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How to Build a Raft

Inner Tube Raft Construction

Home made rafts that float on tractor trailer inner tubes are good options for rivers that have very low areas. A larger raft fully loaded inner tube raft can make it's way through as little as 4-5" of water if designed properly. Inner tube rafts are easy to transport, especially if you inflate the tubes by the river. The drawback of the tubes is that they can be punctured so a few extras should be carried on board with a bike pump.

Small Inner Tube Raft Plans

Made from a sheet of plywood and framing lumber this raft is great for shorter trips for a person or two. It would also be a awesome platform raft to bring along when a bunch of people go tubing. Check out how to make a raft below.

Step 1: Start by cutting the various parts to length.

Small Raft Cutlist

Part Name Letter Material Qty Thickness Width Length
Cross Support A 2x4 3 1-1/2" 3-1/2" 45"
Long Support B 2x4 2 1-1/2" 3-1/2" 96"
Platform C Plywood 1 3/4" 48" 96"
Tube Support D 2x4 4 1-1/2" 3-1/2" 76"
Paddle Support E 2x4 2 1-1/2" 3-1/2" 34-1/2"
Paddle Holder F 2x10 2 1-1/2" 9-1/4" 17-1/2"
Angled Support G 2x4 4 1-1/2" 3-1/2" 16-29/64
Paddle Blade H Plywood 2 3/4" 10-1/2" 16-1/2"
Paddle Shaft I 2x3 2 1-1/2" 2-1/2" 87-1/4"

Step 2: Start by assembling the frame with 3" decking screws.

Building an inner tube raft

Step 3: Secure the plywood with 1-5/8" decking or drywall screws.

Building an inner tube raft

Step 4: Attach the tube supports to the bottom of the platform.

Building an inner tube raft

Step 5: Attach the the paddle supports to the tube supports.

Building an inner tube raft

Step 6: Cut notch in paddle holder.

Building an inner tube raft

Step 7: Attach the paddle holder.

Building an inner tube raft

Step 8: Cut the andles supports at a 30 degree angle.

Building an inner tube raft

Step 9: Attach the angeled supports to the raft with 3" screws.

Building an inner tube raft

Step 10: Tie the tubes onto the bottom of the raft. Use tractor trailer inner tubes that are 10-20 or 10-22 sized inner tubes.

Building an inner tube raft

Step 11: Use a jig saw or a hand saw to narrow the ends of the paddles. Then use a belt sander or file to ease the edges.

Building an inner tube raft

Step 12: Round the corners of the paddle blade.

Building an inner tube raft

Step 13: Attach the blade to the paddle shaft with 5 or 6 1-5/8" screws.

Building an inner tube raft

Step 13: Go rafting. Take life preservers, know the river be safe. Take a seat to sit on while paddeling.

Building an inner tube raft

The development of the "delaware raft"

Home made raft design
"Initial concept drawing of the "Delaware" style home made raft."

Inspiration for the Home Made Raft Adventure

It was bitter cold Saturday during January in Pennsylvania. The ground was frozen solid and wind was blowing a dry snow around. I sat inside at my desk with the monotonous glow of a word document staring back at me. I am trying to catch up on some work.

For some time I was feeling like my place in modern society had become too predictable. Any reasonable human can only stand cell phones, taxes, bills, auto repairs, traffic and paper work for so long. I thought a vacation would be nice. But the thought of a week with all the pasty white Americans who flock south did not appeal to me. The idea of returning home after spending a week gorging myself on endless buffets while drinking into oblivion with nothing to show for the trip but a few canned pictures, an empty bank account and an experience that would be forgettable in a year or two. No, I needed my adventure to be real, something that I could look back on later in life and smile. In additional I wanted it to be a cheap vacation. So trekking in the Himalayas, visiting Nepal or Ecuador was out.

A Cheap Adventure Vacation

So the idea for a rafting trip came to mind as I have always loved the water and an adventure vacation down a pristine river would certainly fill my desire for something real. I searched the internet for white water rafting trips that might be of interest and I found little that inspired me. That was?t really what I looking for any way. I wanted to do it on my own. Could I buy a raft?

Low cost inflatable rafts can be found at any sporting goods store. But these sterile manufactured rafts did not seem to fill my needs. As I though about it more I realized I wanted a durable raft with living accommodations that could take me for a weekend, a week or even a month in comfort. I wanted a raft much like the log rafts also known as platform rafts that were built by pioneers in the centuries past for necessary travel and exploration. Platform rafts can?t be bought and there are no raft kits available. So I figured it must be built. It is not difficult to build a raft that floats however the challenge lies in building a raft that is easy to construct, transport, assemble, and navigate which is also durable and comfortable.

Homemade Raft Plans and How to Build a Raft: The Adventure before the Adventure

Making my own raft plans proved to be an adventure in itself as I made the careful calculations and construction drawings required to give me the specific features for the craft that I wanted.

My first consideration for building a raft and the raft design was of course flotation. I did not want it sink and I needed to build a raft that would float high enough to keep me comfortably above the splashing waves of the occasional rapids. I also knew some of the water is very shallow in some areas of the Delaware River and I did not like the idea of getting stuck with 1500 pounds of raft and supplies in the middle of nowhere.

My first thoughts for the raft flotation were based on using plastic 55 gallon drums which have been known to be effective. However swift, shallow waters combined with a large partially submerged boulders and the inflexible barrel had me worried about puncture and running aground. They would be ideal for rafting the Mississippi or a similar river with deeper clear channels but not the often shallow Delaware River.

The other good option for flotation is old tractor trailer inner tubes. They would allow the raft to sit higher in the water (because of the greater surface area) and I also figured they could absorb the impact of hitting a rock or branch. The drawback is of course the durability. I was not sure if they could withstand the journey as the used inner tubes seem less puncture resistant.

The winter wore on and slowly each portion of the raft plans came together. I designed the main raft platform then continued on to design of the wooden oars, the tent, and the storage chest while further refining the raft.

Low Cost Raft Construction

Finally with the raft plans done it was time to start building a raft. Lumber was purchased while I found used inner tubes for sale along with other salvaged parts on Craigslist.

Starting construction.

The construction went smoothly. Each platform and the main connectors came together quickly while the wooden oars, tent, storage box and all the other smaller details took more time. When I completed building the wood paddles a thick coating of paint went on the blade and a clear coating of lacquer went on the rest of the oar. The final details including the very necessary mosquito netting in the sleeping area and flag pole are built.

Now I assumed that I would be traveling on a solo, pilgrimage of sorts, but after mentioning my rafting plans at work, Scott who first laughed at me saying I would sink, later in the day began asking me a few questions and then promptly invited himself on the trip, then my wife added herself to the roster and finally my brother Brian and friend Ryan also decided to join us for the first weekend of the rafting trip.

Starting construction.

The final test assembly of the larger raft and a now a smaller raft took place on the soft grassy lawn during in the long awaited summer days. Barring a few minor, but necessary, design modifications all the pieces came together well. I could not wait to get onto the water to see how she would float.

Home Made Raft Launching

It was a long awaited day and after a two hour drive with the van and trailer loaded to the brim with raft parts, coolers, inflated inner tubes, bedding, tools and firewood we arrived at our launch point in the Delaware Water Gap National Park. Turning off the main road onto a narrow dirt road we made our way down to the remote boat launch along the river. Then we started the assembly process.

Surprisingly the raft assembly took very little time. The home made platform rafts were assembled and ready for travel in a half hour then we loaded up with supplies for the journey and pushed off.

So for a total of about $200 per person for the raft cost plus normal food costs my wife and I were off for a week vacation of a lifetime.

Old tires where we got the inner tube from.

Legalities and Safety on our Home Made Rafting Adventure

As I wanted to fully enjoy the trip without the burden of looking behind my shoulder at each turn I felt it was necessary to insure that everything that we did on our low cost rafting trip is within the law.

Registering a Home Made Boat

Old tires where we got the inner tube from.

Each state has different requirements for licensing and registering a homemade raft. In most states non-motorized home made boat registration require very little if any paper work. In Pennsylvania after some internet research and a call to the department of motor vehicles (Penn DOT) I learned that it is very, very easy to register our rafts. In fact nothing was required because the raft are non-motorized and do not have sails. We did need a launch permit and this is only required because we were setting off from a Fish and Game Commission maintained ramp. We dropped by the local boating and tackle shop and for $20 we were done. All we had to do was stick the launch permit stickers to each side of the boat.

Legalities of Home Made Rafting and Raft Camping

Then there is the next question of the legality of traveling on the river as well as camping on the river bank.

To summarize the law: rivers that are large enough to be used for commercial rafting trips or those that were used for log floats or by the fur trappers in canoes to transport goods or for other commercial reasons are considered to be "Navigable for title purposes".

Assembling the rafts for the trip.
In other words most rivers that can handle a raft the size of our home made raft will fall into this category of being ?Navigable for title purposes?. And rivers that are ?Navigable for title purposes? are held ?in trust? by the state for the use of the public. The public can use the river, the river bed and the river bank up to the ?ordinary high water mark? which is easy to identify by the foliage along the river bank.

This means that the rivers and the banks are public property and available to be used by the public for anything that is non-destructive including picnicking, camping, fishing from, walking on etc. This is fantastic for us because that is all that we need. We can float down the river anchor along the bank for the night, shower on the banks, collect drift wood for camp fires etc. So there we have it a completely legal river homemade river rafting adventure trip!

Safety and Traveling on a Home Made Raft

I knew before attempting our rafting adventure that like any type of boating activity the rafting trip comes with very real dangers. Many people get hurt and die in boating accidents every year. Many times they are the result of alcohol consumption, lack of preparation, lack of experience or any one of an infinite number of factors.

Not being real drinkers we did?t drink alcohol on the rafts. In fact on only one occasion did we consume alcohol on the rafting trip and that was on land with dinner in town.

Rapids, natural obstacles and manmade obstacles pose grave threats to all boats including the home made rafts. Understanding how the water affects the boat and the dangers associated with the thousands of gallons of water pushing on the raft at any given moment and how that will influence the raft is important. A raft or a part of a raft if it were to break apart can pin a person below water easily. Rivers can also rise very, very fast and become very dangerous quickly. Understanding how to swim rapids is important should the boat capsize. Boating experience and training is a must before doing any boating activities.

We brought life jackets and had them available at all times and wore them through all rapids. Not only is this a good idea it is also the law.

General knowledge of first aid and other outdoors skills can also be critical. Respect of the river is critical. Safety took priority to everything. Getting home safely is our first mission.