We hadn’t given much thought to Life Rafts and whether we wanted one prior to buying the boat. Most boats do come with them, but most we came across are expired, and you can find endless debates online about their usefulness and when or if you actually need one. You can spend hours reading them…and we have a few times. Here’s an example of such a discussion from Zero To Cruising, and another from Captain John’s Skipper Tips.
Since our Leopard 44 is a 2015 model, it actually came with one that still had a year left before it needed service/re-certification. As we now had one, we were faced with the same issue that most Leopards owners have with respect to the life raft location, under one of the seats on the aft deck.
The immediate concern is that space is very large and in a useful location for all kinds of other items beside the life raft that takes up pretty much the whole space.
Once you try to remove to life raft to see what that space would be like without it, you find that two average-sized men have trouble removing it, so imagine rough conditions and a much smaller person trying to do so by themselves.
We debated just getting rid of it for a number of reasons i.e. we’re not crossing oceans, we have a dinghy, Leopards are very hard to sink, etc. but when I learned how much they are worth when new, I couldn’t bring myself to do it.
Also, most boats of this size come with a 6 or 8 man raft, but ours came from the factory with a Viking DK10+ISO, a 10 man life raft for some reason. What this meant was the normal relocation racks that were readily available would not work.
In the end we had a custom stainless 1″ rack fabricated for almost the same cost, and decided to move it up to the hardtop, just forward of the main sheets. This would place it out of our line-of-sight as much as possible, sit right on top of the support post, and also give us something to stand on while working with the sail.
We got Nance & Underwood to make us a 1″ strap with 18″ of velcro to hold the the life raft into the rack. The strap has a 13000lb break rating, so the weak link will be the velcro if we start getting negative G’s.
Hopefully when it comes time to (pay for) service/re-certification prior to next season, we’ll still be happy with our decision.