In the U.S. there are no government or American Boat & Yacht Council (ABYC) requirements for life rafts aboard recreational boats destined for offshore passages. The result is predictably many boats that should have them, don’t. Interestingly, the rules in Europe are varied: In the UK they are required for boats more than 45’ (13.7 m); in France, boats going more than 6 nm offshore must have them; in Italy, boats going more than 12 nm offshore must have them and Spain requires SOLAS-approved life rafts for boats going more than 25 nm offshore. Virtually all boats more than 35’ (10.66 m) or so built-in Europe have a special provision for their storage, whereas boats built in the U.S., not so much. Our guess is that most of the powerboats going to the Bahamas (more than 53 nm from Florida) don’t carry them.
The 4-person Superior Offshore Stream life raft has two tubes and provides 4’ sq. ft. (1.22 m) of floor space per passenger. Couple this with the fact that the deck is insulated, has a ballast system, a bright day-glow green canopy and is remarkably inexpensive making it a good place for any life raft buyer to start.
The raft has an automatically inflating ramp and a boarding ladder. The four-bag ballast system deploys automatically to stabilize the raft in rough or windy conditions. The Offshore Stream series can accommodate 4, 6 or 8 passengers and is offered in a fiberglass container or vinyl soft pack.
Other noteworthy features of the Offshore Stream include a bright, fluorescent safety green canopy, oversized inflatable buoyancy tubes and internal boarding ladder. There’s a rainwater collector and the raft comes with a sea anchor and buoyant rescue ring. A viewing and ventilation port is sealable. The raft comes with a 12-year warranty and a suggested three-year inspection regimen.
The standard offshore equipment pack comes standard with the following equipment:
- Survival Manual
- Waterproof Flashlight w/Batteries
- Spare Batteries
- Spare Bulb
- Signal Mirror
- Fishing Kit
- Floating Bailer
- Anti-Seasickness Tablets
- Anti-Seasickness Bags
- Red Hand Parachute Flares
- Red Hand Flares
- Leak Stoppers
- First Aid Kit
- Graduating Drinking Cup
- Food Rations
- Floating Knife
The 4-Person Soft Pack Offshore Stream has dimensions of 27.5” x 17” x 11.5” (69.85 cm x 43.18 cm x 29.21 cm) and it weighs 67 lbs. (30.39 kg) in the soft-pack version. The 4-Person Container is a fiberglass case that measures 29.5” x 19” x 13” (74.93 cm x 48.26 cm x 33.02 cm) and weighs 78 lbs. (35.38 kg).
Boat owners should match the life raft selected with the mission of the boat and the number of passengers expected to be aboard. Boats doing coastal work or traveling to nearby islands on routes heavily traveled may do well with either the “Coastal Surge” or the “Offshore Stream” models. Vessels going down island or across the Gulf of Mexico should, in our opinion, be upgrading to one of Superior’s IOS-approved “Wave Race” models. If you are entering any offshore races, including trans-oceanic, race committees typically require an ISO-9650 approved life raft, Superior’s IOS-approved “Wave Racer” or “Wave Breaker” models.
A 4-person life raft would be adequate for a couple cruising alone, but it is important to match the size of your raft to the number of crew on your boat. Superior Life-Saving manufactures their rafts with 4 sq. ft. (0.37 sq. m) per person to give you room for your crew as well as space for your ditch bag and other essentials.
Choosing the correct configuration of life raft can be difficult given the type and model of your boat. Some vessels have the space and solid platform to mount a container model liferaft in a cradle on deck or mount to a rail. For smaller boats and center consoles, we recommend a valise soft pack style raft to be able to store on deck or in an easily accessible hatch.