Which rule? There is a current rule which is in effect that requires a raft if you meet certain criteria. That hasn't changed and if you get boarded without it and need one they will send you home with a violation.
What hasn't kicked in yet is the mandatory retirement of bouyant devices in 2015. If you have one of these (not a raft, but a rigid float) you can use it only until 2015, then you have to retire it and buy the appropriate raft for your use.
Hopefully they will make more changes by then, like eliminating the training requirement for small boat crews.
Greg is correct. All State registered vessels with a commercial permit are required to have a life raft on board. The exception is with 3 people or less none is required for up to 12 miles. Beyond that you will need an IBA (Inflatable Buoyant Apparatus). With more than 3 people on board you can currently have a Buoyant Apparatus up to 12 miles, which is like Greg said, a rigid Jim Buoy ring with most having a net in the middle. It wouldn't make sense to buy one of these as these are being phased out in 2015. Documented vessels still require life rafts based on how far offshore they travel. Up 12 miles = USCG IBA, up to 20 miles = USCG Coastal, up to 50 miles = SOLAS B and beyond 50 miles = SOLAS A pack.
Not sure exactly what you mean but in 2015 the plan is that Documented and State registered will fall under the same regulations and depending on how far you travel offshore will determine which life raft you will need. A USCG IBA will be USCG approved for up to 12 miles offshore. A USCG approved Coastal life raft will meet requirements for up to 20 miles. Any commercial vessel beyond the 20 mile mark will require a USCG/SOLAS approved life raft. SOLAS B for up to 50 miles offshore and SOLAS A for beyond 50 miles. USCG/SOLAS approved life rafts come in a canister only, which means mounting a cradle with hydrostatic release or a float free cradle. My guess is 50 percent of the current State Registered vessels do not have the sufficient hard top or space to mount a canister with cradle. What if some vessels mount on the bow, obstructing thier view?
I fully expect there to be a Grandfather Clause for anyone who currently has a USCG approved IBA to go beyond the 12 mile mark. I think requiring all State Registered vessels to purchase new life rafts to go beyond any mile mark would be unreasonable, Grandfathering makes sense. My suggestion is to look at USCG approved Coastal life rafts. They come in canister or valise with 2 independent tubes and full erecting canopy. They are essentially the same life raft as a SOLAS approved raft, minus a boarding platform, insulated floor and much of the equipment, flares, food & water, minus the weight too. A 4P IBA valise will start at around $2000 and a 4P USCG Coastal valise will start at about $2600 and up. Email me at [email protected]for any estimates or or questions