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A life raft is a piece of safety equipment which is used to provide emergency transportation to get people away from a sinking or endangered vessel. Life rafts are at least partially collapsible, in contrast with life boats, which are solid. Typically, life rafts are stored in their collapsed state, and they need to be regularly inspected to confirm that they are in good working order. When people get on board a ship, they should make a habit of determining where the life rafts are, and finding out if they have been assigned to a specific life raft or boat in the event of an emergency.
Some life rafts are inflatable. They are made from durable materials and may have attached inflation canisters which activate when a tab is pulled. This design is intended to ensure that the raft inflates quickly in an emergency, and that the inflation is easy to perform if no staff from the ship are available. Other life rafts may have collapsible designs such as sides which fold down when the raft is not in use.
In addition to providing a mode of transit, a life raft usually also provides shelter so that people are at least partially protected from the elements. Modern life rafts also include homing beacons, location transponders, and other tools which are designed to make them easier to find, such as a tall mast with a flag which will make the life raft easy to spot. Life rafts can also contain rations of food and water, weather sheets, and a basic first aid kit.
The goal of a modern life raft is to provide a reasonable shelter which will last until people are found. Thanks to the numerous safety features in place on life rafts, ideally, people should not have long to wait. Rescue ships and aircraft can be dispatched from the nearest land when an emergency signal is sent, and people can quickly be taken to safety. However, the ocean is a big place, and things do go wrong; sometimes a liftboat drifts for days before it is found.
Historically, safety procedures on ships were rather happenstance. Through the early 20th century, ships were not even required to carry enough life rafts or boats to accommodate their maximum capacity. With the sinking of the ocean liner RMS Titanic in 1912, a safety movement arose, and ships were required to carry life rafts and observe other safety procedures. This sinking also served as the impetus for the Ice Patrol which covers the North Atlantic to monitor sea ice conditions for safety.
@indigomoth - A life raft is especially important if you are going out on water in cold conditions. People think wearing a life vest is enough but if the water is cold, you won't survive long enough to be rescued if you don't have some way to keep yourself out of the water.
Make sure your life raft is within the safe age for use as well. The material used to make older inflatable life rafts might break down over the years, so using the one you bought a couple of decades ago and hoping for the best isn't going to cut it.
Make sure if you have a life raft on your boat that you know how to use it and what is included in it. If you've got a real emergency, you don't want to have to waste time figuring out how to use the life raft, or where to open it.
I find it quite sad how few people seem to follow basic safety measures when they are using their boat. I guess they think because the boat isn't very big it's not going to be an issue, but if anything a smaller boat is more vulnerable to bad weather and out on the water, bad weather can hit out of nowhere.
You still hear about people on the news who weren't wearing life vests or anything like that when they were out on the water. It's such a simple thing and it can easily save your life.
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