Parts Of An Inflatable Life Raft

Modern life rafts are well designed to withstand the harshest conditions.

Life rafts can be the difference between life and death. Modern life rafts are very well designed to withstand the most extreme conditions and standards are strictly regulated by government. While rafts may be made from natural or butyl rubber, polyurethane, neoprene or PVC, the main parts of a raft are fairly standard.

Buoyancy Chamber

The buoyancy chamber is what will keep the raft afloat. There should be at least two separate chambers, in case one of them deflates or cannot be deployed. Often, there will be a main chamber, which will inflate the second with a non-toxic gas through a non-return valve. Both chambers should inflate automatically, but be able to be manually inflated in case of a gas failure. A non-return valve insures that if section one deflates, the other will not. In case one of the chambers does deflate, the remaining one should be able to support the maximum number of people allowed on the raft.


The canopy of the raft is its roof, which protects passengers from cold, the sun’s rays, rain and cold sea water. It is either bright orange or yellow and capable of withstanding heavy wind and rain. The canopy should inflate automatically, using the same inflation system as the buoyancy chamber, and also allow for manual inflation. It is usually reinforced with support arches that are automatically inflated with non-return valves and can be topped-up manually. The canopy should allow passengers enough headroom to sit up comfortably. There will be one or two flaps that can be easily opened from inside or out and allow for ventilation, but not water or wind. There is usually a window and also a flap to allow for collecting rain water.

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Double Floor

A double floor of durable material is necessary to insulate against the cold water. Single floors, which do not insulate properly can lead to hypothermia. A double floor also protects against rupturing due to floating objects and marine life. The floor inflates automatically or manually and should allow for deflation and re-inflation by passengers.

Inflation System

The gas cylinders, operating head, valves and hose assembly are what will inflate the raft. The cylinders and operating head are stowed and secured outside the raft. The system must be easy to operate and inflate the raft quickly in a controlled manner. The valve in the operating head insures that the gas from the cylinders will be released at the correct time and in the proper manner through a hose assembly that is pliable and resistant to extreme temperatures and pressure.


For entering the raft, a boarding ramp — as opposed to a ladder — makes it easier for those who may be injured or in a weakened condition. Several sea anchors are important to create drag, so the raft will not capsize in heavy winds or tall waves. In order to be spotted, the outside light should blink and be able to be seen from a far distance. An inside light will help assess the situation when the raft is deployed at night. Both lights should run on a seawater-cell battery. A survival kit should include food and medical rations, as well as provisions for repairing, signaling and navigation.