A little bit about how rafts work and then we will dive into some of the variations. Rafts are made out of either a rubberized fabric Hypalon or a Plastic coated fabric PVC. This fabric is either glued stitched or welded together to make chambers that can hold air or encompass a bladder within that holds air. These boats tend to be fairly wide, long and float on top of the water sinking only a few inches down under the surface. This profile makes the boats super stable and high floating, but extreemly slow on hull speed in comparison to almost any other water craft. The stability & high floatation make these ideal for whitewater adventures and can be used to transport people or gear. These boats are not designed to be used in calm water conditions because of the lack of hull speed and susceptablity to wind conditions.
This type of rafting is for the social or Team minded individual the raft is manned by 2-8+ people each with a single bladed paddle. Boats are generally anywhere from 6′ to 16′ in length. One person generally sits on the back tube and steers the boat while the remaining paddlers provide the momentum to move. This form of paddling requires good leadership from the guide possition in the back of the boat and strong team cooperation on timing of strokes. Inexperienced paddlers are often led down rapids of up to class V difficulty with a experienced guide calling out commands from the back of the boat. Collisions are avoided by angling the boat so that it points away from an obstical and then paddling forward moving the boat away.
Oar Rigs & Cats (Catarafts)
These boats are not as socially oriented generally you have one oarsman
and possibly a passenger or 2 on the boat. These boats are great for heavy gear hauling, solo adventure, and fishing trips. The boat is rigged with a metal frame across the center and two large oars running out on each side of the boat. Oar boats can be anywhere from 10′ to 24′ long. Boats under 12′ are usually single person boats, 13′ + boats give more room for people to move around. Gear Hauling boats range in all sizes the longer, wider, and bigger the tube size of the boat the larger amount of weight that can be hauled. A typical Grand Canyon Expedition boat will be 18′ long, these boats are often out on the water from 12-21 days at a time, huge amounts of gear are hauled down river to support the paddlers. Oar rafts and Cats are different from paddle rafts in how they handle on the water. Oar rigs are generally manuvered around obsticals by pointing the bow of the boat at the hazard and pulling away from it at a angle. These boats when heavily loaded with gear build and loose momentum slowly so you have to plan further in advance in order to avoid collisions with obsticals.
Cat’s differ from rafts in that you have 2 single elongated tubes with a frame strapping them together. There are benefits to this setup, catarafts are more stable then rafts, faster becasue they have less drag surface on the water, and are able to turn much quicker. This makes them ideal boats for gear hauling on quieter rivers where wind or slow current would make progress down river in a raft super slow. They also perform well as a safety boat since they can be paddled over to swimmers quickly, there are lots of places for swimmers to hold on (frame, tubes, webbed floor). They also have some disadvantages the better stability can make them too stable in certain river features getting them locked into a long surf in a hole or making it difficult to cross a wide eddy line if they are at a poor angle. These boats also are not as good for hauling people for long distances unless rigged with an additional seat, generally they are rigged with one seat for the person on the sticks (oars) and no one else. Cats will always remain popular with folks who like to row because the advantages usually out weight the disadvantages for someone who likes to solo on the sticks and likes technical lines on the water.
Like a Cataraft but with Hard Plastic Tubes. This boat was the small dynamic
river running hot rod of the Cata-raft choices. The boat was made originally by infinity out of Idaho but no longer is in production. Can be rigged as a single or double seater, with a little space for gear. These boats were 12′ long aprox, they were much faster then a rubber boat and spin on a dime. If you love to row, this is a boat you should give a try if you have the opportunity.