Guide to Rafts

Raft : What is it?


Rafts are flat-floating water structures without hulls. The are often made of multi-layered elastic fabrics kept afloat by the other buoyant materials they are made with such as wood, inflated air chambers, and sealed barrels.

Rafts are popularly used in rescue operations on water. They can float on the water for days, weeks, or months without submerging or being deflated. The more modern rafts are designed with a closure system such as a roof that allows the rescuers and the passengers to stay in the boat for an extended period under different weather conditions. Rafts can also be used in a number of leisure water activities such as recreational rafting, fishing and angling, island hopping, and swimming.

The Coast Guard requires most commercial vessels, ships, and large boats to carry an inspected and approved life raft. Vessels that have been inspected shall receive an inspection certificate stating the type of life raft they should they carry.

Recreational boaters, on the other hand, are not required to carry a life raft. However, they can still do so for personal safety even without the inspection of the Coast Guard.

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Types of Rafts


Kinds of Rafts include the following:

Design types

Coastal rafts

Coastal rafts are used on seacoasts. They are primarily intended for rescue operations only. They lack the features required for long-term survival rescues like double inflation tubes.

Offshore rafts

Offshore rafts can survive on the water for four to five days. They are usually made with supported canopies and buoyancy tubes for extended rescue operations.

Ocean-going rafts

Ocean-going rafts can be used for up to 30 days of rescue operation. Most models have supported canopies, buoyancy tubes, storage areas, and a raft roof for a long-term stay on board. They are required on most commercial vessels.

Floor types

Standard rafts

Standard rafts have a water-tight flooring. They usually require bail buckets or bilge pumps that add stability and security on the water. They can be difficult to maneuver through the rapids, especially if they are filled with water. They are ideal for flatwater fishing.

Self-bailing rafts

Self-bailing rafts enable the drainage of water around the floor perimeter. They are filled with air to provide a stable and sturdy surface while on the water. They are ideal for whitewater rafting because of their quick draining ability that enables powerful maneuverability and maintained control especially on the rapids.

Material types

Hypalon rafts

Hypalon rafts are made of a composite fabric coated with hypalon and neoprene, which is a synthetic rubber. They have enhanced resistance to UV rays and abrasion. Most models have a high quality and durable seam.

Urethane rafts

Urethane rafts are made of tough and durable plastic-coated materials. They have resistance to abrasions and mildew, but they usually do not offer extreme UV protection.
Most models are bonded though a heat-welded process.

PVC rafts

PVC rafts are made of a plastic-coated material called polyvinyl chloride. They are highly resistant to abrasions. However, they usually cannot hold much air. Most models offer a smooth outer surface that is less sticky to rocks and  glides over the water. Most models have heat-welded seams.


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Choosing Rafts (Buying tips)

SOLAS approval: Choose a raft that has been approved by the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) to ensure that it meets that highest standards in water transportation. A SOLAS-approved raft should feature a boarding platform, important safety gear, and a considerable amount of space.

Ballast: To prevent capsizing, choose a raft with water-filled ballast pockets and a cone-shaped sea anchor attached to a long, durable line. The filled ballast pockets prevent the wind and waves from lifting and moving the raft, while the anchor keeps its edges stable. The most effective ballast systems are those with a toroidal or hemispheric shape.

Choose a raft with a durable and reliable sea anchor to provide stability and create a drag that reduces the chances of capsizing especially in extreme water and weather conditions.

If you intend to go on an extended rafting, choose a raft with a canopy to shield you and your companions from the sun, waves, wind, foreign objects in the water, and extreme weather conditions such as storms, typhoons, or tidal waves. Make sure the canopy is breathable and waterproof to allow fresh air to circulate inside the boat and release heat and warm air at the same time. You can also choose a canopy with port holes, large entryways, and furled panels for excellent ventilation and a greater view of the horizon.

Floors: Choose a raft with a stable flooring system that can accommodate even the heaviest passengers.  Get a raft with a double-layered floor because it helps keep the cold water away and reduce discomfort due to extreme cold.

Capacity: Choose a raft that can accommodate the number of intended passengers. As a rule, the minimum space for a person in a raft is approximately four square feet. This measurement should help you compute the total size of the raft that you need.


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