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Thread: Raft Or Pontoon???

  1. #1
    Member Roger45's Avatar
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    Question Raft Or Pontoon???

    I have been kicking around the idea f getting into the floating world and have a few questions. Adding a motor is the least important quality to me. Being able to take 2 or 3 total, having camping gear (plans on being out 1-2 weeks at a time), and maybe a moose is important...so what size range should I be looking for? Are there specific brands that are better/worse than others? Looking of CL I see them for sale all the time, so if I look at used ones, what do yourecommend that I check/watch out for? Basically, I need a basic education. Thanks in advance for any input.
    "...and then Jack chopped down the beanstock, adding murder and ecological vandalism to the theft, enticement and vandalism charges already mentioned, but he got away with it and lived happily ever after without so much as a guilty twinge about what he had done. Which proves that you can be excused just about anything if you're a hero, because no one asks the inconvenient questions." Terry Pratchett's The Hogfather

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    Member AK Troutbum's Avatar
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    It's kind of personal preference. I think if you're going for a cataraft, you'll want a 18'er. A 16' round raft (self bailer) should work for your purpose. I'm a big fan of Aire products, and a big fan of catarafts, so that's what I would recommend. Again, it's personal preference. Plus a cataraft just looks cooler IMO.

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    I'd also recommend a cataraft. They are lighter, easier to maneuver, and break down to be loaded in a small aircraft. If you plan to do long remote float trips, I'd also recommend a swift water rescue class. They are available in the spring around the state.

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    Member AlaskaTrueAdventure's Avatar
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    Roger,
    First of all....DO purchase Michael Strahans book Float Hunting Alaska, available through this AOD site. Yes, it the same Mike that considers these forums one of his labors-of-love. He owns AOD Forums. BUT THE BOOK IS GREAT, and very comprehensive. It IS the basic education you asked about.

    Cataraft owners love their cats. "Round" raft owners love their boats also.
    I only own six different AIRE inflatables and enjoy all, both cats and "round", for different reasons.

    The only advantages to a cataraft is that they do break down into smaller pieces, and that they are much more "motor friendly".
    The disadvantage of a cat is that they take a long time to put together at the river put-in. The frames are usually too big and wide and heavy to ride up on a roof rack.
    "Round" rafts can be put together much quicker. The flat frames ride well on any roof rack.
    For road system rafting, a snow-mobile trailer works well.

    Regardless of what style boat you purchase, as I have written and said before, get a color you are gonna want to see often! Color counts!!

    OK, Seriously...based on what you briefly mentioned you will do fine with either a 18 foot AIRE Leopard cataraft, or a 159 AIRE (round) raft, which is 15 feet, 9 inches long (and therefore will not need to be registered at the DMV). Fully rigged for what you described, both weigh about the same. Unloaded, both maneuver fine and easy. Overloaded with passengers, gear and dead moose both are heavy hogs hard to maneuver.
    I feel strongly both ways.


    AlaskaTrueAdventure/Dennis

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    Default I vote for round boats

    I own both cats and a round rafts and like both for different purposes. In some ways a cat is easier to drive because it tends to go where you point it, as the tubes act a bit like keels to keep it from sliding sideways. With a round boat you have to plan farther ahead in some situations. But the round boat turns faster too, so there are some trade offs with that. And nothing beats a cat when the water starts getting seriously fun.

    For general, all around floating/camping/hunting/fishing, I prefer the round boat because it's easier to assemble, and easier to load the gear pile. Cat frames are complicated and large, and strapping the tubes to them is a bigger chore than plopping down a simple frame on a round boat. If you have a trailer dedicated to just your raft, can leave the boat on it at all times, and all you do is car accessible boat ramps, the cat becomes really easy too. But I generally tear it down and reconstruct at the river's edge, so for me, quick & easy assembly is better.

    As far as sizes go, for 3 people, gear and possibly a moose, I concur with what's been said, an 18' cat or 16' round boat would be fine, and 15'9" is close enough. Gets to be a heavy load though and I prefer lighter and since I don't hunt much 14' is fine for me. Also some blunt nosed 16' cats have nearly the same waterline and carrying capacity as the pointy nosed 18' Aire Leopard, so length isn't everything. Same kind of thing with some round boats; some are narrow with small tubes and lots of rise at the ends so they don't pack as much. Generally features that increase weight capacity reduce whitewater ability and ease of rowing. It's all a bunch of compromises.

    Also, don't trust manufacturer specs on weight capacity. There are no rules on how this measurement is done and some fudge a bunch.

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    Member Roger45's Avatar
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    My gut feeling before I started this thread was a 18 foot Cat, and the leopard was one I was looking at. So far, it looks like a good plac to staart
    "...and then Jack chopped down the beanstock, adding murder and ecological vandalism to the theft, enticement and vandalism charges already mentioned, but he got away with it and lived happily ever after without so much as a guilty twinge about what he had done. Which proves that you can be excused just about anything if you're a hero, because no one asks the inconvenient questions." Terry Pratchett's The Hogfather

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    Member AK Troutbum's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Roger45 View Post
    My gut feeling before I started this thread was a 18 foot Cat, and the leopard was one I was looking at. So far, it looks like a good plac to staart
    Good choice, and one that I'm sure you won't regret.

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    Well your in luck as there does seem to be more of them for sale on Craigs than any other rafts.
    For hunting that sounds like a good way to go. I like smaller rafts for smaller streams, but I'm mostly fishing.

  9. #9

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    Why not rent one of each and see what feels the best. I personally tend to stick with rafts -- not so many parts to deal with and has more flotation. On the other hand for "hair-water" can't beat a cat.

    I have all designs and sizes for my use since this is what I do for a living. So many variables in boats, loads, nature of rivers, air planes-trailers, frames, ect.

    Many places to get a rental or free demos from serious dealers in the Anch. area.

    Good luck!!!

  10. #10
    webmaster Michael Strahan's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Roger45 View Post
    I have been kicking around the idea f getting into the floating world and have a few questions. Adding a motor is the least important quality to me. Being able to take 2 or 3 total, having camping gear (plans on being out 1-2 weeks at a time), and maybe a moose is important...so what size range should I be looking for? Are there specific brands that are better/worse than others? Looking of CL I see them for sale all the time, so if I look at used ones, what do yourecommend that I check/watch out for? Basically, I need a basic education. Thanks in advance for any input.
    Roger,

    This is not an easy question to answer. I would recommend starting by taking a look at our Inflatable Boats pages, including the pages on Catarafts, Round Boats, and the AIRE Product Review page. All of these pages are on this site! And they are new pages, which are being updated this week and next. Please let me know if these pages do not answer most of your questions and I will do my best to fill in the blanks.

    You are wanting a single boat for 2-3 people plus expedition camping gear and the possibility of adding another 600+ pounds of moose. My two recommendations are the AIRE Cougar and the AIRE Super Leopard. Both boats are by special order, and both will haul all that and more.

    The Leopard might do it, but you're going to be floating deeper in the water, which could give you trouble in the low water levels typical of the fall season. I have no hesitation with two people, expedition gear and a moose in the Leopard. But you reach the tipping point when you add that third person, who will typically have 70# of personal gear besides. Keep in mind that a Leopard has about the same load capacity as a 14' self-bailing round boat. The difference is that with the cat you have room to spread out, but in the round boat it all has to be piled up. This gets to be a problem with meat, which should be allowed to ventilate rather than being stacked on top of other meat bags (more on that in our Meat Care pages).

    Another option is Larry Bartlett's Levitator. I was not supportive of the initial design of this boat because the bow and stern were flat to the water, contributing to splash-over and poor performance on choppy water. But Larry emailed me a wireframe drawing of a redesign on that boat, which indicated that he added I think about four inches or so of bow and stern rise (measured from the floor to the bottom of the tubes). That will make a significant performance difference for this boat. The boat is 15' 9" long and weighs 100 lbs. That's a very light weight for a boat this size, and the only way I can figure he's keeping the weight down is with thinner fabric. But he has coated the bottom with urethane, which is an extremely tough and slick material, so at least the bottom should be very tough. The boat has only been out four or five years (don't quote me on that), so long-term durability has yet to be established. But it's certainly worth considering. For reference, a 14' NRS Otter self-bailer weighs 126 lbs. But again, perhaps the reason why the NRS boat is heavier is because the material itself is thicker. I can't speak to that as I don't know the thickness of the Levitator material. The tube fabric on the Otter is 41 oz, with an 1100 denier base cloth. Maybe Larry will write in with the specs on his material... He rates the Levitator capacity at 3,000 lbs.

    Hope it helps!

    BTW, if you are interested in one of the float hunting books, grab one quickly. We are nearly out of stock and will not have any more until reprints are out. The publisher is almost out. We have three or four copies left in the store and then they're gone for some time. Probably months. It has an extensive chapter on boats and accessories, that will certainly be useful for you.

    -Mike
    LOST CREEK COMPANY: Specializing in Alaska hunt consultation and planning for do-it-yourself hunts, fully outfitted hunts, and guided hunts.
    CLICK HERE to send me a private message.
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  11. #11
    Member Birdstrike's Avatar
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    Some brands to look at are SOTAR represented by goeaux who posted above and AIRE & NRS which are sold by Alaska Raft & Kayak. There are other fine manufacturers out there like Avon, Maravia, Jacks Plastic Welding, along with others, but SOTAR, AIRE, and NRS are more popular in AK for various reasons. You will also find cheaper boats. However, the cost of long term ownership might be higher if you have problems down the road.

    Along with ALaska Raft & Kayak locally, check out these suppliers of boats and gear:


    NRS
    Cascade Outfitters
    Clavey
    Down River Equipment

    See ya on the water next year!

  12. #12

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    a couple of considerations:

    1. If whietwater will be your intention more than hunting with heavy loads, a cataraft offers better performance. Two downsides to the cat designs is (#1) the cumbersome frame components and (#2) flotation. frame weight and bulk will matter when fly-in costs are factored in. Flotation will be needed with heavy loads, and cats offer inherently less weight capacity due to its loss of waterline (no center floor to hold air pressure and add weight hauling capacity.

    2. Air charters are becoming less tolerant of cat frames and heavy gear, so consider this when buying an inflatable. The average frame for a cataraft weighs anywhere from 100-175 lbs, which equates to an extra load of comparable body weight to fly IN and OUT of the field. Expect general air taxi costs to increase due to this factor.

    3. Difficulty in setup. Most catarafts require more time and frustration to assemble, so your field patience must match labor required. Also requires more hands-on labor and upkeep.

    IMO, I've gone away from cats altogether for many reasons, but mainly for two reasons: 1) weight and bulk, and 2) loss of carrying capacity. Sure, you can opt for a larger 18' cat with frame vs. a round boat with or without frames, but your total performance should mirror your hunting goals and carrying capacity when the hammer falls. Cats just don't do it for me these days.

    lastly, technology is pushing the hunter markets to consider smarter, less obtrusive float hunting gear. Our Oar Saddle rowing kit for round rafts and canoes, for example, weigh 6.5lbs vs. a traditional rowing frame that weighs up tp 75lbs. Bulk and weights are major factors to balance when choosing to buy new gear for float hunting.

    good luck,

    larry

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    The size and weight of cat frames have been brought up by several of us, so perhaps I should share what I have done on some fly-in trips. In some areas it's pretty easy to find short, straight spruce poles that can be lashed in as frame parts. This certainly takes longer than clamping on another section of aluminum pipe, but if your goal is to save weight wooden poles can be substituted for some things. I've used them mostly to extend a basic frame to a add cargo module, but I have also substituted spruce poles for the lower front to back stringers, foot braces and cross members of traditional cat frames. I've seen pictures of others making their entire frames from available trees found on site, but I've always taken at least a square of four pipes with risers for the oar pins/locks. If you're not in any particular hurry at the put in it might be an option to consider.

  14. #14
    webmaster Michael Strahan's Avatar
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    Larry,

    A few counter-points on catarafts, if I may-

    1. If whietwater will be your intention more than hunting with heavy loads, a cataraft offers better performance. Two downsides to the cat designs is (#1) the cumbersome frame components and (#2) flotation. frame weight and bulk will matter when fly-in costs are factored in. Flotation will be needed with heavy loads, and cats offer inherently less weight capacity due to its loss of waterline (no center floor to hold air pressure and add weight hauling capacity.
    It's important to factor this difference in when you're selecting a cataraft. Generally, a 14.5' round boat will haul about the same amount of weight as an 18' cataraft. That goes out the window if you're running the NRS Grizzly Cataraft or the AIRE Lion, both of which would handle the same load in their 16' model, because of the fatter tubes. But you are correct that the round boats offer a better displacement-to-length ratio. This is especially true of the non-bailers, as I am sure you have seen. I floated a moose across a slough over on the Innoko one year in a 12' NRS Otter self-bailer, and we had four inches of water over the floor. Just two of us in the boat and no gear. A non-bailer would have floated higher and drier. But the greater proportional length of the cat has to be factored in to the pluses and minuses of both boats before a decision can be made that's appropriate to the situation. I tell my clients to "let the river choose the boat".

    Readers who are interested in some comparisons and pros and cons of both types of boats might want to look at our Catarafts Page, located in our Inflatable Boats section in the main part of the site. We also did a product review page on AIRE, which contains some good info on both cats and round boats, if anyone is interested. We plan to add to our product review pages, and are actively looking for folks who want to write them.

    2. Air charters are becoming less tolerant of cat frames and heavy gear, so consider this when buying an inflatable. The average frame for a cataraft weighs anywhere from 100-175 lbs, which equates to an extra load of comparable body weight to fly IN and OUT of the field. Expect general air taxi costs to increase due to this factor.
    This one gets me hot under the collar. Not hot at you, but at some of our pilots and air service folks who 1) don't understand our requirements or 2) change the plan after arrangements are made (this happened to two of my groups this year, with the same air service). Completely unacceptable.

    Alaska hunters have faced this challenge for a long time, and it amazes me that people who make their living flying us and our junk would balk at a large gear pile. That's money in the bank sitting there! I did a guided float for moose and bear one year and it took us six Super Cub loads to get in. Me and one hunter. The pilot was grateful for our business, and he was sitting on a pretty fat wallet at the end! As long as we're paying for the flying, who cares what we bring? We are the customer, and are perfectly willing to pay by the hour for multiple airplane loads. That's precisely why we work out the weight restrictions with the air service well in advance of the hunt. Where the problems come is when the air service fails to keep track of these arrangements, and makes something else up when you arrive with your gear.

    Speaking of working out the weights well in advance, one of my groups did exactly that, several times in as many months ahead of the trip. These guys were REALLY ORGANIZED. It was all written down in multiple email exchanges. Then when they arrived at the air service, the pilot verbally gave them some different numbers and asked them to shave 200# off their load! Say again? This is why we get all this in writing ahead of time. The point is that it's not always the hunters who are at fault.

    I learned long ago that pilots are in the flying business; not the rafting business. Some of the ideas they come up with regarding what will or will not work on the river are, well, astounding. Two years ago a very well-known and respected air service operator told me that they routinely put two guys, a complete camp, and two moose in a 14' round boat with no frame or oars. Just two canoe paddles. This is on a Class II river with a rocky channel that requires constant maneuvering. Really? Are you sure about that? I think they were thinking of their summer floaters who are traveling with little more than food and a light camp... Running the numbers on that little scenario here... figure 400lbs. for the two hunters, 130 lbs. for the boat & related accessories (it has to carry itself too), 200 lbs. of gear, 50 lbs. of salt for capes, and 1400 lbs of meat, antlers and capes and you get 2,180 lbs. in that round boat, which is rated for 1,700 or so. Now put those guys on a shallow, rocky river, and you've got a real problem on your hands. You and I have both been there.

    So to be somewhat direct on this point, I am not concerned about what the air service thinks I need in the field. It's my hunt. Those are decisions I get to make. And I expect to pay them to fly every pound I bring into the field. There is no need for "general air taxi rates" to go up at all; simply charge me for an extra trip if one is needed. What I AM concerned about (and I should be) is that we discuss all of this with the air service well in advance of the hunt, and that I follow the plan precisely, so there are no surprises out on the flight line.

    To end this part on a positive note, the vast majority of the air services I have worked with have offered stellar performance, and have met or exceeded my expectations. Those are the types of air services I use, so this year's issues were very surprising and out of character for the organization in question.

    3. Difficulty in setup. Most catarafts require more time and frustration to assemble, so your field patience must match labor required. Also requires more hands-on labor and upkeep.
    This is sort of a yes and a no. Without a doubt, cat frames are more complex than round boat frames. It still takes me an hour or two to put a Super Leopard together (longer if hunting stories are involved). The confusion and frustration comes when the hunters have not taken time to familiarize themselves with the assembly process. On float hunts I'm not too worried about the time involved in putting one together; we almost always do that on drop-off day when we can't hunt anyway. That way we have a boat ready in the morning, should we need it to access game spotted on the other side of the river. And, depending on the river, we may opt to hunt at the drop point for several days before floating down to the next camp. We did that this year, and saw three legal bulls before we floated to Camp Two.

    As to the upkeep portion, there's really not much of that involved with the cat frames. I usually just leave mine outside all winter and strap them to the tubes next season. We hose 'em off of course, as needed. But that's about it.

    IMO, I've gone away from cats altogether for many reasons, but mainly for two reasons: 1) weight and bulk, and 2) loss of carrying capacity. Sure, you can opt for a larger 18' cat with frame vs. a round boat with or without frames, but your total performance should mirror your hunting goals and carrying capacity when the hammer falls. Cats just don't do it for me these days.

    lastly, technology is pushing the hunter markets to consider smarter, less obtrusive float hunting gear. Our Oar Saddle rowing kit for round rafts and canoes, for example, weigh 6.5lbs vs. a traditional rowing frame that weighs up tp 75lbs. Bulk and weights are major factors to balance when choosing to buy new gear for float hunting.
    Kent Rotchy did an excellent job inventing the Oar Saddle, and you have served an incredibly vital role in keeping it alive. It would have been a great loss to the hunting community if that product had disappeared. In fact, I applaud all your efforts and the risks and investments you've made to challenge the norms and traditional ways. You've got some pretty good stuff there. Your minimalist approach works very well in many places, but for me there are times and places when only an outboard-equipped cat will do. Rivers that, because access points are so far apart, cannot otherwise be hunted. My longest such hunt, recounted here in the forums somewhere, was 180 miles in 14 days. We got our moose, and we saw nobody else on the entire river. That's one of my loves of Alaska, that there are places like that even now.

    -Mike
    LOST CREEK COMPANY: Specializing in Alaska hunt consultation and planning for do-it-yourself hunts, fully outfitted hunts, and guided hunts.
    CLICK HERE to send me a private message.
    Web Address: http://alaskaoutdoorssupersite.com/hunt-planner/
    Mob: 1 (907) 229-4501
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  15. #15

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    Hey Mike hope all is well with you and the ending season-- comes way too fast. So many ways to skin a KAT -- As you know I am a raft, aka "round boat", fan for hunting and and expeditions They both have their place. I Just like the short oars and simple frame for fly in stuff makes me lean that way. 15' raft at 120# and 20# frame will work well in a super cub, 180, ect

    For light loads and fun white water I love my KAT'S.

    Just Goo's opinion, for what it's worth.

    Cheers and safe boating!!

    Goo

  16. #16
    webmaster Michael Strahan's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by goeaux View Post
    Hey Mike hope all is well with you and the ending season-- comes way too fast. So many ways to skin a KAT -- As you know I am a raft, aka "round boat", fan for hunting and and expeditions They both have their place. I Just like the short oars and simple frame for fly in stuff makes me lean that way. 15' raft at 120# and 20# frame will work well in a super cub, 180, ect

    For light loads and fun white water I love my KAT'S.

    Just Goo's opinion, for what it's worth.

    Cheers and safe boating!!

    Goo
    We did the round boat thing this fall and it worked out great, but no way would I have wanted to put two moose in it. We had a little water coming in the bailer holes as it was, with the one moose. We flew in via Super Cub, and they had to roll the boat so the package was long and skinny to get it in the plane, but it was fine. I like a 15' boat at 120# though... we were using an NRS Otter SB and it was 126#, I think. Are you talking about that urethane boat you have? And how thick is the floor (trying to look at capacity)?

    -Mike
    LOST CREEK COMPANY: Specializing in Alaska hunt consultation and planning for do-it-yourself hunts, fully outfitted hunts, and guided hunts.
    CLICK HERE to send me a private message.
    Web Address: http://alaskaoutdoorssupersite.com/hunt-planner/
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    "Dream big, and dare to fail." -Norman Vaughan
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  17. #17

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    Mike I sold the non-bailer which was 80#. The new 40oz. urethane I have is a sb 21" tubes, 15' with a 7" floor around 120#. I agree 2 moose, gear, and 2 hunters would let some water in the bottom. One of the reason I use the non-bailers for that type of hunt.
    We can build the same boat with larger tubes at no extra cost.
    Goo

  18. #18
    Member Heg's Avatar
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    This reminds me of the skiing vs. snowboarding debate that took place in the 90sÖ..Like skiing and snowboarding rafting and catboating both have their limitations and advantages. Unless you are floating similar styles of rivers and specializing in one form of river travel (fishing, whitewater, hunting, etc), you will find both boats have their advantages. In order to fully enjoy what Alaskan rivers have to offer, it is nice to have a quiver of boats. My go to boats are a 13ícat and 16í raft (both Sotars).

    If I am going on a fly-out, multiday road trip, fishing on the Kenai, or doing a mellow day trip with the family, I always choose my raft. I previously owned a 16í cat but never used it after getting the raft. As others have stated, the setup on fly out trips is way quicker than with the cat. Iíve found passengers, especially kids, and gear are more secure in my raft. My raft can float through super shallow water, compared to my cat which often will get hung up in the same water, even with a significantly lighter load. I am also able to slap on a motor, and use it to push me across Paxson and Skilak type lakes. Even though my raft is pretty big, it can take on tight, steep technical water. You have the ability to set a raft up for paddle rafting too, which can be tons of fun.

    With that said, when you start running whitewater, you will love the feeling of surfing a wave in your cat or sending it into a gnarly hole with confidence. You also have the ability to staddle over rocks that you would hang up a raft. Iím a pretty lousy hunter, so I canít comment on a catís advantages.

    It is a big purchase, so make sure you try before you buy.

    Josh

  19. #19

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    Hey Mike, another thought-- we can build a normal self-bailer with the floor welded in, and no holes, as to not let the water in or out. The extra flotation will keep the raft floating much higher than a standard non-bailing or self bailing floor. Just not having the draining holes. This was a premise of mine when I was working with FEATHERCRAFT, the last few years, trying to come up with a light weight hunting pac-raft. Lots of extra air in the floor for more flotation.
    Back in the 70's we would use an electric pump in an ammo can to get the water out from under our "poop-deck" where a bailing bucket would not work.
    You still would have the advantage of extra flotation without the water coming in and add extra weight.
    Another reason for buying a hand made - one at the time custom made, USA or CANADA raft.
    If you have your own thoughts of want you want we can build it to your specs.

    Guess its the same reason I build my own rifles. To each their own!!

    Goo

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