Are Pirate (illegal) Rafting Trips a Big Deal?

When friends hear that you’ve taken a guide school they typically want to get a “deal” on a rafting trip. Many will say something like, “I can get a group of friends together and we’ll pay you under the table to take us rafting.” At first glance that seems like a great idea. If six people all throw in $30 to $40 that ends up being a couple hundred dollars tax free. However, this is considered illegal outfitting, also known as a “pirate trip” or an illegal rafting trip. After looking at the risks of running this type of rafting trip, I believe most people will consider it not worth the short-term gain in income.

Requirements to Legally run Commercial Rafting Trips

To legally take people on a rafting trip, the guide needs to have a commercial permit or be working for an outfitting business that has a permit with the appropriate government agency to run the section of river they are floating. The most common is a permit with the BLM or Forest Service. If a company were to run a commercial trip on a day they were not legally entitled to launch it would be considered non-compliance with their permit rather than a pirate trip.

shows what a commercial raft with passengers and guide looks like

Commercial paddlers with a guide

Legal Private Trips

On legal private trip, everyone pitches in equally for the cost of the trip. Trips must also have the proper private trip permit for the river.

shows what a group of private rafter on the grand canyon look like

Classic Private Trip

Pirate (Illegal) Trips

Any trip that is not a commercial or a legal private trip is a pirate trip. This includes someone taking a tip from their friends after taking them on the river. Amortizing (renting) your boat while taking friends on the river. Having some other agreed upon compensation for taking people down the river. Any time that the costs are not shared equally, it is considered a pirate trip.

If a guide were to borrow a raft from the commercial company they work for and have some friends give them a little cash to go rafting this would also be considered an illegal trip.

Legal Ramifications of an Illegal Rafting Trip

Depending upon where you get caught running an illegal trip, the criminal charges vary between a class A (just below a felony) and class B misdemeanor. Either means a permanent record that could affect future employment. Punishment for a first offense is a fine between $1,000 and $10,000. In addition 6-12 months in jail is possible. There can be a mandatory appearance in front of a federal judge which means lawyer costs. In Idaho, one is also culpable for all investigative fees by the enforcing agency including mileage and work time. This can be another $10,000 to $20,000 in fees.

Your gear for running the trip can be confiscated and held for around a year until after the trial. If California prosecuted you for illegal outfitting and you also guide in Idaho, most likely Idaho will also punish you. The Idaho Licensing Board expects you to report your violation to them. The administrative board will fine you up to another $5,000 and consider limiting, suspending or revoking your guide license.

Can it get worse?

The Really Ugly

While all of the legal ramifications sound bad enough, things could be worse. If someone gets injured on an illegal trip or on even an outfitted trip on a day the company is not permitted to run the river, insurance may not cover the costs. Many umbrella and other insurance policies designed to protect individuals and outfitters exclude coverage for an incident that occurs for an unpermitted activity. If you are guiding an illegal trip for an outfitter or friend and get hurt you will not be covered by workers compensation.

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Concluding Thoughts

While it sounds nice to hook up some friends with a cheap river trip, that feeling changes when something goes wrong. If there is an injury the situation can get messy quickly. Government officials could get involved. Your raft and gear could be confiscated. You could get prosecuted and have to go to court. At the same time the “friend” could sue you in civil court where no insurance company would have your back since you were engaged in criminal activity. Finally, there is your relationship with the rafting community. Many commercial outfitters frown on pirate boating. If you are seen running these types of trips it will be challenging to get traditional guiding work.

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Can You Boat Through The Entire Mississippi River?

The Mississippi River is the second largest river in North America at 2,340 mi long (source). Flowing through 10 different states, it’s one of the most fun and adventurous boating routes to travel in the US.

However, before you take your vessel out there, it’s important to know if you can even travel through the entire river. The answer to that is this:

Yes, you can boat through the entire Mississippi River; However, if you plan on going any more north than Minneapolis, MN you will be stopped by the Upper Saint Anthony Falls Lock and Dam. You will need to relaunch your boat north of the lock if you want to continue.

Anywhere south of the Upper Saint Anthony Falls Lock and Dam in Minneapolis can be navigated by boat all the way to New Orleans, LA, and out into The Gulf Of Mexico. However, many pleasure boaters take another route through the Ohio River, Cumberland River, Tenessee River, and then the Tennessee-Tombigbee River which gets you to Mobile, AL and out to the Gulf.

This route has much less commercial traffic and strong currents, making it much easier to navigate, especially for sailboaters. If you want to read more about this, search “The Great Loop” or click on this article here.

If you’re wondering if you can get from the Great Lakes to the Mississippi river, scroll way down or click here.

Table of Contents

How long does it take to boat through the Mississippi River?

Depending on how fast you go and frequent you travel, It’s going to take about 2-4 weeks to boat through the whole Mississippi River. However, many boaters who take this route stop at marinas for days at a time because of bad weather or boredom.

From Minneapolis, MN to New Orleans, LA, it’s about 1,800 miles. So for example, if I were to cruise at 15 mph for 7 hours per day, it would take me a little over 17 days to reach New Orleans from Minneapolis.

You can calculate this yourself by taking your speed (mine was 15mph) and multiplying it by your hours per day. Then take 1,800 miles (or however many miles it will take you from your starting point) and divide it by the number you got from above.

Is boating the Mississippi River dangerous?

Boating the Mississippi River can be dangerous due to strong currents, low water visibility (could hit rocks or the river floor), floating debris, and large barge wake. High water usually means faster current, and low water means you’re more susceptible to hitting a rock or the river floor.

To avoid these dangers, always check the water height (this could change overnight, especially if a storm comes through), always be on the lookout for floating debris, and use your navigation system to avoid shallow spots.

If you need to, you can get the Navionics app for your phone for navigation.

Some additional safety tips to consider are:

  • Only anchor up in protected areas with little current as barge wake and current can dislodge your anchor
  • Never travel in a thunderstorm
  • There are more barges in the southern part of the Mississippi River
  • River depths can change overnight
  • Constantly watch weather forecasts as they can change quickly, especially in the southern part of the river

Are there marinas and gas stops on the Mississippi River?

Yes, there are many fuel stations and marinas to dock your boat on the Mississippi River. However, the farthest stretch you will run into without a fuel station is between Kimmswick, MO, and Paducah, KY which is 200 miles. Paducah is slightly off course on the Ohio River.

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Many boats that cannot make the distance carry extra fuel tanks or bladders such as this one you can get on Amazon to extend their range.

If you plan on getting a transient marina slip to stay the night, call ahead and see if there are any available. Transient slips on the river are usually around $25-$55 per night. There are many of them along the river.

Best marinas to stop at on the Mississippi River

Not all marinas are luxurious on the Mississippi River like they are in places like Florida and California. Some are a bit, let’s say, sketchy. But here are a few that I know are great:

  1. Grafton Harbor (Grafton, Illinois)
  2. Sunset Marina (Rock Island, Illinois)
  3. Memphis Yacht Club (Memphis, Tennessee)

Things to know before traveling the Mississippi River

There are many things you should know before your Mississippi River adventure before you go, some of which are quite strange. So here is a list of the things you will need to know:

  • Make sure your boat is following USCG guidelines.
  • Always anchor in areas protected from current and barge waves
  • River depth can change overnight
  • There are lots of floating trees and other debris to watch out for
  • Don’t tie your boat to a tree (many ants will be on your boat the next morning)
  • Lots of great BBQ spots, especially in St. Louis and Memphis
  • Most people you will meet are incredibly nice and willing to help if you get in a sticky situation
  • There are lots of sandbars to have fun at

Can you boat from Lake Michigan to the Mississippi River?

Yes, you can boat from Lake Michigan to the Mississippi River and eventually out to the Gulf of Mexico. This is done by going through the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal and the Illinois river until you reach the Mississippi River just north of St. Louis, MO.

There are a few different entrances to get to the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal, and all of them have at least one lock and a couple of drawbridges. However, The Calumet River, which is 15 miles south of downtown Chicago has significantly less than the other options.

Below is a map of all the waterways connecting to the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal (thus connecting you to the Mississippi River eventually). The red arrows point to the downtown Chicago connections, which have a lot of drawbridges and a fixed bridge with a maximum crossing height of 17′. The green arrow points to the most efficient entrance.

Vessel hight restrictions

The shortest fixed bridge you will run into on your whole journey from Lake Michigan down the entire Mississippi river is at the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal. It has a maximum vessel height of 19.6′. So any vessels taller than that must demast before crossing.

If you plan on going through downtown Chicago, there is also a 17′ bridge you will need to pass. Although, you can get around this by going through a different riverway.

Vessel length restrictions

There aren’t any length restrictions that I know of, but the average boat size is around 36-feet in length for this kind of adventure. Anything over 46-feet will be difficult, mainly because it would be hard to find a marina that would accept your boat.

Can you boat from Lake Superior to the Mississippi River?

Yes, you can boat from Lake Superior to the Mississippi River. However, you must go through the Soo Locks into Lake Huron first, then through the Straits of Mackinac. After that, you can travel all the way down Lake Michigan until you reach Chicago.

Once you reach Chicago, you can reach the Illinois River, eventually leading you to the Mississippi River. Scroll up to follow the Lake Michigan instructions, which may be applicable to you.

Hey, my name is Sam and I love boating. Jet skis are my favorite, but I love to go fishing or just relax on the beach on any type of boat. I am so glad that I can use this platform and share all of my tips and tricks for everyone to see.

Are Pirate (illegal) Rafting Trips a Big Deal?

When friends hear that you’ve taken a guide school they typically want to get a “deal” on a rafting trip. Many will say something like, “I can get a group of friends together and we’ll pay you under the table to take us rafting.” At first glance that seems like a great idea. If six people all throw in $30 to $40 that ends up being a couple hundred dollars tax free. However, this is considered illegal outfitting, also known as a “pirate trip” or an illegal rafting trip. After looking at the risks of running this type of rafting trip, I believe most people will consider it not worth the short-term gain in income.

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Requirements to Legally run Commercial Rafting Trips

To legally take people on a rafting trip, the guide needs to have a commercial permit or be working for an outfitting business that has a permit with the appropriate government agency to run the section of river they are floating. The most common is a permit with the BLM or Forest Service. If a company were to run a commercial trip on a day they were not legally entitled to launch it would be considered non-compliance with their permit rather than a pirate trip.

shows what a commercial raft with passengers and guide looks like

Commercial paddlers with a guide

Legal Private Trips

On legal private trip, everyone pitches in equally for the cost of the trip. Trips must also have the proper private trip permit for the river.

shows what a group of private rafter on the grand canyon look like

Classic Private Trip

Pirate (Illegal) Trips

Any trip that is not a commercial or a legal private trip is a pirate trip. This includes someone taking a tip from their friends after taking them on the river. Amortizing (renting) your boat while taking friends on the river. Having some other agreed upon compensation for taking people down the river. Any time that the costs are not shared equally, it is considered a pirate trip.

If a guide were to borrow a raft from the commercial company they work for and have some friends give them a little cash to go rafting this would also be considered an illegal trip.

Legal Ramifications of an Illegal Rafting Trip

Depending upon where you get caught running an illegal trip, the criminal charges vary between a class A (just below a felony) and class B misdemeanor. Either means a permanent record that could affect future employment. Punishment for a first offense is a fine between $1,000 and $10,000. In addition 6-12 months in jail is possible. There can be a mandatory appearance in front of a federal judge which means lawyer costs. In Idaho, one is also culpable for all investigative fees by the enforcing agency including mileage and work time. This can be another $10,000 to $20,000 in fees.

Your gear for running the trip can be confiscated and held for around a year until after the trial. If California prosecuted you for illegal outfitting and you also guide in Idaho, most likely Idaho will also punish you. The Idaho Licensing Board expects you to report your violation to them. The administrative board will fine you up to another $5,000 and consider limiting, suspending or revoking your guide license.

Can it get worse?

The Really Ugly

While all of the legal ramifications sound bad enough, things could be worse. If someone gets injured on an illegal trip or on even an outfitted trip on a day the company is not permitted to run the river, insurance may not cover the costs. Many umbrella and other insurance policies designed to protect individuals and outfitters exclude coverage for an incident that occurs for an unpermitted activity. If you are guiding an illegal trip for an outfitter or friend and get hurt you will not be covered by workers compensation.

Concluding Thoughts

While it sounds nice to hook up some friends with a cheap river trip, that feeling changes when something goes wrong. If there is an injury the situation can get messy quickly. Government officials could get involved. Your raft and gear could be confiscated. You could get prosecuted and have to go to court. At the same time the “friend” could sue you in civil court where no insurance company would have your back since you were engaged in criminal activity. Finally, there is your relationship with the rafting community. Many commercial outfitters frown on pirate boating. If you are seen running these types of trips it will be challenging to get traditional guiding work.

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Read more about the article Recommended Guidebooks and Reading

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Read more about the article Whitewater PFD (Life Jacket) Flotation

April 10, 2018

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Read more about the article Whitewater Rafting Commands and Paddle Training

September 21, 2020

Source https://www.brexpeditions.com/illegal-rafting-trips/

Source https://boaterpal.com/can-you-boat-through-the-entire-mississippi-river/

Source https://www.brexpeditions.com/illegal-rafting-trips/

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