Life rafts and storage

Hi all,

For the last 8 years or so, Merry has not carried a liferaft. Recently I’ve decided that it’s worth the cost, especially with crew aboard to consider.

Right now, the liferaft valise is stored in the forward cabin, lashed in the location where the head is on most boats (Merry’s head is located next to the companionway instead - easier motion and better ventilation, making it usable in a seaway). I’d like to acknowledge that this is not a convenient or accessible location, and that some crew has pointed out that the liferaft should be faster and easier to deploy than this. The same with the ditch bag whichlives in the sail bin…

I’m considering whether there’s a better long-term option - canister on the stern (we have a full pushpit, but it doesn’t seem like there’s room for a canister)? Canister on the foredeck (very much in the way of foredeck work)? Valise on a shelf inside the lazarette (in the way of lazarette storage for fenders, dock lines, and spare fuel)? Canister between the cockpit and the mast may be a good option, but in our case the dinghy would cover it.

Who is carrying a liferaft currently, and how do you deal with storage?

Zygote carried a 4-person Winslow liferaft for 23 years (with servicing) until just this past week (it reached End of Life back in 2020, but Covid-19 disrupted earlier plans to remove the liferaft). We spent two days taking apart our liferaft, repurposing some items and disposing of the remainder.

Z’s Winslow was in a valise, a sausage shape. Total mass was around 25 kg (about 56 pounds, I think). The valise fitted perfectly (standing on one end of its sausage) to starboard of the companionway, between the companion and a wet locker (replacing the standard quarter berth) for foul weather gear and Z’s secondary battery box.

We’ve practised lifting/hauling our liferaft into the cockpit. Not a problem for two able hands and doable by one able hand when motivated. A mass comparable to the mass of a suitcase we carry on international flights.

Z also always carried a ditch bag. We always carried the ditch bag in the main cabin and usually on the port sea berth. We’ve always sailed Z double-handed, with off-watch in the starboard sea-berth (or, in our usual tropical climes, in the cockpit).

In addition to the ditch bag, we’ve two bags of first aid gear that we have marked to accompany us into the liferaft should it be deployed. Those first aid bags were kept in the forepeak, in the lockers under the workbench (to port of our marine toilet).

We never deployed the liferaft. We’ve had it professionally maintained and I’ve become familiar with the structure of it (even more so after disassembling it). I quite admire the construction and design of the Winslow. I remain adamant about only taking to a liferaft were our BCC to be sinking - I used to have a mark on the mast showing the water level at which Z could not stay afloat.

On our BCC28 Itchen when we started doing offshore passages I got a Winslow 6 person offshore raft in their vacuum packed soft valise. It was stowed against the aft end of the cockpit, lashed in place using appropriately located Wichard padeyes. There’s just enough room to not interfere with the way one actually moves around in a BCC cockpit, and was instantly accessible in dire circumstances, including fire down below! Model and some pics available if curious.


Great information as always. Really appreciate your detailed answers and documentation. Out of curiosity, at what height did you have the mark on the mast to indicate critical flooding? I would like to mimic that.

Also, you are talking of Zygote in the past tense. After seeing many of your posts and Zygote’s manuals, I’m afraid to guess that this means you have sold your boat?

Itchen / Scott,

That is interesting. I am indeed curious to see pictures. I’m guessing you place it at the aft end of the cockpit inside the footwell, where crew can’t sit because of the sweep of the rudder?

Here’s the aft end of the cockpit, with the Wichard padeyes I installed to secure the Winslow life raft valise. Not even slightly in the way of normal movement in the cockpit and instantly available in event of fire or sinking. Lashing could be untied, or more quickly cut away with the sheaved knife I always had secured to the dodger frame.

Here’s a glimpse of it ‘in action’, Dorothy and I heading home from Nunjack Cay. First leg seven days to Newport, 980 NM on the rhumb line. Note that it’s Winslow’s vacuum pack hard case, not the more vulnerable soft valise pack.

Another view: Dropbox - 36636857_10217147601945649_520401632270221312_o.jpg - Simplify your life

Until a refit that involved repainting her mast, Zygote had two marks on the below-decks panel of her mast:

  • one mark, the lower one, was the design waterline. That mark was coloured blue. That mark reminded everyone in the cabin just what fittings (seacocks, cabin sole) and parts of themselves (feet, when standing or seated in the cabin) were expected to be underwater.

  • the second mark was 33 cm (approximately 13 inches, I think) above that DWL mark. The second mark was coloured red. It marked the ‘safe margin line’. I based it on calculations found and explained in Wm G Van Dorn, Oceanography and Seamanship (see page 274 of the 1974 edition). The idea was to mark the lower surface of the volume of air trapped below deck that might just support the displacement of a BCC. My calculations were that the design freeboard amdiships of a BCC is about 66 cm (approximately 26 inches). Then the idea is that if the actual freeboard amidships decreases to 33 cm (shown by water reaching that red mark, in the perhaps unlikely event that the hull was sitting well trimmed and in flat water at such a dreadful event), it might be sanguine to stop pumping and start deploying the liferaft or the safety boat (aka dinghy).

We always found it useful to explain the two marks to guests on board Z. Easy way to get landlubbers to stop focusing on their apparently desperate needs to document the petty trivialities of their personal lives by photography and the like and instead to focus on doing the necessary as part of the watch team to navigate, trim the sails, and communicate.

How happy are you with the “Superior Life Saving” raft that you bought? We dont have a raft on Calypso and have always planned on using the dinghy. But having a rollup now leaves that plan with a bit of a credibility gap. I recon the dinghy would ultimately be a more survivable platform that a lightweight raft, but we’d need to get the rollup inflated. Contemplating getting a light weight self-inflating raft to afford us that platform from which to do other things - like get the dinghy inflated.



The Superior liferaft seems nice, but I probably don’t know a thing about it until conditions warrant its use, which hopefully won’t happen. What I do know is that I was trying to get my hands on it at the very last minute in preparation for a passage and they were really friendly and helpful about getting it sent to a liferaft service shop where I could pick it up easily.


That is great. Thank you for sharing.


That looks like a really good fit and secure location for the raft. Thank you for sharing.