue to alternate, always every two years.

The situation is slightly different with regard to the revision of the coastal raft. This must be carried out the first time 3 years after purchase, and then be repeated regularly every 2 years (in the case of the coastal raft there is no differentiation between ordinary and extraordinary revisions).

The equipment of a good rescue inflatable

Imagine being in the open sea and, due to an accident or damage, having to leave the boat immediately: we launch the raft into the sea, we let the whole crew get on. We are safe. What now? It is enough to hypothesize this scenario to understand how important it is to be able to count on a series of equipment that on the one hand facilitate the work of rescue, and on the other guarantee our survival. For this reason, offshore life rafts must be equipped with a survival kit that counts, among other things, dry food for several days, supplies of drinking water, fishing lines and so on. When leaving the boat to get to safety on the raft it would always be essential to have a portable VHF radio, signal flares, a whistle, a knife, a torch and a paddle with you. It must also be said that the best ocean life rafts already have a large part of these emergency equipment, as well as elements aimed at making life on board less difficult. Think of the cover, which protects from the sun and rain, and which has reflectent surfaces; But let's also think of ballast pockets, or pockets that fill with water to give greater stability to the raft, to avoid dramatic capsizing at sea.  

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