The only thing worse than being in a lifeboat in the open sea was being aboard a raft or a float. Those crewmen who ended up on rafts rarely survived if not rescued quickly. The standard raft aboard Allied merchant ships and warships was the “Carley float”. They were manufactured in three different sizes, designed to fit one inside the other in a stack of three. The raft was easy to construct. A long tube of copper from 12 to 20 inches in diameter was bent into an oval. Kapok or cork was wrapped around the tube, covered with canvass and waterproofed. The pipe was divided into a number of water tight chambers to provide additional flotation. The bottom of the raft was made of slatted wood which made it impossible to stay dry.
Getting stuck on a raft rarely saved one’s life. It just prolonged it for a few days. The Carley floats were a disaster. The following is from: Churchill’s Navy (3 stars)
An inquiry of 1946 reported, ‘Time and again large numbers who have reached their refuge (the Carley float) have collapsed from cramp and cold, and died before rescue arrived.’
While the rafts had provisions and water and paddles secured in boxes and lashed inboard, those were often lost if the raft was thrown into the sea in heavy weather. And that’s how they were usually launched. The men threw them overboard and jumped in after them. Storms often flipped rafts over and flung the men off whether they were in the raft or outside the raft. Trying to find the raft in a stormy sea, then swim back to it and climb aboard, or grab a rope on the outside, was often beyond the strength of most of the men particularly if the water was cold.