Drift Boating With Kids And Family

I'm in the market for a driftboat, and am building my case for purchasing one by promoting it as a means for some good family time on the river. I've been looking at models from many manufacturers, trying to find a boat that will be comfortable, safe (stable with kids moving around), and functional for family trips with young kids, a dog, camping gear, etc. A boat that can provide those things is important, but I spend much of my time on skinny rivers and plan on doing plenty of fishing on my own or with a friend or two, so I've ruled out some of the larger boats out there. I'm pretty much set on a low-profile (lots of wind and minimal whitewater around here), 16' fiberglass or plastic boat....so that narrows it down quite a bit.

The Clacka Mega Box is one model that has caught my eye due to the storage capacity and ability to throw an extra seat up front. It seems like a pretty standard 16' LP boat that would be functional for family days or for an outing with friend without compromising much either way.

So, basically looking for advice from anyone out there who spends a lot of time in a driftboat with kids/family.


Alex MacDonald

that's His Lordship, to you.....
Depending on where you're going and what water you plan on getting into, I would look at something with more high sides-keeps in the kiddies and the hound a little better. I like my 16wf, but her Ladyship freaks anytime there's any spray at all. You should have seen her when we decided to wash the windows on my 22-foot sailboat one day!

Ed Call

Well-Known Member
My family perspective is that from a guy rowing a 14' cataraft with Maxxon tubes and NRS frame. My two daughters are young and small, 6 and 8, each under 45 pounds. They sit side by side up front on a dry box in individual kid sized non swivel seats. A full U shaped lean (or restraining) bar surrounds them. Their deck is solid, load bearing plywood that is covered with Line-X for lifetime waterproofness and virtual indestructability. I row from the middle seated on a cooler (or low back tractor seat), have a standing step for scouting, but have the rest of the floor in front of me missing so that I can offload my weight in shallow spots. The Mrs sits aft in her locking swivel seat, on another dry box, and herself has the same hard floor setup like the girls up front. This has been great for us. Search the watercraft forum for some threads that I've posted before. I don't know much, but I know this boat floats my whole family, or me and two friends, in comfort.

Regardless of your choice, make sure you have adequate storage options for your family or fishing gear. Best of luck.
I second the high-side model over the low-side. There is not much weight penalty, and high sides do a MUCH better job keeping kids and dogs in a boat.

Where I live there is lots of bony water during summer/fall. I had Hyde put the G4 bottom on my boat and I think it works really well. It slides over rocks and keeps us moving where we would be stuck without it. The first day out I was skeptical of how well it would work so I went out of my way to slam in to some big rocks- you can see where it rubbed, but you can't feel any damage or even abrasion. It is a spendy addition to the boat, but I bought a used Hyde with a beat up fiberglass bottom and had it added on.

The other boat that would probably work really well for you is from Boulder Boats Works. I wanted one, but could not find a used one anywhere. They are made of welded plastic and seem about as indestructible as a boat can be.

Whatever boat you go with, make sure there is a bench front seat and you can put 2 seats on it, steelheader style. That way you can get 4 seats on the boat. Being able to take another couple along was a big selling point for my wife.

If you decide on a standard fiberglass boat, the Clack you mentioned sure is nice, though I think all the major manufacturers (Clack, Ro, Hyde) make very comparable boats. Their advertising literature might disagree, though.

Good luck!
Thanks for the great feedback......it's great to get advice from folks that have been there and done that. I'm definitely not considering a raft (although Ed, it sounds like you have a rig that works well in your case).....we just have too many rivers around here with long sections of flatwater that need to be rowed or motored through. I have a few watermasters and it's hard work moving those things through slow water....I imagine there's similar drag with a larger raft. I'm also hoping to do some panfishing out of the driftboat on smaller lakes using a small outboard.

The BBW boats sound ideal to me. Lighweight and durable, but they are a bit more than I want to pay for. A fly shop out of Hayward, WI (1 hour drive from me) has two BBW in their guide fleet and they love them. It doesn't sound like the boats are beat up at all after 7-8 years of use----so, like you mentioned, used BBW drift boats seem to be tough or impossible to find.

I hadn't considered high sided boats due to the type of water I float and the windy conditions that are common around here. I've never rowed or been in a drift boat at this point, so it's hard for me to know the difference between a high side or LP in terms of safety.
I had a Clackacraft 16' LP for several years before trading it in on a new Hyde XL series LP boat last fall.

Personally, I wouldn't be overly concerned about children falling out of a LP boat any more than with a high side (look at the small difference in heights between the 2 models) however, it is certainly possible for anyone to fall out of either model. I'd suggest getting the kids in the different boat models on dry land before buying one, and see how you and your family feel about the side heights. Another issue you'll want to pay attention to is the difficulity of getting in and out of the boat - a LP has certain advantages to us vertically challenged people - and even more so with waders on!

However, that being said, I've had adults nearly fall out of both of my boats, and almost lost a good friend overboard last fall when he bent over the front of my new Hyde to net a fish. He had been used to my Clackacraft, and the interior side height (given the raised floor) on my Hyde is apparently lower than he was accustomed to, and he barely caught himself before taking a drink of cold water!

I don't know whether you'll be getting as much wind where you'll be using your boat as we do in Montana, but having rowed other high side boats in the past, I can tell you that that's one of the primary reasons LP boats were developed in the first place. On the flip side though, you might get some water over the sides if you use them a lot in (say) anything above Class I - II water. And, I'd certainly recommend that you become proficient on the oars, and familiar with your boat, before taking your other family members with you.

Both Hyde and Clackacraft now also offer boats with walk through designs, which I'd also suggest you might want to look at. Not only do they make it much more convenient to move around inside the boat, but I"d think they would be safer for children as well (depending on their age and size getting around and over bench seats isn't the easiest thing to do, but that concern is eliminated with the walk though designs). I believe they may also have more storage, for all the things you mentioned, including kids, camping, etc.

Lastly, you mentioned skinny water, and what sounded to me like you could be pretty loaded with gear, people and pets at times -- be aware that while drift boats can certainly handle skinny water (more or less), they don't handle it as well as a good inflatable (which I also have), and I really cringe every time my fiberglass boat bangs into a rock, or it grinds over gravel - I know my boat will take it, but it just means more scuffing and marks in the gel coat, or maybe even some chipping on the bottom or sides.

John --

Very good input, and I am glad to hear that you think an LP is not a huge safety hazard compared to the high sided boats. I live in Northern MN and float a lot of large warmwater rivers in MN and WI. Wind is a huge issue here, maybe not on the same scale as MT, but close. So I've pretty much ruled out a high side boat for that reason. Like you said, it's probably more about how kids/adults move around in the boat than the 3-4" difference in side height. Our family is on the water a lot in other types of watercraft, including canoes and kayaks -- so I think there's a good understanding of how to move in boats safely. But, anything can happen, especially when running whitewater or trying to land fish.

I only know of one class III rapids on the rivers I float regularly. 99% of them are class I and II around here, so an LP should be fine.

My son is only 3 at the moment, so I'm not really rushing into this purchase. I figure there's going to be quite a few floats in this boat before we do a lot of family trips with any regularity. I just want to get a boat that can handle a few kids when the time comes to get them out on the water.

I agree that some skinny water may have to be ruled out when carrying a load in these boats. I do own a few watermasters and can always use those when flows aren't sufficient for a drift boat. There are quite a few rivers around here that are suitable throughout the year, so it's probably just a matter of picking the right river based on the conditions. I am really looking forward to having a boat to trailer and launch immediately -- inflating/deflating/folding rafts over and over again gets a little old sometimes. I also want to be able to fish small lakes on calm days, and a driftboat with a 5-10 hp outboard seems like a good set up for that purpose.

thanks for your input.
I have a 6 HP Mercury that I use from time to time with my drift boat. My Hyde has a wider transom than the Clackacraft, so I was able to get it with an optional motor mount installed, and still have room for the rear mounted anchor arm in the center of the transom.

Although Clackacraft has an offset kit that allows you to move the rear mounted anchor arm off to one side so that a motor can be mounted there, I didn't want to do that, so I removed my anchor arm whenever I wanted to use the outboard, and then hand lined the anchor over the bow of the boat where I had installed a rope cleat (not an entirely satisfactory solution either).

---Just something to consider when contemplating using motors on drift boats. --

The downside is that I haven't found my Hyde to anchor as easily as my Clackacraft in moderatley moving water (I never anchor in fast moving water, and I suspect it's due to more water pusing against the larger transom.


Active Member
What I would like to add is width of bottom, there is a big difference in a guide model width bottom compared to standard model bottoms as far as leaning! heavy loads and families are a big load so I would suggest what ever you get make it a wide bottom 56 to 60 inch. I also second the getting to know the drift-boat rowing, low sides are much easier to be "SUNK" when turned sideways in current, I have rowed them for 35 years and would never buy a low sided one for this reason. I have floated many fast skinny rivers and what can happen will happen is my thinking. also over the years I have made a rule on my drifter that I will not take anyone that cannot save they're own life if the boat gets turned over in rough or skinny water. Us drift-boat owners (and other river running craft) are responsible for every ones life that is in the boat. my daughter was not able to go on certain rivers til she could prove to me that she could swim really-really good and was strong - let alone someone else's kids. back when I started as a teen I didn't care about anything, now in my 50's I have learned to be much safer with other peoples lives! rafts and pontoons are a whole different craft then a hard bottom chimed drift-boat,some bouncing off things in pontoons and rafts will sink a drift-boat. be safe and have fun.

Alex MacDonald

that's His Lordship, to you.....
Have to agree, wind is an issue,especially on the Madison in the Ennis Valley; last summer we floated in August, and the memory of stuffing my 6-2 frame under the rear thigh braces while my son in the bow was casting, is right up there with my first firefight!! I can still feel the wet hissing of his streamer past my ears!!
Owned a lot of boats, rafts, kayaks and canoes and fished a lot of kids and grand kids over the years. Might not be the sexiest choice, but by far and away the most versatile, fun, economical, low maintenance and safe family boat we've ever owned was my dumpy little 14' Lavro drift boat. Other than hike-in lakes, there weren't many good fishing places we couldn't take or use that tough little DB. Whether it was with oars, electric or 6 hp motor, we ran rivers, lakes and salt in all kinds of conditions and never worried about safety for the kids that were always crawling around. I often crammed 4 or 5 kids in the boat mainly 'cause kids like having other friends along just to help keep them interested in fishing for more than a few minutes. But more importantly, the wife never worried about safety with the DB either, which allowed me to take them with me more often and to places she might otherwise cringe. Not to mention we could trailer a lot of extra camping creature comforts for her in the hard boat too. I found these to be important things because kids and wives don't always have the same tolerance for discomfort or level of interest in fishing/ boating as we do. Their comfort zones are just as important to consider in the equation if you want to maximize your fishing time with them. After 20 years of use I sold the boat for more than I originally paid. That little 14'er was the best investment our family ever made in a all-round fishing/camping boat. Have fun and get them out there.


Joe Streamer
I'm in the same boat as you (so to speak). I have three young boys aged 4-7. I'll likely be buying a Streamtech Salmonfly from Derek this autumn in a three-way partnership with two friends who also have kids. The three of us have a lifetime of experience on all kinds of boats. We're all sold on a raft over a hard boat due to safety reasons #1. Rafts are also better in small and rocky rivers due to durability, and you can slide it in and out of tough launch and exit points that are harder to do with a hard boat. We feel like we'd simply be able to fish more pieces of water with a raft versus a hard boat and do it more safely.