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First of all, itís a boat, made of the same rigid, rugged UV-resistant polyethylene that heavy-duty ocean kayaks are made of. It is not made of inflated fabric tubes and cloth and cannot deflate or be punctured by a fish hook, shark fin, or by sparks from a fire or flare. The polyethylene is intrinsically buoyant. The area under the floor of the cockpit is filled with closed cell foam. The large, watertight, air-filled storage compartments in the hull give added buoyancy. The USCG rates the basic boat at an amazing 1855 pounds of buoyancy. (This means it took 1855 pounds to submerge it, in a test.) The rugged exposure canopy set atop the boat has two tubes inflated with CO2. In addition to shelter from the elements, the exposure canopy adds another 400 pounds of buoyancy. It doesnít need to inflate and it canít deflate or sink.
If you can find Survivor Man: Lost at Sea (season 1, episode 9) on the Internet, you will see a vivid, real life drama showing some of the common problems people have experienced with inflatable liferafts: failure to inflate, inflating upside-down, air leaks, and water leaks (not to mention extreme discomfort and enforced passivity).
Second, the Pudgy is proactive: You can sail, row, or motor it. The Portland Pudgy lifeboat concept respects the abilities and responsibilities of the sailor to protect himself and his crew. It is carefully engineered to make it a tough, rugged self-rescue boat that handles well and incorporates many safety features. All of the survival gear, including sailing rig, sea anchor, exposure canopy, oars, ditch bag, provisions, and fishing gear can stow inside the storage chamber of the double hull (with the exception of the rudder and leeboards, which stow under the stern seat). It has a dash-mounted, built-in compass. The passive life raft seems to encourage people to passively trust that the life raft will inflate and stay inflated, and that help will come, when unfortunately, too often this has proved not to be the case.
The Portland Pudgy is a new concept that is actually the proud descendant of a very old concept (after all, Captain Bligh and Shackleton used proactive lifeboats in their epic journeys). It challenges many of the assumptions we have grown accustomed to about life rafts. Life rafts have saved many lives, but tragically, many life rafts have failed, and sailors should do some hard thinking about what their options are in protecting themselves, their loved ones, and their crew.
It's also interesting to note that large passenger ships use proactive lifeboats, not life rafts (see photo below).
To learn more, go to Lifeboat FAQs.