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Information on Rafts and Such
Posted by Michael Strahan on May 21 2005

You might poke through the archives here and in the hunting forum; there's a LOT that's been written on this already.

This question is hard to answer because there are a lot of variables; are we talking a boat for one or two people?  Four?  Five?  Will you use it for hunting?  Expedition trips (over three days)?  Weekend trips?  Or just day trips?  What experience level do you have?  Are you a whitewater rafter?

Depending on the answers to these, it will be easier to recommend a specific boat.  That aside, what I can tell you is that most of the larger companies on the market (and a handful of smaller companies) make good boats.  Here are my "top five" personal favorites.


1.  AIRE < >, sold in Anchorage at Alaska Raft and Kayak < >, AIRE offers the single best warranty in the business.  I've written extensively on this in the past, but here's the condensed version:  If anything happens to your boat that requires repair or even complete replacement within the first ten years of the life of the boat, you're completely covered.  No questions, no arguments, no hassles.  There isn't a company on the market that can touch that warranty.  Note that it doesn't just cover the original owner; it covers the BOAT- regardless of how many times it's changed hands in the first ten years.  If you file a warranty claim on a nine-year-old boat and get a brand new one in exchange, the whole deal starts all over again!  Their boats are made of plastic; PVC and urethane, which is recognized for its superior performance edge over rubber materials.

2.  SOTAR. < >.  SOTAR has been making top-quality inflatable boats for many years, and makes perhaps the lightest boat in its class, which uses a proprietary material they call "Lexatron".  It's urethane-coated nylon.  Urethane is one of the toughest materials on the market, and is able to take high air pressures.  This makes for a very stiff boat that's an outstanding performer on the water.

3.  WING < >.  Wing was started by Bill Wing and if memory serves, Bill used to work for or with SOTAR before he started his own company.  Regrettably, it appears that Wing discontinued their recreational whitewater boat line last October, however if you can find one, I highly recommend their boats for toughness, rigidity and generally good performance.

4.  Maravia < >.  Maravia has been around a few years and they make a great plastic boat.  They spray-coat their boats with urethane, which adds a layer of toughness and air-retentiveness that gives a Maravia boat excellent performance characteristics on the water.  You would be very happy with a Maravia.

5.  Northwest River Supplies < >.  I would look at their cataraft, the Expedition Series, Sport Series and Otter Series for Alaska conditions.  I'd stay away from the Otter Livery series; that's a conventional round boat with a one-layer fabric floor.  Your feet will freeze on most Alaska rivers, and it's like walking on a waterbed.  NRS is a tough call though, because unlike the other four boat companies I recommended, NRS boats are made of rubber material (Hypalon and neoprene).  This material doesn't perform as well as plastic, it tends to flex and bounce a lot more.  There are many companies out there making rubber boats, and if you were going to go that route, you want to look at Achilles, Avon, Riken, Grabner, Hyside, and Incept.  There are other players in the market, but these companies all offer the magic formula of year-round product availablility, good warranty, consistent product quality, and good customer care as a rule.  Most of the others out there have problems in one or more of these areas; some of it is not their fault.


One of the first decisions you have to make is what material to choose.  Plastic (PVC and urethane) makes for a stiffer boat (which translates to vastly superior performance on the water), but it tends to gouge.  Rubber (Hypalon and neoprene) wears very evenly, but makes for a bouncy boat.  Some rubber boats will actually bend as they flow over steep wave peaks or through troughs.  Neoprene is often used for chafer strips or bottoms on rubber boats, because of its vastly superior abrasion resistance.  I read an article about some commercial operators on the Grand Canyon that actually dragged their neoprene-clad eighteen-foot self bailers out of the river and up the bank with a pickup!  You wouldn't do this with a plastic boat.  Though neoprene has excellent dry abrasion qualities, it can be a problem on the river because it tends to grab when wet.  So if you're trying to slide over a boulder, neoprene may hang you up, whereas Hypalon and the plastics are slicker and will allow the boat to simply slide over.  Something to consider.


Another important consideration is what type of boat to purchase.  There are fundamental differences between cats and round boats that you should know about.  I've already listed those in detail in the archives, so I won't repeat it here.  Check it out.  In general, I think most folks in Alaska are going to get more versatility out of a cat than a round boat, but round rafts have their fans too.

There's a LOT more to say on this subject, but this should get things moving.  You can save yourself a lot of work if you look through the archives on this topic.  There's been volumes written on it already.  I wrote an entire chapter on it for an upcoming book.

If you want to talk to someone directly about it, feel free to drop me a private message by clicking on my name and following the on-screen prompts to email.  Alternatively, call Alaska Raft and Kayak in Anchorage and ask for Tracey Harmon.  He's forgotten more about inflatable boats than just about anyone here that you'll meet.

Hope it helps, and welcome to the boating forum!



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