As with any good lifesaving device, you have to hope you’ll never need a life raft. But whether your watercraft is going down or you find your home flooded in the middle of a hurricane, you’re going to be happy you bought one and stashed it away today.
The best life raft is the Intex Mariner Inflatable Boat Set. It seats up to four people and includes two oars and a hand pump for inflation. However, this is too much boat — and too much money — for average safety preparation.
Capacity affects how many can be safely carried in a life raft. It’s often plainly stated by the manufacturer and is usually one to four people. In instances of dire emergency, it’s best to go by the maximum weight rating. Low-cost rafts can have weight ratings as low as 250 pounds while the best have 1,000-plus-pound weight ratings. Most have 500- to 800-pound weight ratings. Size is also a factor. Most rafts aren’t large enough to — comfortably — fit the maximum capacity.
Life rafts are usually designed for use in calm or rough water, rough meaning rapids or small-to-medium waves. Most rafts are only designed for calm water. Typically, only the highest costing rafts are safe to use in rough water. Do extra research before purchasing a life raft you intend to have handy in case of rough water emergencies.
Most life rafts are made of plastic, vinyl or Hypalon.
Most life rafts include extra gear to help you survive or have more fun during recreational use. Most rafts include a set of oars with better rafts also having oarlocks on the side of the raft to prevent accidental loss. Most also include some kind of inflater, usually a hand or foot pump. Some include patch kits for maintenance, though these “kits” may be as little as a square of material with no method of securing it to a leak.
Life rafts are available for as little as $50, though this price range won’t hold up to anything but calm water. Better rafts are available for $50-$200. The best rafts start around $300 and can cost more than $1,000.
A. Very safe. Life rafts, due to being inflated with air, are better suited to staying afloat than an average boat. They are difficult to capsize with larger rafts being even less likely to tip over. They also usually use multiple air chambers, as many as three or four, so they can stay afloat in the event of one rupturing.
A. Depending on the raft, yes. More expensive rafts are more likely to be designed with the possible use of a motor in mind. However, you’ll need to purchase and install a motor mount from the same manufacturer to use one safely. Be aware that some states consider a life raft with an attached motor to be a vehicle — you’ll need to obtain a license or register the raft to use a motor with it legally.
A. Very little. The majority of maintenance is simply cleaning a raft once it's used and allowing it to fully dry before placing it back into storage to prevent mildew. You’ll also want to triple-check for any leaks after it's been used and either patch it or buy a new raft.
What you need to know: This is good enough to be used as a standard boat.
What you’ll love: It can support up to 1,100 pounds. It comes in four- or three-seat sizes. It includes two oars and a hand pump. It can safely be used with a motor. The plastic is sunlight-, impact- and scratch-resistant. It can be inflated and deflated rapidly.
What you should consider: This is too expensive for basic emergency preparedness. Some consumers reported valve leaks that need to be replaced immediately. The carrying bag is too small.
What you need to know: This budget pick is great for recreation.
What you’ll love: It includes two oars, a foot pump and a patch kit. It has three air chambers. The color selections are bright and easy to spot. It has a tow rope on the front and oarlocks on the sides. It measures 61 inches by 38 inches.
What you should consider: It should only be used for minor lifesaving on calm water. It’s only big enough for one with a maximum weight capacity of 250 pounds.
What you need to know: This ultrasmall pick is excellent for river trips.
What you’ll love: It’s designed for recreation and emergency use on rivers. It packs down to the size of a large water bottle. The storage bag doubles as an inflation device. It weighs only 44 ounces when deflated. It has an inflatable seat for comfort.
What you should consider: Despite being designed for river emergencies, it isn’t designed for use through rapids. It’s a little pricey. It only has one air chamber.
Where to buy: Sold by Amazon
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Jordan C. Woika writes for BestReviews. BestReviews has helped millions of consumers simplify their purchasing decisions, saving them time and money.