The Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) recently [February 2019]�wrote�to liferaft manufacturers, service stations and sales agents�because it had identified cases where liferafts intended for leisure use have been sold to, or serviced for, owners of small commercial vessels and fishing vessels without requisite arrangements being in place, or without specific servicing instructions.

Due to�this the MCA wants to raise awareness of the statutory requirements for the correct manufacture, servicing, sale and carriage of non-SOLAS ISO 9650 liferafts for use on UK small commercial vessels (<24m) and fishing vessels and to highlight the phase out of Offshore Racing Council (ORC) liferafts.

Although the MCA�s letter is aimed squarely at small commercial vessel sector, it makes a number of points that are relevant to leisure boaters. Liferafts that comply with ISO 9650 are intended for the recreational craft market and are becoming increasingly common. They are not intended to comply with SOLAS requirements but because they are designed and tested to an International Standard, they are accepted by the MCA where carriage is compulsory on UK Small Commercial vessels and on UK �pleasure vessels� of 13.7m/45ft or more (Class XII vessels).

When used commercially, ISO 9650 liferafts must comply with the conditions set out in MGN 553 which sets out best practice servicing requirements, specifically:

  • A detailed list of points to be serviced, the procedures to be followed and the items to be replaced;
  • Dated items to be replaced at the time of service if their expiry dates occur before the date of the next service;
  • A record of all inspections and servicing to be kept by the service station;
  • The servicing date, name of the servicing station, its official stamp and signature are to be recorded on a document given to the owner and on the service record placed in the liferaft.

So what is the point of all this? Simply this � the time to find out your liferaft has not been serviced properly is not when you need to use it in anger. For that reason the RYA recommends that owners make sure that the service station that services their liferaft is capable of undertaking such work and is authorised or approved by the manufacturer. We also recommend that liferafts are serviced at the specified intervals.

ORC Liferafts

For anyone who still has an ORC liferaft it is worth noting that from January this year ORC liferafts are being phased out as an acceptable carriage requirement for Class XII�vessels. ORC liferafts were originally introduced, following the 1979 Fastnet Race, by the Offshore Racing Council, now Offshore Racing Congress (ORC) for yachts racing under their rules. The Sydney Hobart Race in 1998 brought the durability of these liferafts into question. As a result, the International Sailing Federation (now World Sailing) liferaft standard was introduced in 2002. This has now been superseded by the ISO 9650 liferaft specification and is accepted for monohull and multihull racing offshore established under World Sailing Offshore Special Regulations.

From 1 January 2019, no ORC liferafts may be newly fitted to Class XII vessels and from 1 January 2024 no ORC liferafts of any age or type will be permitted on Class XII vessels (inclusive of existing liferafts and existing vessels). In place of ORC liferafts, Class XII vessels will be required to fit either a SOLAS/MED liferaft or a liferaft built to the ISO 9650 Small Craft Inflatable Liferafts Part 1 - Type 1 - Group A standard.

Choosing a liferaft

Irrespective of whether carriage is mandatory or not, it is worth giving serious thought to choosing a liferaft that will protect you in your chosen cruising area. There is a variety of liferafts available, not all are built to a standard and cheaper liferafts may not be as durable due to the standard of construction and to the quality of the materials used. Some might not have insulated floors if you are cruising in colder climes.� You should therefore consider selecting a liferaft that complies with the mandatory carriage requirements for Class XII vessels. We produce further advice on liferafts on our safety pages.

As always there is a considerable amount of useful information and guidance for pleasure vessel owners published on the safe boating pages of the RYA website. In particular, there is specific information concerning mandatory equipment for Class XII vessels and more general information on the regulations that apply to pleasure craft under the UK flag and vessels in UK waters or operating from UK ports.

Article published March 2019.