Different Types of Whitewater Rafts

March 25, 2010 - 8:17pm — GettingOutside
Different Types of Whitewater Rafts

Different Types of Whitewater Rafts

Thinking about going whitewater rafting? If you're considering giving this thrilling, wet, and wildly-fun activity a try, then you should know that the type of raft you are in will have a big impact on what your experience whitewater rafting is like. We here at GettingOutside.com want you to have the best (and safest) time that is possible when you give whitewater rafting a try. That is why we have compiled a list of the different types of whitewater rafts, what each is suited for, and a description of what the experience will be like in each different type.

Oar Raft – Just sit back and enjoy the ride in an Oar Raft, because the guide is going to do all the paddling for you! These rafts are huge— about 16 to 18 feet in length—and therefore, they are very stable. Oar rafts have a metal frame and padded seats up front for the passengers. If you just want to enjoy the experience, and leave the navigation to the professionals, then going whitewater rafting in an Oar Raft is right for you! (seats 3 – 5)

Paddle Raft – Going whitewater rafting one of these types of rafts is as exciting as it is exhausting, because YOU have to do all the paddling (with the help, coaching, and verbal encouragement of a raft guide, of course, for inexperienced beginners). Paddle Rafts are slightly smaller than Oar Rafts—about 12 to 14 feet in length—but they accommodate more passengers because the hull is not as bulky and the raft gets filled along both sides with people. (seats 6 to 8 [plus a guide to help out the paddlers on each side]). Remember in a paddle raft you are going to have to paddle to help navigate the watercraft through whitewater rapids—and if you’re trying level 3 or higher, this is not for the faint of heart!

Speaking about rafts getting filled with water—learn how all the water that gets in the watercraft does not sink it!—see our Whitewater Rafting FAQ

Oar Assisted Paddle Raft – A combination of the Oar Raft and the Paddle Raft, this type of raft let’s the passengers do some of the paddling, but an experienced guide does the majority of the steering from the back seat (the captain’s chair, you might call it). This is the perfect type of raft for people who are active and energetic, but don’t necessarily have the skill, confidence, and know-how to be completely in charge of a whitewater raft. If you want a thrill and a rush, but don’t want to end up crashing your raft into a jagged rock and sinking it, then this is the right type of raft for you! (seats 4 – 6)

Catarafts – Catarafts are the whitewater rafting equivalent of a catamaran or a pontoon boat. These boats are usually designed for one person, although some may be able to accommodate more. Catarafts are great both for rafting solo and also carrying lots of gear down the river. These rafts look really cool and are usually about 14 or 16 feet in length. If you plan on taking a long daytrip or half-daytrip down a river, considering renting (or owning) a cataraft so you can experience the freedom and control of a one-person raft. (seating varies—depending on the design of the model—usually less than 5)

Inflatable Kayak – As the same implies, these inflatable rafts have the overall shape of a kayak. These light-weight rafts are usually about 10 feet in length. Most of them are only for one person; however, they do make inflatable kayaks that seat two people (but they are considerably more expensive). Because of their light weight and the fact that they can be deflated, rolled up, and stored away in a backpack, these whitewater rafting vessels are perfect for backpackers and anyone planning to go camping after doing some whitewater rafting. So, if you are a backpacker and you also enjoy getting out on the water and experiencing the thrills of the rapids, then you really ought to think about renting owning an inflatable kayak... and they’re not as expensive to purchase as you might think: Now you can get one for less than 300 dollars! (seats 1 – 2)

Rig – The J-Rig and the S-Rig are the two largest whitewater rafts. Both are constructed from two long pontoons and a metal frame that connects them. These are by far the largest whitewater rafts, and they are not used as often in commercial rafting tours compared to the paddle raft, oar raft, oar-assisted paddle raft or inflatable kayak. Rigs are huge (more than 20 feet long)! Therefore they are not as maneuverable and are usually used in longer boat tours on slower waters. But, don’t get us wrong, you can hit the whitewater in one of these behemoth rigs if you find the right place offering this type of tour! (seats 10 or more passengers—some up to 30!)

Dory – The Dory is a hard-hulled boat; it was invented in 1964. It’s similar to a canoe, but with a shallower draft. These lightweight boats are equally suited for whitewater rafting (because of their maneuverability) and for fishing (for their payload). They are about 15 to 22 feet in length and can accommodate up to 4 passengers (as well as all their gear, including camping and fishing equipment if one takes a multi-day tour down a river). They are technically not “rafts” but they are used often in whitewater rafting so we decided to include them here.

There they all are! Which one is going to be rightfor you depends on the type of experience you are looking for, as well as your fitness level and ability to keep your balance and wits when in an intense situation; which, we can assure you, whitewater rafting certainly is sometimes! (Again, do not attempt to go whitewater rafting on rapids that are beyond your comfort or skill level!)

We hope you have found this article on the different types of whitewater rafts enjoyable and informative. If you have any questions, please feel free to contact us or the great (and honestly, even more informed) people at Northern Outfitters (we did our research, but they live this stuff each and every day!)...

To reach Northern Outfitters from the US or Canada call Toll-free at 1-800.765.7238 or you can call their direct line at 207-663-4466. Northern Outfitters says with a friendly smile, "We're here to help!" They can assist you in getting outside to enjoy the splashing and thrashing thrills of whitewater rafting, and they will take all of the necessary precautions and care to ensure that your experience is safe, exciting and fun!

Below we have an image gallery of most types of whitewater rafts

(From top to bottom):
A Paddle Raft
An Inflatable Kayak
An Oar Assisted Paddle Raft
A Cataraft

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There is so many great rafts

There is so many great rafts out there to choose from. You really have to do your homework on them. Keep up the good work.

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So how can a whitewater raft

So how can a whitewater raft bail water out of itself? Well, an ingeniously simple design makes it happen. You see, the floor of a self bailing raft is a wide flat inflated chamber, sort of like a big air-mattress. The edges of the floor are stitched or laced to the rest of the raft. When inflated, the floor is about 4 or 5 inches thick, so the top surface of the floor floats above the surface of the water. When water splashes into the boat, it flows across the floor, down over the edge, and out through  the lacing. This design works amazingly well. A self bailer filled to the brim with water will proceed to empty itself in just a few seconds.