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How to Build a Raft

Home Made Raft Plans and Design

Building a Home Made Raft

Home made inner tube raft Log raft Barrel Raft
Raft Plans | Building a Log Raft | Building an Inner Tube Raft | Building a 55 Gallon Drum Raft

General Informatioin About How to Make a Raft

Raft Design

Coming up with a good raft design first starts with thinking about what and how your home made raft will be used. Will the raft be used to race across a lake? Will the home made raft be used to travel down a shallow river? Will it be used on a large wide river like rafting the Mississippi? What materials do you have available for your home made raft? Do you want be able to steer the raft using paddles, poles, sweeps, an engine or even a sail? Or do you just want to be able to float?

Raft floatation

Rafts can and have been built from just about everything! What a raft is build from is typically determined by the materials that are locally available or easy to get. Materials that rafts have been made from include logs, 55 gallon drums, tractor trailer inner tubes, Styrofoam, sealed boxes, used bottles or cans and just about anything else that floats.

Home made inner tube raft

Raft Frames and Living Accommodations

The frame or structure that creates the platform and holds the floatation together on most rafts is typically constructed from wood. Normally any structure that is used for shelter is also made from a wood frame and can have a tarp or even a metal roof.

PVC Raft Construction

Home made rafts that float on PCV tubes can be a good idea and have been built. They are best for smaller rafts for a lake or pond. The drawbacks of a PVC raft include the cost of the PVC and fitting, the weight of the PVC and the concern about leaking into the tube that would then weight the raft down.

Styrofoam Raft or Dock Platform Raft

Home made rafts that float on Styrofoam have been built and the results can depend greatly on the type of material that is used. Rafts made from dock platforms can be very strong. The nice thing about Styrofoam is that it does not become punctured so there is very little chance of sinking. Blocks of Styrofoam may be hard to attach to the frame with unless they are in something and it may be hard to acquire enough Styrofoam to make a larger Styrofoam raft.

Other Types of Floatation for a Homemade Raft

There are many, many other materials that a raft can be made out of. From empty soda bottles to sealed cardboard boxes to pig blatters.

Pig bladder raft.

Home Made Raft Frames

The frame of a raft can be constructed from just about anything from wood to metal or even plastic. Probably the most popular choice for a raft frame is framing lumber and plywood. A really cheap raft can be constructed using free pallet wood.

Home Made Raft Propulsion

Rafts that move in the river typically only need to be moved from one shore to the other so that obstacles can be avoided. A raft that is going in the river that is not being raced actually fairs better when there is more drag on the structure below the water. This is good because the water in the river typically moves quicker then the raft. So if you are designing a raft for river travel you don't need to or even want to worry about drag or aerodynamics. However if you are designing a raft that will float in a lake or if you are in a race on the river and expect to be propelling the raft quicker then the water moves then the less drag the better.

Home Made Raft Paddles

One of the easiest ways to propel a raft is with paddles. Rigged up either to be used by hand or more like an oar on a row boat paddles will give the raft the ability to be controlled. Paddles can be constructed from framing lumber like 2x3's, hardwood lumber, aluminum pipe (Be careful about the weather). The blade of the paddle can be plastic, plastic plywood or metal.

Home Made Raft Sweeps

Typically found on larger rafts sweeps are used to position at raft from left to right in a river and they are very efficient at doing so. The raft sweep is placed on the back and the front of the raft as opposed to the sides. Typically there are two people one on the front and one on the back. These are great for very large payloads but because you can't paddle backwards there are no brakes for the raft.

Log raft

Notice the sweep is at the back of the log raft not along the sides

Home Made Raft Sails

Sails on home made rafts are an options in certain circumstances. For example the Yukon river feeds into Lake La Barge which is 50 kilometers long and fortunately most of the time the north blowing wind will help push a raft through the lake so that it may continue on it's Yukon River raft trip. With a square sail rig a raft should be able to make better time then paddling alone. Sails are also good for very wide rivers like when rafting the Mississippi. Care should be taken when considering adding a sail to a raft as it may make the boat registration process more difficult in some states.

Putting a Motor on a Homemade Raft

In some rivers a motor is a necessity. When there is heavy barge traffic on a larger river the deep draft vessels will have the right of way and that means: Get out of the way! If you can not paddle fast enough you could be in serious trouble. Putting a motor on a raft will make the registration process harder but you will have more control as you enjoy your travels. Mounting an outboard motor on a raft is typically relatively easy.