For vessels around the world, life rafts are a vital pieces of equipment that, hopefully, never need to be used. For search and rescue (SAR) organisations, they are an integral part of day-to-day operations.

However, traditional life rafts have some limitations, particularly when it comes to those stranded in the water and those who may lack the physical strength to climb aboard. This challenge is made even more complex during mass rescue operations (MROs) when they are dozens, if not hundreds, of people stranded in the water and often life rafts are not sufficient enough to provide adequate or hasty enough support for them.

“I was talking to others in the SAR community about a necessary rescue tool that would make it as easy and as safe as possible for persons in distress to take themselves out from the water. Anyone that has gone through basic maritime safety courses knows that climbing into a regular life raft can be difficult even in optimal conditions. After much discussion, design specifications and prototype testing, we finally introduced Lifboat to the maritime SAR community, which eliminates the challenge of rescuing an untrained person that has never been in the water in an emergency before,” said Pontus Hallin, founder, designer and product developer of Lifboat.

Starting development in 2017, Lifboat is an inflatable and foldable tool that can be attached to and towed by a rescue boat to increase the capabilities of SAR organisations during MROs. The system is designed to enable those stranded at sea to climb easily on board from all points before either entering a rescue boat or staying on the platform.

The system’s primary feature is its low freeboard to the water’s surface so that almost anyone with varying fitness levels or injuries can pull themselves up in an emergency.

Pontus was joined on the project by Matthew Fader from the Swedish Sea Rescue Society (SSRS) who provided support based on his background and real-life experience in MROs. In October 2022 Lifboat was awarded the runners up award in the IMRF’s award for Innovation & Technology in Maritime SAR.

“I’m always talking to my colleagues and IMRF family members about MRO challenges and how to help people that may or may not have lifejackets onto a rescue vessel. Being involved in this project was a no-brainer for me,” said Matthew.

The system has undergone a strenuous amount of testing in order to ensure it is capable of delivering the type of SAR capability that was originally envisioned.

“We tested towing Lifboat at roughly 34 knots. There are hundreds of handles for the person on board to hold on to when the platform is being towed. We also tested the system with helicopters, which showed it is very hard to flip and that it was safe for the rescue swimmer to land on and launch from,” said Pontus. “It has been built to be very durable, can be used multiple times and able to be pushed up towards rocks, land or in-between boats. Lifboat can also be used as a portable dock for the transfer of people,” he added.

For MROs, the system boasts a number of unique features that would boost the capabilities of SAR crew members during such tough circumstances.

“By using Lifboat, SAR organisations can get multiple survivors from the water to the vessel with minimal effort. It can also dramatically increase the rescue capacity of smaller rescue boats when a Lifboat is in tow. The system’s lifesaving capacity can also be scaled up by connecting multiple rafts together to create different geometric shapes and islands of safety for those in distress,” Matthew said.

“This can also help with small scale rescue scenarios along coast lines and in floods,” Pontus added.

At its core, Lifboat has been designed with SAR personnel in mind. During the testing phase, coxswains driving a rescue boat with the system in tow stated they barely noticed it, with no impact on their steering capacity. The system is also easily storable and can be on standby when in harbour. In addition Lifboat is incredibly easy to operate, with SAR personnel able to quickly inflate it at the emergency location or while driving out to the scene.

With all this in mind both Pontus and Matthew are keen to stress that development of Lifboat is ongoing, with plans to improve and innovate the system further.

“I like to think of myself as a sort of tailor. We are hoping to tailor make Lifboat’s for certain customers by making it in different sizes and out of various materials for different scenarios. We also want to be able to mass produce a product like this so that it is a shelf-ready product,” said Pontus.

“We are also testing different methods of inflation with compressed air tubes, compressor connections and basic motorised inflation devices or handpumps. We want to make this system as simple and easy to use for SAR organisations around the world,” Pontus added.

“Lifboat is a simple idea but it is one that I hope can close the capability gap during MROs and increase the rescue capacity in places where the cost of larger rescue boats is a challenge,” Matthew noted.   

To find out more about Lifboat, check out their official website here:

All images used in this piece are credited to Lifboat.