River rafting is a varied sport. The term includes flatwater and scenic rafting, whitewater trips and any number of trips in small river craft. Each of these activities has its own type of raft that is designed to meet particular needs on the river, and these designs vary widely depending on the requirements of the sport. Every design mentioned here is an inflatable raft and handled either by oars or paddles.
Flatwater and Scenic Craft
Flatwater rafts are made for calm rivers and generally offer stability for viewing scenery and wildlife, and for leisure activities. These craft are often rather large and accommodate up to 16 rafters, though some very large touring designs carry up to 26 people. Because these rafts are often used for guided river tours, they are controlled by a single oarsmen, who often stands at a central helm. Very large versions may require two guides who handle single oars at opposite ends of the craft. The flat, non-bailing design and heavy materials of these boats make them stable enough to provide a completely dry river trip, and afford a steady platform for photography.
The purpose of the whitewater raft is vastly different from its flatwater cousin. Whitewater tours generally involve large groups of rafters, each handling a paddle, that plunge into rough water. Rafters on these tours are often looking for a refreshing drench. To cope with constant waves, whitewater boats usually come equipped with self-bailing floors that allow water to escape from inside the raft. Large pontoons provide the flotation. Like scenic boats, whitewater rafts emphasize stability to cope with powerful currents and obstacles.
Small, packable, inflatable river rafts are popular among hikers and minimalist river enthusiasts. These light, comparatively agile craft allow rafters to negotiate backcountry waterways and even to design a hybrid trip of rafting and hiking. The rafts also provide individuals an affordable and transportable way of enjoying the river that does not require the storage space of firm-hulled boats.