11. Liferafts

Liferafts are so varied in design and capacity that you must find out for yourself the limitations of the raft to which you may have to entrust your life.

PONTOON RAFTS. -- The lattice boards on the pontoon rafts are nailed down. When the rafts hit the water, the impact splinters them, and the nails often protrude. Nailed boards even pull apart from the seas hitting them. The boards should be bolted. If this is not done, then a pontoon raft should be eased into the water with a line.

TANKERS. -- Tanker rafts should be launched near enough to waterborne lifeboats so that a line can be passed from the boat to the raft. If this is not possible, the raft is to be considered a death trap, and is to be used only as a last resort, or when there is no oil slick.

SCREWS. -- The suction area of a revolving screw is thirty feet or more, depending on the r.p.m. Therefore, rafts secured aft must be launched outside of this area. Be sure that the wind and the sea will not cause the raft to drift into the suction area.


RATIONS. -- Do not depend on the liferaft being equipped with adequate rations, or on the man detailed to bring along a watertight package of food. Any food in your abandon-ship package that lacks a waterproof covering is certain to be spoiled. It is advisable to equip yourself with a water-repelling money belt to hold concentrated food in airtight containers. A canteen filled with water and strapped to your waist will not hamper you.

PROPULSION. -- The prime purpose of a raft is to get you out of the suction area of a sinking ship and to keep you afloat until you can be picked up. Yet Gene Aldrich, Harold Dixon, and Anthony J. Pastula, Navy fliers, spent 34 days in a rubber liferaft, whose inside dimensions were 28 x 80 inches, and traveled 1000 miles chiefly by drifting. But by cutting the uppers from a pair of shoes with thick rubber soles, they made usable paddles.

OARLOCKS. -- The men on a liferaft from an Atlantic Refining Co. tanker took turns serving as human oarlocks. Their bodies were badly bruised and their hands severely burned. These injuries could have been avoided by crossing the bights of the grab lines and putting the oars through the loops. They also could have used their leather belts.

WEIGHT. -- Be sure the weight is distributed


properly on your liferaft. If you are on a decked-over liferaft, do not sit up in a heavy sea or you will be washed overboard. Lie down and grip the lattice-work deck.

TRIP RELEASE. -- Paul Voss, A.B. from the torpedoed Collamer, reported: "Had liferafts been secured with a trip system other than a pelican hook, the man who releases the raft would not be in danger of being hit by the wire pennant holding the raft in place."

DOUBLE TRIP RELEASE. -- The seamen on the Patrick J. Hurley suggested: "A double trip release should be provided for each of the liferafts, one operated from the bridge and the other from the liferaft."

KNIFE. -- The Gulftrade seamen advised that a knife should be attached to each raft.

BLANKETS. -- Be sure your raft is supplied with sufficient blankets.

LUBRICANT. -- V.B. Hair of the Cardonia advised: "Fuel oil should not be put on the runways of liferafts. This dries and is more like glue than a lubricant."

WIRE ROPE. -- It is advisable not to lash the rafts with wire rope. On the Cardonia a fire ax had to be used to cut the lashings on a raft.

LIFEBOAT. -- If there is room in a lifeboat, once you are away from the ship, do not remain on the raft. Four men on a raft from a


Norwegian freighter were washed overboard and drowned, though the crewmen in a nearby lifeboat could have transferred them to their boat.

DESTROYER. -- If your are on a destroyer, you must get your raft out of the explosion area of depth charges when the destroyer goes under. About 30 men from the Reuben James were killed when their rafts, 75 feet from the sunken destroyer, were blown out of the water by depth bombs. Do not be lax because some one tells you that the safety catches on the charges have been locked.

When the Jacob Jones went down, she exploded with such lethal force that the nearby rafts were blown out of the water, and a number of the men clinging to them were fatally injured.

LEE SIDE. -- Make every effort to maneuver your raft to the lee of the vessel, so the raft will drift away from the sinking ship. Joseph Paul Tidwell, from the Jacob Jones, reported that the sea kept driving his three-man raft back toward the destroyer.

SEA ANCHOR. -- Harold F. Dixon, the Aviation Chief Machinist's Mate who spent 34 days in a rubber liferaft, said he rigged a sea anchor out of his pneumatic life jacket, bridled to a length of the half-inch Manila grab line and


weighted down with the raft's gas-inductor manifold.

RAIN WATER. -- If you have no other means of catching rain water, cut strips from your underwear and use them to soak up water.

STOWED RAFTS. -- The crew of the Rubilene reported: "Our liferafts were lashed to the deck or set in walkways where they served only to bruise shins during blackouts."


After abandoning the tanker Esso Bolivar, the crew reboarded her the next day.
She was then towed into Guantanamo Bay. (International News Photos)


Table of Contents
Previous Chapter (10) *  Next Chapter (12)

Transcribed and formatted for HTML by Patrick Clancey, HyperWar Foundation
Copy editing by Loren Wilton