Drift boat vs raft?

Discussion in 'Watercraft' started by Alchemist, Jul 29, 2010.

  1. Alchemist New Member

    Posts: 27
    Willamette Valley, OR
    Ratings: +2 / 0
    I am looking for some advice from some of the knowledgeable people here with driftboat and raft experience:
    I have owned a succession of 1 man pontoon boats, and love them. The problem is that I have two kids who I would love to take out on the water in the next 5 years, and a father in his mid sixties who can’t wade like he used to. I am therefore looking at a larger vessel for fishing 2 people plus a rower. I have been looking at a series of 16’ driftboats, and raft+frame solutions (NRS otter+ frame, etc.). While I have some DB experience, I have never fished a raft of this class before. I fish mostly on med size Willamette tribs and smaller coastal watersheds. Typical water is class II with the occasional class III feature thrown in. Day trips are most common, but I would eventually like to do some light multi-day trips with the kids. My questions are as follows:

    1) Based on these factors, as well as more general issues, what are the relative merits of a driftboat versus a raft?

    2) What are your must-have features in a driftboat? In a raft?

  2. Rick Todd Active Member

    Posts: 1,861
    Ratings: +237 / 0
    Driftboat-easier to row and maneuver, more room inside and somewhat easier to stand up in, harder to launch (or need a better launch) more subject to rocks.
    Raft-Harder to row, but more forgiving about rowing into rocks etc. Better for rougher/rockier rivers. Hope that helps, Rick
  3. veilside180sx Member

    Posts: 295
    Hillsboro, OR
    Ratings: +1 / 0
    Most of those Mid Valley rivers are super rocky, which aren't my favorite candidates for a drift boat. Have you considered a larger cat, like a 14 ft?
  4. Ed Call Mumbling Moderator

    Posts: 17,403
    Kitsap Peninsula
    Ratings: +1,359 / 9
    I've never owned a drift boat and barely rowed any of them. I have fished out of a number of drift boats and had a very comfortable time. I have never rowed or fished out of a raft. I've had a few solo pontoons and liked that general design. I built this with much assistance from friends here guiding my way through it. Key benefits are: Rigid floorboards for the angler positions covered with Line-X for excellent traction. Lean bars for added safety and for pulling one's self out of the seat. Easy to row, if I can row one it can't be difficult. Side boards add a critical place to strap gear and step to get into or out of the boat. Open rower's floor area allows me to Fred Flintstone through skinny spots without requiring anyone to get out of the boat. Storage (my first version had no storage, only seats on crossbars) each seat sits atop a container box. 20 gallons fore and aft, 94 quart cooler for the rower. Bounces rather than sticks to rocks, I have contacted a few!

    My good friend Bitterroot took this of my family on the Yakima. This was seats on bars with no storage (except for the box behind my back and a small soft sided cooler). The storage front and rear and the cooler beneath me now allows for much better storage, keeping things dry (until upside down) and also move things fore-aft to properly trim the boat based on the weight of the anglers and anchor.
  5. doublespey Steelhead-a-holic

    Posts: 596
    Bothell, WA
    Ratings: +22 / 0
    Rick nailed the main pros and cons of the two. Rafts quieter, more forgiving, easier to launch. Driftboats are usually a dryer ride and newer ones have features like doors to aid getting in and out of the boat. Plus on colder days you can fire up the propane heater, something I wouldn't want to do i in a raft or cat.

    If it were me, the final decision would be based on the rivers I was planning to run. The more skinny/rocky/difficult water I had to run, the more I'd be looking at a raft.

    Good Luck!

  6. speyfisher Active Member

    Posts: 1,057
    State of Jefferson U.S.A.
    Ratings: +136 / 3
    I've had all three, drift boat, cataraft, and pontoon boat. Plus a float tube. For the lot of them, I'm on my second drift boat, still have the toon, and the float tube.

    The 15 ft cat was great for white water. Bounced off rocks. You could load a ton of gear on the thing, enough for over night outings. But it was not near as nimble as either a drift boat or a toon. Look at the pics of Mumble's cat. Like most inflatables of any size, cat or raft, there is no rocker on the tubes. They track well. But they are slower to respond to changes of direction. And once you drop something on a cat, it's usually gone. And they are a PITA to keep inflated in different climates/water temps. UV is not kind to inflatables stored outdoors.

    The main reason I got the toon was I could haul it behind the motor home while still towing a small car. Put the toon carrier on the back of the car after setting up the motor home and be good to go. The toon carrier is an EZ Packer, custom built so I could also tow. It's nice for what it is. But it's much easier to hook up and launch the drift boat.

    For still water, I prefer the float tube. But that's another story.

    My first drifter was a glassed over woody. The present boat is a 16ft Clackacraft. You will get all kinds of pro's & con's on alum vs. wood vs, glass boats. Thats another can of worms too. Suffice to say, I can take two adults, myself + a youngster or a dog if I have to. Still have two bench seats with sealed storage + under the bow, + the floor + the deck. Spey rods and spare oars are to be reckoned with. But the trade off is workable. Real drift boats don't have doors. But, once you learn how, they are not that difficult to get in or out of. They are much easier to see over and back down a ramp than a cat.

    Hey Mumbles, nice lookin' cat. How's that ACR rod workin' out for ya?
  7. cmann886 Active Member

    Posts: 421
    Richland Wa
    Ratings: +56 / 0
    I would consider renting each for a day or two before spending any money on either one. Red's on the Yakima has decent rates for both drift boats and rafts.

    I've fished out of both rafts and drift boats but haven't rowed the drift boats. For what you have described, I would seriously consider the unit that Mubles has put together. I've been very impressed with how much they can carry and how well the can be held in position prior to entering rapids. The rafts that I've been in can't sit in position so easily without moving down stream.
  8. Stewart Skunk Happens

    Posts: 950
    Ratings: +48 / 0
    I always thought a raft had an advantage in lower water due to less draft and being easier to drag over gravel bars. The river that comes to mind for that is the Bitterroot in the summer. Whereas in a nice full river, a drift boat was better for all the other reasons. Say in the Clark Fork or Kootenai. With young kids, a drft boat will at least make everybody feel safer. I've spent some time in both, rowing and fishing, but am an expert at none of it.
  9. Rob Ast Active Member

    Posts: 1,907
    West Pugetopolis WA
    Ratings: +234 / 3
    One thing I've noticed with Mumble's cataraft is that while it does draft less than a drift boat, once it grounds it has a lot more surface area stuck to the river bottom. Thus, though you may ground more in a drift boat it may in fact be easier to unstick (though this is pure speculation on my part).
  10. veilside180sx Member

    Posts: 295
    Hillsboro, OR
    Ratings: +1 / 0
    They actually are not difficult to get off the ground/drag. I have the same tube setup on mine, but a different frame setup.
  11. Alchemist New Member

    Posts: 27
    Willamette Valley, OR
    Ratings: +2 / 0
    Thanks for all the responses guys.
    I definitely considered a cat solution, but I figured the semi-open floor was an invitation for disaster (I love my spastic little girl, but she is an accident waiting to happen), and would probably not win easy acceptance from the wife for solo trips with the kids. This might be a misconception on my part?

    Mumbles: Your ride looks sweet, I have a couple questions: How much did it cost to assemble that beast? How much does it weigh? How old is your daughter, and have you ever floated solo with her in that cat? Any problems with dropped rods, sunglasses, etc?

    My other concern with a cat was performance on anchor. My 10 ft toons are only anchorable in relatively slow water, but even in gentle runs they kick and spin on anchor way more than I feel like most of the DBs I have been in. Is that an issue on these larger cats?

    The agility on narrow coastal rivers + a dry ride for winter steelhead (~75% of my river time) makes me lean toward the drifter. But I cringe when someone else’s drifter drags and dings; I don’t know that I could handle it if that bottom belonged to me. That rental idea is not bad, but I don’t know of any local options for rafts…

    Thanks again for your thoughts
  12. Ed Call Mumbling Moderator

    Posts: 17,403
    Kitsap Peninsula
    Ratings: +1,359 / 9
    Alchemist, my girls are 6 1/2 and 5. The elder is the one focused on fishing in that picture while the younger was sitting with mom because she was tired. The front and rear seated positions are atop hard decks so dropped items hit the deck. If they are kicked forward in the front or rearward in the back they'd be gone, but so far I cannot recall anyone losing anything out of my boat.

    I have not yet floated with just one of the girls and I in the boat, but have had the two of them and myself at a local lake. Mom was reading a book on the beach. The reason I have the full U bar is for a bit of containment. The reason I have them up front is for me to see them so there are no surprises happening behind me. A friend, OrangeRadish, floated with Jason Decker once and brought along his 10 year old son Matt. Jason insisted that Matt be up front so he could better see and assist him. I had been thinking about setup of the boat but O-Rad's comments made me certain that Jason Decker's method made the best sense.

    They make trampoline flooring that can make your floor full, they also make aluminum decking, or you can make your own. I choose to have an open spot becasue I'm still a rookie rower and I tend to take the conservative lines. Like my friend Rob said, I've run it in very little water and gotten stuck in the shallows on the gravel rather than row through tougher but deeper stuff. Getting unstuck is not normally a problem, but I've run us aground on shallow bars that took a bit more effort. As my rowing skills and confidence improve I'll not sneak around so many corners in the shallows.

    I would estimate my boat weight at 250-300# fully set up and loaded. I don't honestly know the figure though, but I'm a puny dude and I can move it around the garage or driveway, lifting most of it's ground contact points and able to drag it where I need it. Once the nose cones are lifted and the rollers engage the bottom of the tubes my wife can winch it up into the utility trailer with no difficulty.

    I traded into the frame with WFF member Riverman who was looking to downsize as I was looking to get bigger. This frame is 54" center to center, so it really is not a big wide craft, but it is bigger than my two person PAC 1200 was and has more carrying capacity. That made getting this outfitted more affordable than I had imagined, we can chat about that via PM if you'd like. My tubes are 14' x 22" and I have had myself and two other big fellas in the boat at one time on the Upper Yakima. It did row more sluggish with that load than it did with my family on board or with two lighter dudes and I, but it still floated well and maneuvered decent. I think that when not heavily loaded it is pretty responsive.

    I've got nothing negative to say about a DB, all the days I've spent in one as a passenger or even trying to learn to row makes me think that when handled right they can do just about anything you want. I do like the inflatable bounce factor, like I said, I'm a rookie rower.

    I don't know anything about your coastal rivers in OR, but I've had mine on the Hoh and it handled just fine (again given the fact that I was at the controls and got me and Rob into some trouble on one day) but the boat really impressed during that trip. If you ever make it up this way you can check it out, maybe we can coordinate some float time or something. Bring the spastic princess and we can toss it on a nearby lake and you can see how you like it. Given a chance to test drive all three types of craft I'd highly recommend it. I'd love to have more boats but if I were to show up with a bath tub toy boat I'd be in big trouble with the house boss.
  13. Shapp Active Member

    Posts: 222
    Back to the state of my birth (OR)
    Ratings: +37 / 0
    My preference, have currently 1 16' aluminum drift boat, 2 14' rafts, 1 12' cataraft, 1 double inflatable kayak, and 1 canoe in the family armada, and growing up fishin the Willamette basin and Mid Coast rivers:

    Winter fishing: drift boat
    Summer fishing: drift boat
    Heavy whitewater single rower: cataraft
    heavy whitewater: raft with paddle crew
    Multiday rafting/fishing: raft or cat
    creeking and surfing: inflatable kayak
    Crabbing: drift boat with motor or canoe with outrigger (nearshore), or grandma's 18' alumaweld sled
    Lake fishing: drift boat with motor or canoe

    Unfortunately no one boat does everything great, kind of like fishing rods. Better start saving for the navey now!
  14. surfnsully Active Member

    Posts: 296
    Happy Valley, OR
    Ratings: +42 / 0
    I was asking the same questions a couple of years ago and decided on a clackacraft. However, I too suggest that you rent one or two of them and feel them out yourself. You can rent rafts and catarafts from West Coast Adventures in Oregon City and Reds for the driftboats. My glass boat has gone over a lot of rocks and things and it is designed to do so. Scratches, yes. Problems, not at all. Small rocks and low spots you just slide over. As with aluminum any big rock hit hard may cause a problem but I have hit a few nice ones with no damage but some small scratches.

    Best of luck.
  15. martyg Active Member

    Posts: 983
    The world at large
    Ratings: +74 / 0
    Hey Al -

    Quick note - generally good advise to be had, but I have to disagree about durability. I have never punched a hole through a composite boat - and I have been down a lot of gnarly rivers on a lot of different continents in composite racing boats, drift boats and rafts. I have however, punched holes in rafts. In low water conditions a composite drift boat is going to slide / drag easier than raft - while doesn't move at all. Gel-Coat is made to be dinged.

    Re maneuverability.... If I am rowing a 16' gear raft with personal belongings for 10 people and the trip kitchen it will be a total pig. However I also have a Super Puma, and I can put that into any river feature (narrow line, eddie, etc.) that I can put my drift boat into.
  16. Jerry Daschofsky Moderator

    Posts: 7,722
    Graham, WA, USA.
    Ratings: +660 / 5
    I agree with Marty on this one. Though, I haven't totally punched a hole through, I did put a good tear in my old Aire Ocelot. Never punctured or damaged my driftboats. Some scrapes were about it on the driftboats. And I too have beat the living crap outta all mine over the years. Onto drag ability, it's all in how much weight is in the boat at the time and how heavy the boat is. My old Eastside slides nicely, but it's alot lighter then most newer glass boats. My old alumaweld driftboat I had was a bear to drag (even with the gluvit).

    Mind you, I LOVE inflatable boats. Especially the cataraft grade boats. But I've always had a preference when I'm really hardcore fishing to use driftboats or river suitable prams.
  17. jessejames Flyslinger

    Posts: 1,858
    Show Low, Arizona
    Ratings: +345 / 3
    IF YOU CAN ONLY BUY ONE BOAT That is the issue here. If a guy doesn't have the spac,e time or resouces to have a marina in his yard the Raft is the BEST multipurpose boat for a family in my opinion.
    You can use it in all kinds of water levels and conditons, it is safe for the whole family, it is great for white water stuff and adequate for fishing. With the tubes surrounding you and your kids you and they will feel safe. If you get into some rocky or hairy fast water they are very forgiving and still float when upside down (trust me I know)
    Is the raft the best for all situations? NO but I believe it is the best compromise.
    You dont need a trailer if you have a pickup, deflate it and put it in the back of a truck or suv and put the frame on top of the rig. If you have a travel trailer take the raft in the towing rig and inflate when you get to the river.
    One of the downsides of a good self bailing raft is the inside is always wet the floor is under/in the water all of the time. This is fine on a hot summer day but for a family on a cool day having wet feet and clothing can be a pain.
    We have a raft and a driftboat and would like to add a 16' cataradt to the armada maybe next year. Then you can pick the boat that is the best for each situation.
    My three cents; a 14' raft with a convertable rowing/fishing platform like a Pac 1400 from Outcast or similar.

    jesse clark
  18. Big Tuna Member

    Posts: 1,958
    Wenatchee, Washington
    Ratings: +39 / 0
    Just dealt w/ this question myself and landed on a raft. A friend that helped me with the decision described driftboats as Cadillacs and rafts as jeeps; they'll take you anywhere you want to go. No boat is perfect for every situation so pick the boat that matches the water you fish most frequently. For me a hard side didn't make much sense.
  19. Alchemist New Member

    Posts: 27
    Willamette Valley, OR
    Ratings: +2 / 0
    Well, I can’t say I am a much closer to making the choice, but I definitely have a lot more to think about. Clearly I am going to have to rent a raft and possibly a cat for a trip this fall, thanks for the pointer to the Oregon City rentals. Jesse I appreciate your point as to the necessary compromises in choosing 1 craft for everything, which is definitely what I am intending. If I can re-state this perhaps naive question:
    How is the anchor stability on these larger 14+ ft rafts and cats? Can you sit on anchor in a reasonable current?
  20. Jerry Daschofsky Moderator

    Posts: 7,722
    Graham, WA, USA.
    Ratings: +660 / 5
    Another thing to think about too. What type of fishing do you plan to do alot? Just row point a to b and get out and fish? Or do you want to hold water, possibly pull plugs, sidedrift, etc? I've rowed alot of rafts and catarafts, and IMHO I'd rather be rowing a driftboat for that anyday. It won't hold as much weight as a raft (well, depending on size of DB you look at), but for rowing and tracking with less effort on a pull, a DB will be the way to go. Now I'd love to try the new Maravia that is out by Streamside I think it is. Looks like a great inbetweener. Gonna borrow it myself to test it out to see how it tracks. Awesome floor in it and looks like it may be a very cool hybrid boat.