Rough Waters: Life Rafts Saving Lives

Life rafts, and also life boats, are small, rigid or inflatable boats that are stored on ships for emergency evacuations. Commercial ships are required by law to store life rafts, while recreational sailors will often carry inflatable rafts, though some may have small lifeboats.

For most commercial ships, life rafts are fitted with a quick-release mechanism that inflates the boat with carbon dioxide or nitrogen as soon as it is released from the shipping vessel. The International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) and the International Life-Saving Appliance Code (LSA) require each lifeboat and life raft carry certain emergency equipment for international voyages.

The biggest difference between a life raft and a lifeboat is that life rafts are inflatable and collapsible and are sealed, never to be opened by the crew and inspected only when sent to certain facilities; lifeboats are open and are required to be inspected periodically by a crewmember. SOLAS requires all merchant ships to have lifeboats on each side of the vessel, sufficient for all people on board, which is the maximum capacity of the boat. Lifeboats also typically have a motor while life rafts do not, and the equipment carried on a lifeboat is much greater than that of a life raft.

It is very important for the inflatable life boats, that they are inspected and stored in the appropriate place on a vessel.  Over the years, in several cases where Latti & Anderson LLP have represented crew members who have died when a vessel has sank, negligence and unseaworthiness have focused on that the life raft was not properly stored on the vessel and when the vessel sank the life raft got caught in vessel equipment which prevented the life raft from deploying.

Prior to leaving for a voyage, crews are required by SOLAS to conduct a lifeboat drill at least 24 hours before departure. This drill usually requires passengers to be educated about life vests and escape routes off the ship. There are some laws in place that will hold crewmembers liable to fines if they voluntarily do not complete a lifeboat drill.

The attorneys at Latti & Anderson LLP have been representing those injured at sea and on land for over 50 years. We have an intimate understanding of maritime law and can help get compensation for those injured at sea due to the reckless or negligent acts of another. Contact our maritime attorneys today at (800) 392-6072 for a free consultation. We offer our services nationwide for a variety of maritime accidents.

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