Cold Water River Drifting

This topic is about safety.

Some of you guys just float lazy Class 1, perhaps dabbling in Class 2 rivers. And some of you push the boundaries of what your craft can do at times, perhaps pushing heavy Class 3 to Class 4 water. I took a Pontoon Course recently through a whitewater rafting outfit and we wore rental wetsuits, helmets, & class 5 whitewater grade PFD's to do the course in our 'toons. I've also been involved in several steelhead snorkel counts at one point about 10 years ago and I didn't find being in a cold weather wetsuit that uncomfortable in all honesty for the better part of the day. I also preferred snorkelling winter rivers in a wetsuit over a drysuit as I just found it more comfortable. The drysuit you sweat like a pig, the wetsuit as you snorkel your back is out of the water and if it fits well enough there is minimal water movement through your suit. The only part of your face that got cold was the areas of your face that were exposed to the water. But seeing a steelhead every little bit warmed you right up!

Anyways - I'm constantly doing research on various different drifts and on some of the potentially more gnarly sections of river I intend to hopefully float one day I will always go in PLANNING to flip. That way I am prepared for the worst. I have done some recovery drills in righting my craft and getting back on it while in the water, although nothing "live" if it's fair to say. I have some plans on a custom rod tube for my spey to minimize breaking it down. Something I can break it down into 2 pieces, shove it in the tube, zip it up and I"m on my way. I'll be ordering something like this shortly. It would be laid on top of one of my toons parallel to it. Everything will be tied down so no yard sales anticipated, in dry bags, etc. Spare Oar, spare repair parts should something break. Whitewater grade PFD, 7 MM wetsuit and Helmet. Water Resistant Personal Locator Beacon. ,etc. I also have plans to take swiftwater rescue training as well as another more focused, more hardcore river drifting course that is potentially being organized up here in BC in the near future.

I gotta ask - what kind of preparations do you take? Do you drift more gnarly stuff in your toon? Anything I"m missing?
It sounds like you're good on all of your gear, but if you plan on going out there and running some shit then I would go with a friend.

I think the toons are super versatile but I sure like a raft for its dry ride and better stability.

Jerry Daschofsky

Staff member
I think the toons are super versatile but I sure like a raft for its dry ride and better stability.
You need to row a higher quality cataraft over what most consider "pontoons". Ride higher, dryer, high stability, and real maneuverable. I'm talking what most would call "outfitter" tubes. Not so much rocker. Virtual flat hulls. SOTAR, NRS, and most of the other companies make cats with the flat hulls. Plus, the nice thing, when you want to run heavy water you'll cut through it, not bucket over it. And anyone who says "I stay dry whitewatering in a raft" is a tad FOS IMHO. ;)

Accidents are never planned, but surviving one is.

Yup! More you're prepped, the better.
I stick by my statement that in class 3 or harder a raft will be dryer than the boat in question which is a pac 1100.

I agree with Jerry though that if you want to run harder h2o to fish then a more worthy craft would be more suitable, wether it be a raft or a larger cat. There are trade offs, but I would rather focus on fishing than swimming, and most of the time you could probably wear your waders instead of a wetsuit.


Active Member
Best way to stay dry in a raft is to be on the sticks when you hit the s*#t and have your nice tall and wide buddy up front to absorb the spray. Works like a charm!


Active Member
A lot of fishermen don't take even the most basic, common-sense precautions. I'm amazed at the dangerous situations floating fishermen will put themselves in, seems as though fishing gives people a sense of invulnerability.
won't let anyone on my boats who is wearing waders without a belt and life jackets are a requirement on moving water. In case of an emergency, I have throw bags and dry clothes for cold-weather boating. First aid and repair kits live in permanence in my boats.


Active Member
I fished the Lochsa this June in a Maravia Spider (raft) from Dead Mule Flats to the Fish Creek River Access at 4,100 cfs (2.5'). Water temps were in the mid 40s. It was pretty novel to be fishing with dry suits on and we got some pretty funny looks from the bank fishermen. We ran some pretty good rapids, including a Ten Pin Alley, Logjam, No See-um, and some other no-namers. Ten Pin was a solid class IV. We were dressed to flip, and both of us have a LOT of Class IV experience. I wouldn't take anything less than 12' on a class IV river. It's asking to flip and yardsale all of your gear. Whitewater rivers have a great way of punishing the bold by relieving them of their most expensive gear. That said, if you plan on pushing your limits, please make sure you are not the only boat on the trip. When the shit hits the fan, that second boat can save your life. I've had plenty of class IV swims, and none were all that much fun. I dress to spend 10 minutes in the water, no matter the air temp. Usually that means I sweat my sack off all day, but I know that I can function for the critical first 3-5 minutes of a flip recovery. Also, consider practicing flipping your boat in cold, fast water. Always have a throw bag handy and remember there is safety in numbers.

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