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Liferafts for sport boats and sailing yachts

Everything you need to know about your on-board life raft. Imagine the worst-case scenario: you are shipwrecked, your boat catches fire or is about to sink. If the unthinkable happens, your life raft will be a lifesaver for you and your crew. In the following guide, we give an overview of the different types, sizes and versions of life rafts used in sports boats, the international equipment regulations for carrying life rafts and what you should be aware of when storing life rafts on board, using them in an emergency and what to consider when servicing them.

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What are the regulations for life rafts on recreational craft and sailing yachts?

As a general rule, in Great Britain there are no on-board requirements regarding safety equipment items for recreational craft up to a length of 13.70 metres, as long as the yacht is not used commercially. Nevertheless, it is highly recommended for every skipper to have adequate life-saving equipment on board. The type and extent of equipment depends very much on the size of the boat and the sailing area. The international ISO 9650 standard from 2005, which we will explain in more detail later, serves as a guideline for the equipment and specifications of a life raft.

If you sail under the national flag of the United Kingdom of Great Britain, the equipment regulations which that are valid in Great Britain apply, irrespective of the waters sailing in. If you sail abroad under the national flag of that country, you must observe the national regulations. Below we have listed the applicable regulations in France, Italy and Spain for you:

life raft Icon
In some countries, however, depending on the area, it is mandatory to carry a life raft and other safety equipment, such as life jackets or pyrotechnics.

Bureau Veritas

France - What regulations apply for carrying life rafts?

The district is divided into zones, distance to the coast in nautical miles (NM) applies:

Basique (protected water) < 2 NM No compulsory equipment
Côtier (inshore) - 6 NM No compulsory equipment
Semi-hauturier (outside coastal waters) > 6 - 60 NM Life raft obligation
Hauturier (high seas) > 60 NM Life raft obligation

In France, the "Division 240" has been in force since May 2015, which includes the introduction of a new territorial zone - the "Semi Hautier" zone of 6 to 60 miles. For this new zone, boats flying the French flag must have at least one ISO 9650-2 certified life raft on board. If you sail under the French flag outside the 60-mile zone, your boat must be equipped with a Bureau Veritas certified ISO 9650-1 life raft.

Rina Italien

Italy - What are the regulations for carrying life rafts?

The district is divided into mile zones, distance to the coast in nautical miles (NM):

1 - 3 NM No compulsory equipment
3 - 6 NM No compulsory equipment
6 - 12 NM Life raft obligation
12 - 50 NM Life raft obligation
> 50 NM Life raft obligation

Spain - When must a life raft be carried on board?

The district is divided into mile zones, distance to the coast in nautical miles (NM):

Zone I > 60 NM Life raft obligation according to SOLAS RD809/99 / ISO 9650
Zone II 60 NM Life raft obligation according to SOLAS RD809/99 / ISO 9650
Zone III 25 NM Life raft obligation according to SOLAS RD809/99 / ISO 9650
Zone IV 12 NM No compulsory equipment
Zone V 5 NM No compulsory equipment
Zone VI 2 NM No compulsory equipment
Zone VII protected waters No compulsory equipment
Other countries

Find out about the respective equipment specifications in international areas.

Which life raft should I buy for my sports boat?

Before buying a life raft, it is important to consider your needs clearly and then determine the necessary features of the life raft. In short: Blue-water sailors have different requirements for a life raft than coastal sailors on the North Sea and Baltic Sea.

In addition to the required ISO type, the number of persons required should also be considered when purchasing a life raft. The bigger the better as a concept does not work here, as the life raft's buoyancy is based on the weight of the occupants. There is a risk of capsizing if the number of persons or the corresponding weight is exceeded or not reached.

What are the guidelines for the condition and specifications of life rafts according to ISO 9650?

In 2005, the international ISO 9650 standard for life rafts on sailing and motor boats was introduced. This standard specifies the technical condition of life rafts, the extent of emergency equipment and the materials that may be used in the manufacture of life rafts. However, compliance with this standard is not compulsory in all countries. Compliance is voluntary.

Details regarding differences can be found below in the comparison table for ISO 9650-1 life rafts & ISO 9650-2 life rafts.

ISO 9650 applies to sailboats and motorboats up to 24 metres in length and classifies life rafts according to two main categories:

  1. ISO 9650-1 Life Rafts for Offshore & Transocean
  2. ISO 9650-2 Life Rafts for Coastal Areas
High Seas

ISO 9650-1 Life Rafts for Offshore & Transocean

Life rafts of type 9650-1 are divided into two groups for different operating temperatures: Group A life rafts are designed for a temperature range from -15 to +65° Celsius and Group B life rafts for temperatures between 0 and +65° Celsius.

These life rafts are available in various configurations: For an estimated rescue period of less than 24 hours as a standard package and for an estimated rescue period of more than 24 hours with survival equipment, such as drinking water and emergency provisions.

SEAGO SEA MASTER ISO 9650-1 / ISAF, for unrestricted offshore use and for category 1 and 2 regattas. Available either in a robust flat container or packed in a bag. Additional equipment can be carried in a "grab bag". Make sure that the grab bag is waterproof and floatable.

ISO 9650-2 Life Rafts for Use in Coastal Areas

Life rafts of type 9650-2 are safe to deploy in temperatures between 0 and +65° Celsius and are configured as a standard package for a maximum duration of 24 hours.

If you only sail close to the coast, an ISO 9650-2 life raft will meet all requirements.

SEATEC by SEAGO life rafts. These life rafts are for 4, 6 or 8 persons and are suitable for sailing along the North Sea or Baltic coast for example, on big lakes and inland waters. They come as a standard package without drinking water but with 2 parachute flares and 3 hand flares and have the advantage that they are French Bureau Veritas approved and Italian RINA approved.

Sailing on the coast

Comparison of ISO 9650-1 Life Rafts & ISO 9650-2 Life Rafts

Type / Characteristics ISO 9650-1 ISO 9650-2
Area of Use High sea Coastal waters
Max. Persons 4 to 12 persons 4 to 10 personsn
Max. Launch Height 6 m 4 m
Suitable Temperature range Group A: -15° bis +65°
Group B: 0° bis + 65°
0° bis 65°Celsius
Material on the inside floor Group A: Thermally insulated double floor
Group B: Basic floor
Basic floor
Freeboard (wall height above water level) Up to 4 persons: 250 mm
Over 4 persons: 300 mm
Up to 4 persons: 200 mm
Over 4 persons: 250 mm
Area per person 0,372 m2 0,25 m2
Buoyancy per person 96 litres 82 litres
Roof construction Deploys automatically Manually deployed
Exterior light 4.3 candelas luminosity 0.75 candelas luminosity
Reflective material 1500 cm2 1500 cm2
Equipment Up to 24 hours.: Standard pack
Over 24 hours.: Emergency pack
Standard pack

What emergency equipment is found in life rafts?

Equipment Version Over 24 hours Version Up to 24 hours In the raft Additional equipment in separate grab-bag
Water scoop 1 1
Sponge 2 2
Emergency paddle 1 1
First aid kit 1
Whistle 1 1
Flashlight, waterproof 2 1
Signal mirror 1 1
Seasickness tablets 6 6
Sick bag 1 1
Hand flares according to SOLAS 6 3 3 minutes
Parachute flares according to SOLAS 2 1 1 minute
Cold protection according to SOLAS 2
Repair kit 1 1
Bellows 1 1
Drinking water 1,5 litres 1,5 litres
Emergency provisions 10000 KJ
Storing the life raft on board

How do I store my life raft on board?

The life raft is optionally packed in a handy bag or a sturdy GRP container. Choose an on-board storage location for the life raft that is always in view and can be reached quickly by the entire crew. A stainless-steel holder on deck is ideal for storing a life raft on board. The life raft is attached to the holder with a rip cord.

How is the life raft activated in an emergency?

How is the life raft activated in an emergency?

In an emergency, the life raft and its container are thrown into the water. A crew member then pulls the rip cord, which is up to ten metres long, until resistance is felt. This point is often marked in colour on the cord. With a jerk of the hand, the release mechanism is activated and the buoyancy chambers of the life raft are automatically filled with air or CO2. The pull rope can now be tied to the side of the ship (manually or with the winch for sailing ships). The life raft should always be pulled to the ship's side, never to the stern. The stern will act like a guillotine in rough seas and could damage the life raft.

Alternatively, an on deck life raft can be fitted with a hydrostatic inflator. When the life raft is under water (water depth 1.5 - 4m), the hydrostatic inflator is activated by the water pressure and the life raft floats up and inflates automatically. However, hydrostatic inflators must be replaced every 2 years.

Practice dealing with an emergency at sea without getting into danger - this can bedone during safety training in Neustadt/Holstein, Info:

What is important to know when getting into a life raft?

The most physically-able person should enter the life raft first. This person can then help the other crew members into the life raft. Ideally, all persons should climb into the life raft directly from the ship without entering the water. If this is not possible, many life rafts have ladders or boarding aids that make it easier to access the life raft from the water.

Only when all crew members are in the life raft and the ship actually sinks (usually many hours later) can the pull rope be finally detached from the ship. All life rafts are equipped with a knife for this purpose.


Why a personal grab bag is a good idea and what it should contain

Check in advance the emergency equipment available on the life raft and replenish if necessary. A personal grab-bag makes a sensible addition to the accessories a life raft is usually equipped with. A grab-bag is a waterproof and floatable bag or container in signal colour. You can also carry important documents and personal items in a waterproof and floatable grab-bag that are essential in an emergency and must not be missing. This may include:

  1. Important medication
  2. Copies of important documents (Boat license, purchase agreement of the vessel, etc.)
  3. Passport & credit card to identify yourself after recovery & to obtain money
  4. Sunglasses & sun cream
  5. Handheld radio and/or satellite telephone for communication
  6. EPIRB or SART AIS transmitter for sending an emergency signal
  7. Water & additional food items

We recommend testing the bag or container after it has been filled to see if it can float before starting the journey. If this is not the case, you can either put a float in it or fill it with air. Not all items in a grab bag can be permanently stored in it. Handheld radios and credit cards, for example, are probably still needed during sailing and will be stored elsewhere on board. It is a good idea to put a sticker on the grab bag listing the items that need to be added in an emergency, so that you don't forget anything important, especially in stressful circumstances.

How often must a life raft be serviced?

A life raft can only function in an emergency if all relevant components are in perfect condition. Regular maintenance of the life raft is therefore essential. Each manufacturer has its own guarantee and maintenance interval regulations, which should be strictly adhered to (guarantee up to 18 years; maintenance usually every 3 years). SVB is a maintenance station for life rafts made by PLASTIMO, XM, ZODIAC, SEAGO und SEATEC. SVB is regularly trained, tested and certified by these companies. The maintenance carried out by SVB is fully documented for you in a log or check-book.

Life raft maintenance

What does the SVB life raft maintenance service include?

  1. Checking the general condition of the life raft, e.g. ballast chambers, roof and bottom
  2. Replacing parts such as seals, masking tape, signalling equipment, etc.
  3. Inspection and replacement of emergency provisions and water for damage and expiry date
  4. Testing the function of the ignition head
  5. Pressure test and leak test of the individual air buoyancy chambers
  6. Testing of the regular opening and closing of the intake and pressure relief valves
  7. Packaging and sealing of the life raft in a vacuum bag and in its original packaging (container or bag)
Every life raft has a maintenance interval prescribed by the manufacturer, which should be strictly adhered to.

In short:

A life raft is a vital piece of equipment for your sports boat or sailing yacht! Before buying a life raft, make sure you know where you will be sailing and the number of crew you will need it for. After purchasing a life raft, take a closer look at how it works and the emergency equipment available, and add to this according to your personal needs. Have your life raft serviced according to the manufacturer's instructions. You will then be well prepared for an emergency that will hopefully never occur.

Written by our SVB (technical) experts

Written by our SVB (technical) experts

Our SVB safety experts regularly carry out maintenance checks and tests on our safety products, such as life jackets, life rafts etc. They test products and base their recommendations on many years of experience and their own know-how.