Finding The Right Boat For You
Whether you enjoy a casual float down the river or you have been bitten by the whitewater bug, the right gear makes the trip all the more enjoyable.
What should you look for in a rafting setup? Rafting equipment can be expensive. There are many options when shopping for a new inflatable toy. Start by asking yourself the following questions:
- New or used raft?
- What is my primary use? Paddleboating, multi-day trips, fishing raft, family boat?
- Where are we going to play? Smaller creeks, big volume rivers, East vs. West?
- How many people do I like? Solo oar boat, you and the spouse, the whole office?
- Big raft or little play boat?
- What kind of frame?
- PVC vs. Hypalon?
Most people don’t realize how affordable a brand-new raft can be. Hypalon rubber and polyurethane rafts are very durable but are quite expensive. Thankfully, improvements in the construction of PVC material and welding technology have made it possible for first-time raft buyers to own an outfitter-quality inflatable at a reasonable price.
New Versus Used Raft?
For the recreational rafter, a used raft has historically been a better option, but you will need to do your research. Outfitters and private boaters often sell used rafts, but you risk buying a raft that may not have been well cared for. Make sure to look at the model year and try to figure out how many trips the raft has had, as well as how it has been stored and what kind of maintenance has been performed. You don’t want to take over someone else’s problems. Here are a few things to look for:
- Leaking bulkheads
- Deteriorating valve boots
- Seam failure
- Excessive wear
- Material delamination
- Worn D-Rings
- Poor air retention
Determining Raft Size
Whether you are thinking about spending more time with your kids or you want to surf giant hydraulics, there are options for both. It’s important to determine your intent before you buy a whitewater raft to find a size that will accommodate as many scenarios as possible. Occupancy is a particularly important consideration, as your raft needs to include sufficient space for equipment. The most common size of rafts used by private boaters are between 12 and 14 feet long. The smaller rafts and cats are growing in popularity in boating circles because of the price and the ease of transport and storage.
Think about what type of river you plan to paddle most of the time. If you live in the Southeast, an 18-foot raft would probably not be the best pick. If you mainly spend your time doing multi-day expeditions a 9′ might be a bit small. A good rule of thumb is a 12-13-foot raft can accommodate up to 3 people for an overnight or a fishing trip and up to six paddlers on a whitewater day trip. A 14-18-foot has much more room for gear and larger groups. Think about your shuttle vehicle and how many people you want to spend your day off with when deciding on a new raft or cat.
Before purchasing your own whitewater raft, you may consider renting or looking at DEMO equipment. It’s also very important to get the proper training and know how to operate any whitewater craft, there are great guide schools nationwide and paddling clubs affiliated with American Whitewater that offer great support and friendships
“Rubber” Rafts – The Pros, the Cons
Rubber rafts are typically made from a type of polyethylene which is a synthetic rubber sometimes marketed under the trademark Hypalon®. This material is very durable and is popular with commercial rafting outfitters around the world. It is a great product but not everyone can afford a $6,000 raft. Most professionals will agree that they don’t make Hypalon like they used to, the days of a 25-year-old boat hitting the river are gone.
- Abrasion resistant
- Rolls tight
- Very expensive to produce
- Can only be assembled by gluing seams
PVC Rafts – The Pros, the Cons
PVC or Poly Vinyl Chloride has had a tainted past. Historically, manufacturers have had a wide array of failures producing PVC rafts and inflatables. Bad glue or outsourcing cheap material tarnished some manufacturers and PVC’s reputation. Technology has come a long way over the last decade.
Today there are companies producing PVC that are much more flexible and resistant to abrasion and that will stand up to more UV than in the past. Coupled with state-of-the-art PVC welding technology, PVC has become a much better and more affordable alternative to rubber rafts. A late model PVC boat that is well cared for can last for many years.
- More affordable
- Brighter color choices
- Rigid platform for paddle rafting or oar boating
- Heavier weight per square foot
- More difficult to roll in cold conditions
- More susceptible to abrasion when rolled
Whichever boat that you choose to purchase or use, make sure you know the advantages and disadvantages of each craft before you buy your new toy.
Before purchasing your own whitewater raft, you may consider renting or looking at DEMO equipment. It’s also very important to get the proper training and know how to operate any whitewater craft, there are great guide schools nationwide and paddling clubs affiliated with American Whitewater that offer great support and friendships.
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