You’ll find a number of different type of whitewater “craft” on rivers. This blogpost will break them out including:

Paddle Boat

Paddle boats are the most commonly used type of raft for day trips and shorter and for commercial whitewater rafting companies. These rafts can fit the most number of people and they are participatory, meaning, everyone paddles together to move the raft. This is done through “paddle commands” coming from the guide. The most common configuration of a paddle boat is six passengers and a guide, but this will vary with some rivers and raft lengths offering fewer seats and others more.

Paddle boat on the Kern River. Photo by Kern River Outfitters.

Paddle assist/Stern frame

This is a paddle boat except the guide is using oars for more power and control compared to using just a paddle. Typically, this is set up using what’s called a stern frame, which are oars placed in the back of the raft. The benefit of this is the guide is not relying entirely on his crew to move the raft. Alternately, the frame can be placed in the middle of the raft – called a center frame – however you can’t fit as many paddlers in the raft when done like this.

Nothing quite beats the power and control of a stern frame. Photo by Kern River Outfitters.

Oar Raft

In an oar raft, the guide sits in the center and rows the raft themself. It’s common to have passengers, however, they don’t have an assigned job of paddling, they just need to sit down and hold on. An oar raft can fit 1 – 4 passengers, but more than three is uncommon. These boats are common on multi-day trips or day trips with lots of flat water.

On multi-day trips there is sometimes a raft called the gear boat. This is an oar raft that is dedicated to taking all of the camp equipment such as tents, chairs and the kitchen.

POV of a boater running the left line at Pistol Creek Rapid on the Middle Fork of the Salmon

The guide sits in the middle of the raft and doesn’t use any paddlers in an oar raft. Photo by Idaho River Journeys.


Catarafts are oar boats that use pontoons and therefore don’t have a floor. These are harder to flip, and tend to be more affordable than a raft. They are popular with private boaters. Occasionally you will come across a set up that can be paddled like a paddle boat, but due to the missing floor, this is uncommon.

It’s common (okay, maybe not that common) to meow at cat boats as they pass by.

The rest of them

  • If you’re going down the Grand Canyon then you may find yourself on a motor rig.
  • Sweep boats are gear boats that are found on the Middle Fork of the Salmon. We write about sweep boats here.
  • drift boat is a wooden or metal boat that is specifically meant for fishing as it can cut through the current and is easy to stand in.
  • Similar to drift boats but not fishing oriented, a dory is a wooden boat but is larger and with storage.
  • Small crafts have exploded in popularity such as pack rafts or “spuds” which are small kayaks.
  • The raft manufacturer, Hyside, grew the micro raft category with their ten-foot Mini Max and shredder.
  • And of course, the self-righting Creature Craft, which is deserving of its own blogpost entirely.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *