The Life Raft Story

This week we finally ordered a life raft for our Hanse 388! The decision process took over a month (!) in calendar time (and who knows how many hours in googling time), but now it’s finally done. The obvious choices turned out to be less than obvious, though, so hopefully our little story will be of some use to other 388 owners.

What Is a Life Raft?

For anyone wondering what a life raft is, it’s an inflatable floating contraption stored somewhere on (or in) the boat to be used if said boat is actually really sinking. As a kid I thought tenders where life rafts, so that’s why I’m taking a moment here to explain it again to my inner child.

A VIKING RescYou™ life raft in its inflated state. VIKING is generally considered one of the best lift raft manufacturers.
NOT a life raft, but a Plastimo tender. They float, so tenders can obviously provide much needed safety if the sailboat decides to sink. It’s not a very good substitute for a life raft, though, according to RYA (and others), and I do agree with their reasoning.

Do We Need One?

Lots of people sail without life rafts. They are quite expensive and if you are sailing in warm waters close to populated places, you might not need one.

The farther you get from land and potential help, though, and the colder the water you sail in, the more reason there is to have one.

The main idea here is that in the extremely rare and undesirable case you have to abandon your boat, try to extend the time of likely survival as much as possible. At the same time, by using other means (VHF/DSC, EPIRB, visual signals), try to shorten the time of being found as much as possible, and hope that, in the end, the equation will pan out all good for everyone involved.

This image is grabbed from a Finnish boat inspection manual. “Avomeri” means ocean and “rannikko” coastal. For ocean sailing, a life raft is required, for coastal sailing it’s only recommended. Our delivery trip from Greifswald to Turku traces the outer boundary of coastal so technically we wouldn’t require one. In real life, though, we’d be quite silly not to have one.

Hanse 388 is certified for CE category A (formerly “Ocean”), and Hanse’s own safety manual states that “the owner or operator is responsible to provide the yacht with sufficient life jackets and inflatable life rafts, in compliance with the maximum number of persons (6).

So yes, we need a life raft.

Hanse 388 Safety Manual, page 73

VIKING, SeaGo, Plastimo, Crewsaver, …

I assumed the selection process wouldn’t be too complicated.

After reading this informative life raft review in Yachting Monthly we picked an ISO 9650-1 certified (this is a must!) Plastimo raft. VIKING seemed to be the top brand, but unfortunately their rafts were a tad too expensive for us.

“We’re thinking about buying a container life raft [link here] with mounts that should be fitted to the pushpit of the boat. Can we have the raft and mounts delivered directly to Greifswald so that the [commissioning yard] can install it there?”, I wrote to our dealer.

Life rafts come in two basic shapes: hard containers and softer bags (also called valises), and since it is very important that they are easily and quickly accessible, the obvious choice was to get a container model that would be fixed in stern area of the boat. As far as I understood Hanse’s safety manual, that’s what they were recommending as well!

After a long and agonizing wait (weeks went by), our dealer got back to us with the life raft information.

“Finally I received an answer from the yard. They say the pushpit is NOT strong enough for mounting a life raft! A bag might fit in a stern locker. That would be good as it isn’t a very good idea to store it inside.”, our dealer wrote.

Safety Manual Error?

I also contacted a local marine shop in Greifswald and their second opinion was in line with our dealer’s: for the 388, a bag is strongly recommended, and we should be able to fit one in a stern locker.

It was a bit confusing, though, that HanseYacht’s own safety manual explicitly talked about the container version and said it “can be attached in the port stern area”.

And then a small lightbulb lit above my head. Maybe they just forgot to update the manual?

The previous model, Hanse 385, did have a designated space for a life raft in the stern area, but (a bit disappointingly) they removed that in the Hanse 388.

I googled a bit and sure enough, it started to look like the new manual wasn’t properly updated.

Hanse 385 with a life raft container in it’s designated storage space. That storage place is no more on the 388. (Picture grabbed from Hanse’s web. Yellow arrow my own :))
Screenshot from the Hanse 385 safety manual.
The same place in the new Hanse 388 safety manual. The text is the same although the life raft storage place has been removed.

A Bag It Is, but Which One?

From looking at a good quality, decently priced container we turned to look for the smallest possible good quality bag.

ISO 9650-1 (<24h) life raft sizes (not including depth) from different manufacturers.

The Arimar life raft is clearly smaller than the others. When comparing volumes (w * h * d), Arimar is almost 40% smaller than the next one in line (Plastimo). That’s quite amazing.

Wendel & Rados, the local marine shop in Greifswald, they also recommended the Arimar, and as they are located right next to our boat (no delivers required!) and offered a decent price, we went ahead and placed the order.

Note that in their own price lists they have listed the inshore version of the raft for Hanse 388 and the offshore version only for the bigger Hanses. We ordered the offshore version since it’s ISO 9650-1 A certified (see differences here) with a double thermal floor more suitable for our cold waters.

This is what it looks like! One piece of equipment we seriously never ever want to have to use.


  1. The joys of outfitting your new yacht with safety kit. While the manufacturer suggests fitting the boat with a raft capable of handling the cruising capacity for your vessel (6), there is a pitfall in over-sizing your raft capacity if it will primarily used for the two of you. A raft sized for a capacity of four people might well have been considered, based on your own personal plans for having guests on board. Downsizing to what you may really require would give you an advantage to both the storage volume requirements, as well as a small break in pricing. Just a thought.

    1. Many thanks for your comment! I actually heard the same a few weeks ago as well. Apparently the weight distribution etc should be in balance with the size, and too few people in too big a raft will increase the capsizing chances?

      Our primary life raft need is actually for the delivery sail from Greifswald to Finland and there we are four adults (Charlotte not with us on that trip).

      For our own sailing, we will actually be two adults plus four children, so I guess we’re somewhere between a four person and a six person raft in reality.

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