Different Types of Rafts and Why We use Them

If you’ve been on a guided rafting trip, you may have noticed that rafts come in a variety of different setups. Some rafts have the guide using oars in the center. Others place the guide and oars in the back. And some rafts are paddle boats with no oars at all. Each type of boat has its own advantages and disadvantages.

Here’s a quick overview of the different types of raft configurations, and why we use them for our trips whitewater rafting in Colorado.

Center-Mount Frame Raft

First, consider the raft with a center-mount frame. According to Sage owner and guide, Cole Bangert, these types of rafts are extremely agile, since the pivot point of the raft is in the center. You’ll most often see this type of setup on overnight camp floats for their ability to navigate big or technical Colorado whitewater rapids with large loads of gear.

Rafters can choose from a variety of boats

Back-Mounted Frame Raft

Next is the raft with its frame and oars mounted at the back. This makes a great paddle-assisted setup, where the guide rows and calls commands to the crew equipped with paddles. Perfect for beginner whitewater rafting in Colorado.

“The paddle crew and guide work together to move the boat,” Cole said. “This is ideal for commercial outfitters. The guide can do most of the work but guests are still heavily involved. It’s a great setup for family trips with younger kids, as the guide has the ability to move the boat without much power from guests.”

Rafts without an Oar Mount

You have probably seen a paddle boat with no oars. This is the way you see most commercial trips structured. This heavily involves the customers, as they must come together as a team to move the raft efficiently.

aerial view of five people in blue and yellow whitewater rafting

“The guide and guest have to create a trust factor,” Cole told us. “The guide usually could not navigate certain whitewater without the performance of his paddle crew, and the paddle crew must trust that the guide knows how to command the boat. This is fun for the guide and guests alike. There is a lot of teaching and learning.”

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Sage’s Custom Rafts

Sage uses a mixture of boats, but primarily SOTAR rafts. SOTAR and Sage have actually teamed up to produce an innovative raft design that’s ideal for our whitewater situations. We worked with SOTAR to build these rafts specifically for maximizing performance and fun.

“These custom rafts are 13.5 feet long and they track well, meaning they move in the direction you point the boat amid heavy waves and currents,” Cole commented. “They are balanced and stable with the 19-inch tube diameter, which is slightly larger than a standard 13-foot raft. The tubes diminish from 19 inches to 15 inches on the tip of the bow and stern to enable the raft to “punch” through big waves without getting stalled out.”


SOTAR also used a high-end material on our custom rafts that, when inflated, turns very stiff. This is crucial to have in hard whitewater. It makes the boat more predictable, faster, and stable for the paddlers. “The height of the bow is also custom,” Cole concluded. “We set it to have a good mixture of speed, anti-deflection, and wetness…because cause let’s face it, when waves cover the raft, it’s the best feeling ever!”

Expert to Beginner Whitewater Rafting in Colorado

For more information on rafting trips near Vail and Beaver Creek with Sage Outdoor Adventures, please visit our Rafting Page. To book your trip, call us now at 970-476-3700.

What types of rafts are used for whitewater river trips?

You’ll find a number of different type of whitewater “craft” on rivers. This blogpost will break them out including:

  • Paddle boats
  • Stern frame / paddle assist
  • Oar rafts
  • Catarafts
  • And the rest of them

Paddle Boat

Paddle boats are the most commonly used type of raft for day trips and shorter and for commercial whitewater rafting companies. These rafts can fit the most number of people and they are participatory, meaning, everyone paddles together to move the raft. This is done through “paddle commands” coming from the guide. The most common configuration of a paddle boat is six passengers and a guide, but this will vary with some rivers and raft lengths offering fewer seats and others more.

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paddle boat

Paddle boat on the Kern River. Photo by Kern River Outfitters.

Paddle assist/Stern frame

This is a paddle boat except the guide is using oars for more power and control compared to using just a paddle. Typically, this is set up using what’s called a stern frame, which are oars placed in the back of the raft. The benefit of this is the guide is not relying entirely on his crew to move the raft. Alternately, the frame can be placed in the middle of the raft – called a center frame – however you can’t fit as many paddlers in the raft when done like this.

stern frame

Nothing quite beats the power and control of a stern frame. Photo by Kern River Outfitters.

Oar Raft

In an oar raft, the guide sits in the center and rows the raft themself. It’s common to have passengers, however, they don’t have an assigned job of paddling, they just need to sit down and hold on. An oar raft can fit 1 – 4 passengers, but more than three is uncommon. These boats are common on multi-day trips or day trips with lots of flat water.

On multi-day trips there is sometimes a raft called the gear boat. This is an oar raft that is dedicated to taking all of the camp equipment such as tents, chairs and the kitchen.

pistol creek left line

The guide sits in the middle of the raft and doesn’t use any paddlers in an oar raft. Photo by Idaho River Journeys.


Catarafts are oar boats that use pontoons and therefore don’t have a floor. These are harder to flip, and tend to be more affordable than a raft. They are popular with private boaters. Occasionally you will come across a set up that can be paddled like a paddle boat, but due to the missing floor, this is uncommon.


It’s common (okay, maybe not that common) to meow at cat boats as they pass by.

Types of Rafts for River Trips

We offer three different types of rafts: oar boats, paddle boats, and inflatable kayaks (aka “duckies”). On your trip registration you will be asked about what percentage of the trip you would like to be in each type of boat. This is just an estimation for us that allows us to make informed decisions about which boats to bring.

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It’s typical to switch boats each day as you make new friends and get more comfortable on the river.

The Oar Raft

These large rafts carry all of our gear, food, and supplies down the river. The guide is located in the center of the raft maneuvering the raft with two large oars.

Riding in the Oar Boat on the Rogue River

Riding in the Oar Boat on the Rogue River

There is room in the front for 2-4 people to sit. This is the best place to take in the views, relax, and hold on during the rapids. Riding in the oar boat is least active option and generally the most stable place to be.

Paddling the Oar Boat through Mule Creek Canyon

Paddling the Oar Boat through Mule Creek Canyon

The Paddle Raft

This raft is slightly smaller than the oar boat and carries 4-8 people and a guide. Everyone sits along the sides of the rafts and has their own paddle, necessary for paddling the boat. The guide steers the boat from the back of the boat giving paddling commands to the crew.

Paddling the Raft on the Rogue!

Paddling the Raft on the Rogue!

If you’ve ever been on a single day rafting trip, this was probably the type of boat you were in.

Inflatable Kayaks

Inflatable kayaks (aka “duckies”) are the most active and adventurous option. You will be seated in the bottom of the kayak with a double-bladed paddle.

Paddling an Inflatable Kayak on the Rogue River

Paddling an Inflatable Kayak on the Rogue River

There will be instruction from a guide before each rapid on how to maneuver your way through. You are guaranteed to get splashed and possibly take an unexpected swim!

Source https://sageoutdooradventures.com/types-of-rafts-and-why-we-use-them/

Source https://gorafting.com/2022/09/28/whitewater-rafts/

Source https://www.nwrafting.com/articles/boat-types-river-trips

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