Lifeboat FAQs





Testing / Packing





Ballast Bags

Sea Anchor



Yacht Tender


Lifeboat/Safety Boat Photo Gallery

Lifeboat Components

Boat Specs


Owners Manual draft

Portland Pudgy proactive lifeboat you can sail to safety

Photo from Zeilen

Proactive vs. staying put: Isn't it safer to stay put and wait for rescue?

It's a widespread notion that it's safest to float passively in an inflatable life raft, having signaled with your  EPIRB, and wait for rescue. While this is sometimes the best thing to do, many experts in sea rescue agree that this is often NOT the best idea.  For one thing, your EPIRB is not a guarantee of rescue. The EPIRB is a great invention, no question, and every blue water sailor should have one. However, they’re easy to lose, and if you have one, it must work, and the battery must be charged. It’s also very important to recognize that in many parts of the world, search and rescue is simply not available. 

In the proactive Portland Pudgy, you can sail to safety.  Many experts on survival at sea emphasize that this is critically important. As Steve Callahan, who spent 76 days adrift on a life raft, points out, “Most of a long survival voyage is spent drifting slowly in moderate weather.” He goes on to say that if  he had had a “dynamic” (proactive) life raft/boat, he “would have sailed to safety in a mere six or seven days” (from The Liferaft: Don’t Leave Your Ship Without It).

A fascinating series of videos, Survivorman: Lost at Sea, shows the frustration a sailor feels as his inflatable life raft drifts in circles a few miles from the islands he sees in the distance. (You can search for this video; unfortunately it no longer seems to be available on Youtube.)

Note that the Portland Pudgy's sea anchor will allow you to remain relatively stationery, if that is your decision. 

Back to top.

Sailing the Pudgy with the exposure canopy in place.
Note the reefed sail and the unzipped middle section of  canopy.

What are the Portland Pudgy Safety Dinghy's survival system components?

The Portland Pudgy safety dinghy is a rugged, unsinkable boat that is much safer than just about any other small boat/tender. However, to get the protection and full benefits of the Pudgy unsinkable lifeboat, the following components are recommended:

● Exposure canopy

Sailing rig

Boat cover (to cover the exposure canopy when it is pre-set, but uninflated)

Bailing pump

Sea anchor

Safety harness eyes.

The electrical system (with optional solar panel) is another feature that can greatly enhance your safety and chances of rescue. The Portland Pudgy lifeboat is self-contained: all of these components stow inside the hull storage chamber. (The rudder and leeboards stow under the rear seat.) For more detailed information about these items go to Portland Pudgy Lifeboat Components or see the  Price List.

Note that we do not supply a ditch bag. It is of utmost importance that you make up your own ditch bag and stow it safely inside the hull storage compartment. The Pudgy has a huge amount of storage chamber space for provisions and other safety items.  Here is a link to the Equipped to Survive website, where you can get  detailed information on creating a ditch bag. (A discussion of the poor quality of ditch bags supplied with life rafts can be found at Yachting World and Latitude 38). Several videos you can find on the Internet (including Survivorman: Lost at Sea) show the waterlogged, meager contents of the ditch bag supplied and poorly packaged by a life raft company.)   Back to top.

Is it necessary to have the exposure canopy tested and repacked?

Standard inflatable life rafts must be unpacked, tested, and repacked periodically. This is a costly process, and the owner must trust the competence and reliability of the tester.  As one Pudgy owner observes:

"Most people have no clue what their life raft looks like when it is inflated.  I would rather work with something that I have personally inspected and know."
Rolland T., MI (For more information and photos on this topic, visit
SV Precipice.)

With the Portland Pudgy lifeboat system, you can test the exposure canopy yourself. Here's a link to a Pudgy owner's blog describing his Pudgy lifeboat test: (it's the May 26, 2011 entry).

It is crucial that you check all your safety equipment regularly. Here are some important points for proper maintenance of your exposure canopy.

● Check exposure canopy valves for corrosion and replace if necessary.

● Check your exposure canopy inflation system at least once a year by inflating the tubes manually or by using CO2 cylinders. Either method is effective, but of course using the CO2 cylinders is faster. You can order new CO2 cylinders from Portland Pudgy, Inc. Note that CO2cylinders can only be used once. However, at less than $100 (as of May 2011) for two replacement cylinders, they are inexpensive compared to the yearly repacking charges for life rafts.

● The CO2 cylinders have a shelf life of seven years.

Be very careful to avoid puncturing or tearing the canopy when you store it, whether in the side walls of the Pudgy, or anywhere else.  

Back to top.

Can you preset the exposure canopy so it is ready in the event of an emergency?

Yes.  The exposure canopy is designed so that you can preset it. You should cover it with a boat cover so that the inflation cords are not pulled accidentally.  Back to top.

Securing to Deck: Can the Pudgy be washed overboard?

In a roll or in heavy seas, any lifeboat or life raft canister can be washed overboard if not fastened onto the deck properly. The Pudgy should be securely fastened down with strong webbing passed through the built-in through holes just below the gunwales. The through holes are an intrinsic part of the boat, and cannot be broken off.  Obviously, the webbing should also be attached to strong points on the mother boat (preferably through-bolted stainless steel attachment points). The Pudgy should, in addition, be attached to a long tether that is fastened to a strong point on the mother boat. This tether can be untied or severed when necessary (normally when the mother boat is sinking, in danger of exploding, or poses some other extreme danger).  Back to top.

Deploying: How difficult is it to deploy the Portland Pudgy, compared to an inflatable life raft?

The Portland Pudgy, a rugged, solid boat, is heavier than most life raft canisters, at about 128 lb. The survival equipment adds more weight. However, if you have your Pudgy set up on your deck so that it is easily accessible, and if you fit the life lines with pelican hooks so that you can disconnect the line and slide the Pudgy off the deck, it can be easily deployed in an emergency. Bear in mind the old adage that you should not board your lifeboat (or life raft) until you have to step up to it from your mother boat. You will not be lifting the Pudgy and throwing it down into the water as much as sliding it into the water.

The exposure canopy and sea anchor can be pre-set for emergency use. The exposure canopy inflates in about 17 seconds after the lanyard is pulled. It uses two inflation chambers, each with a CO2 cylinder and a high-quality valve. (The valves are approved by the Navy for their one-man life raft.) You can preset the exposure canopy and the sea anchor so they are ready to be deployed quickly. For detailed information on the sea anchor and exposure canopy, see Portland Pudgy Lifeboat Components.

With regard to deploying life rafts—unfortunately, there are many tragic stories of life rafts being deployed and not inflating. The Pudgy is already a boat; you don’t have to hope that it inflates. Another difficulty in deploying life rafts is that in severe storm conditions they have been known to become airborne (and thus impossible to board) and to flip upside down. In addition, if life rafts hit the water upside down, they will inflate upside down. Watch this video (in it, the narrator says it easy to right it, but as you watch them right the raft, even from the safety of a dock, it doesn't look so easy). This video (about halfway through) gives an idea of how easy the Pudgy is to right.

You can find videos on the Internet (including Survivorman: Lost at Sea) showing quite vividly both the potential tragedy of a life raft deflating immediately after inflating, as well as  the difficulties of the raft inflating upside down. There are many other sources on the Internet about difficulties in inflatable life raft deployment. Here are a few: Valve Failure, Poor Service, Seafish Industry Authority.   Back to top.

Boarding: Is it easier or more difficult to get into the Portland Pudgy from the water?


dynamic lifeboat, safer than inflatable life raft

The Portland Pudgy is much easier to get into from the water than a life raft is. Inflatable life rafts are notoriously difficult to get into. (See this video of able-bodied men struggling to get into a life raft in calm water.)  There are many stories of heavy people or people with poor upper body strength or who are just exhausted or weakened by hypothermia being unable to board a life raft.

When you board the Portland Pudgy from the water, even without the boarding ladder, the procedure is as follows: you get in position on the side of the boat at the exposure canopy entrance, holding onto a grabline, the gunwale, or the boarding ladder. Tip the boat toward you so that you can reach in and grab a hand-hold in the middle seat (the hand-holds in the middle seat allow it to function as a horizontal ladder). Kick out and pull yourself in over the gunwale. The boat tips down as you do this, but it will not capsize. One of our testers, a woman in her late fifties with a damaged, weakened shoulder, was sure that she would be unable to get in from the water, and was amazed at how easy it was. We had another tester who weighed 275 pounds climb in from the side easily, without causing the Pudgy to ship water or capsize. The boarding ladder makes it even easier: it acts like a stirrup that gives you “a leg up.”  Back to top.


Ballast bags: Don't you need ballast bags to keep the lifeboat stable?

Ballast bags on life rafts are not as effective as many sailors assume for the following reason: there is no resistance to a bag of water when it is in the water because it weighs the same as the surrounding water. You only get resistance when the bag is lifted out of the water, and by the time this happens, the life raft is already tipped very steeply and can be capsized easily by wind or waves. The Pudgy uses a sea anchor to reduce the risk of capsize. 

The USCG did a test of life rafts in hurricane force winds (created using helicopters and a C130 airplane). They tested several large life rafts (most with ballast bags), and all of them, with the exception of a 25-person buoy life raft, were quickly and easily capsized, trapping the occupants under the collapsing floor of the raft. Somewhere in cyberspace there is a video showing about eight life rafts in the test, and all but one of them flipping. Here’s a link we found to a much shorter excerpt showing just the buoy life raft and another life raft. (Bear in mind that a buoy life raft, while probably superior to the non-buoy life raft, still takes several minutes for the water chamber to fill. Until then, it is just as vulnerable to capsize as a non-buoy life raft). Also, you still have to count on it inflating and staying inflated. Here’s a video of a life raft that didn’t.  In addition, a buoy life raft, like any life raft, could hit the water upside down and inflate upside down, which obviously makes it impossible for the water bag to fill until it is righted. The first episode of Survivorman: Lost at Sea (which you may be able to find on the Internet) shows how just about everything that can go wrong with a life raft very well might. Back to top.

Sea anchor: What kind of sea anchor does the Portland Pudgy lifeboat use?

The sea anchors that come with most life rafts are notoriously flimsy and inadequate. The Pudgy uses a substantial and ruggedly-built Fiorentino sea anchor, made especially for the Portland Pudgy. The sea anchor attaches to the Pudgy’s rugged bridle, which in turn is hooked to two attachment points that are spaced on either side of the bow, for triangulation. The stainless steel attachment points are very solid and cannot tear off (as is possible on fabric life rafts, in which case they can rupture the raft).

A Dutch crew from the magazine Zeilen tested the Portland Pudgy as a lifeboat last year in the treacherous waters of the North Sea (sailing it 20 miles to shore), and they make it a point in their article to talk about how pleased they were with the performance of the Pudgy with the sea anchor. The bow held firmly into the oncoming waves and wind, thus greatly reducing the risk of capsize.  You can see the article here. (Unless you speak Dutch, it's slow going, but the photos are great.) Zack Smith of Fiorentino Para-Anchor also tested the Pudgy with its sea anchor in 12 foot seas and dangerous currents off the California coast, and was very happy with its performance. Back to top.

A related topic: There are several sturdy attachment points for safety harnesses in the Portland Pudgy, including optional stainless steel safety harness eyes which are bolted to the wall of the boat and have strong backing plates. Any safety harness attachment point in a fabric life raft is a site for a potential tear in the raft. Back to top.

Capsize: What happens in the event of capsize?

All boats and life rafts can capsize. When life rafts capsize, the occupants can be trapped under the floor of the raft. It is necessary for life raft passengers to exit the raft to turn it over.

The Portland Pudgy is a solid boat that is heavier than its exposure canopy. The bottom-heaviness makes the Pudgy want to right itself, and in fact, the Pudgy with the inflated canopy is self-righting when empty. The CO2-inflated 6-inch tubes of the Pudgy act as roll bars in rough seas. If the Pudgy capsizes with two adults inside and the inflated exposure canopy in place, the added 400-plus pounds of buoyancy in the canopy make the Pudgy lie partially on its side; the passengers can right the boat by shifting their weight or waiting for wave action to right it. Even lying partially on its side, because of the deep rigid floor of the Pudgy, a large domed air chamber is formed inside the partially-capsized boat (unlike the fabric floor of an inflatable life raft, which can trap and suffocate passengers if capsized).

By the way, even without the exposure canopy in place, the capsized Pudgy floats high in the water and is very easy to right using the handholds in the keel, and because of the thickness of the double-wall hull, it picks up little or no water (no sitting in a swamped boat). This can be life-saving. Hypothermia is a major cause of death in emergencies at sea. Back to top.

Size and comfort: How big/comfortable is the Portland Pudgy inside?

proactive lifeboat (dynamique canot de sauvetage) in North Sea test

Roomy cockpit with flat floor. The Pudgy has 16.1 square feet of floor space. The USCG requires 16 square feet for a four person life raft. The Portland Pudgy’s middle seat is removable, and the flat floor is 6 feet two inches long, designed so that two people can comfortably stretch out to sleep.

Easy to bail and keep dry. Unlike a life raft, the Pudgy’s floor can be kept dry. Sitting and lying in salt water for prolonged periods can cause serious sores and infection.

Rigid, insulated floor. Because of the double wall thickness and the foam under the floor, the floor is not as cold as in most life rafts, and because it's a rigid boat, you can’t feel things like shark fins and fish bumping up against the floor.

Blue interior. Another important feature for your comfort: Although the exterior of the Portland Pudgy exposure canopy is safety orange, the interior of the canopy is blue--the color recommended by the USCG to prevent nausea. Most life rafts are orange in the interior (and orange actually stimulates nausea).  If you've ever sat inside a typical life raft, you will appreciate what a powerful effect the color has. For a little flavor of what life is like in a typical life raft in moderately heavy weather, see this video that shows a few minutes of a four hour life raft test. If you can find them, look at the first few episodes of Survivorman: Lost at Sea for an even more vivid idea of life in a life raft with air and water leaks. If you can read Dutch, look at the article documenting the test by a Dutch team who were set adrift in similar conditions in the North Sea and sailed 20 miles to shore in the Pudgy lifeboat.

Storage room: The Pudgy has a huge amount of secure storage room inside the double hull. This hull storage is accessed via five water-tight hatches. In addition to the Portland Pudgy survival system components, you can keep drinking water, provisions, your ditch bag, fishing supplies, a first aid kit, and much more inside. 

Electrical system. You can get the optional electrical system, which is rechargeable with a solar panel (or standard recharger). It has a navigation light, a red night reading light, it illuminates the built-in compass, and it can power a GPS, torch, EPIRB, fishfinder, or other devices. (For more information see Survival System Components.)

Back to top.

It's also a yacht tender?

The Portland Pudgy safety dinghy  is an exceptional yacht tender. Because of its pram shape, it is much roomier than other boats its length. This 7' 8" dinghy has 16.1 square feet of cockpit space and is approved by the USCG for 4 people (twice the capacity of any other 8 foot dinghy).  It's stable, safe, and rugged, and has huge carrying capacity, both in the cockpit and within the sidewalls of the boat. See Safety Dinghy/Yacht Tender.

One Pudgy owner, who made it through the Northwest Passage with his wife and kids (on a wooden sailboat), credits his Portland Pudgy with saving his big boat when it ran aground:

"Because it rows so well in rough weather and can handle two 45 pound anchors being dropped in it for kedging off a reef. It is a real workboat built for real world conditions. In the sailing we do a dingy can mean the difference between life or death, and this isn't in reference to the lifeboat abilities of the pudgy just its stability and durability."
Rolland T., MI (To read more about this, go the
SV Precipice blog entry.)

Another Portland Pudgy owner was able to save the life of a fellow sailor on a neighboring yacht, because the Pudgy was so stable and buoyant and handled so well:

"I reached him just as he let go of the ladder [of his own boat] and became a dead weight on the back of my dinghy. I had no choice but to try and haul him in over the stern and hoped that the dinghy wouldn't swamp with our combined weight of almost 400 pounds in the back of the boat. The Pudgy performed perfectly, I got a hold of his belt and pulled him aboard without taking on any water at all."
Don Q., NY (See the full story on his blog,
Hermes Wanderings.)

The Portland Pudgy safety dinghy rows beautifully—because of the long skeg it tracks perfectly, and it skims along because it's so buoyant. It's a fun sailing dinghy. We have improved the sailing rig so it's faster and comes into the wind better.

If you were to buy a good tender and a decent life raft, it would cost you more than the Portland Pudgy safety dinghy with its survival gear.

Another Pudgy owner (Mike M., ME) calls it "the best dinghy ever made!"  Back to top.

Other pages

Optional Accessories            Sailing Dinghy            Yacht Tender/Safety Dinghy            Fishing Boat/Hunting Boat             Dinghy Towing and Carrying
and Prices

About Us            Home

Portland Pudgy, Inc., 200 Anderson St., Portland, ME 04101    207.761.2428 or 207.712.4027