Two things affect your experience on a river trip: the difficulty of the rapids and the type of boat you are in when you go through those rapids.
On our trips, we take four different types of boats:
Here's what they all have in common:
1. Tough, durable materials - all of our boats are specifically designed for whitewater rafting (and bumping into rocks). They are made from burly, rugged composite materials and can withstand a lot of abuse. Ours are made from rubber (hypalon), others are made from plastic (urethane); we carry a complete patch kit and can make on-river repairs if we need to, (rare).
2. Multiple air chambers - all of our boats have multiple, independent air chambers, so even if the fabic isn't burly enough, the boat won't sink if it gets punctured. Most rafts have at least 5 chambers.
3. Self-bailing - all of our boats are self-bailing, which makes them much safer and more comfortable. Self-bailing rafts have inflatable floors that have drain holes so the floor of the raft "floats" and any water that splashes in, drains out through the perimeter holes. It is a simple innovation that only took us many years to figure out.
And here's a brief primer on each type:
aka: Gear boat, princess boat, lounger
Size: 16 to 18 feet
Carries: You plus 1 to 4 friends (including your guide)
Powered by: A guide using two oars
Crew qualifications: None (talkativity is a plus)
You need to: Know how to relax
Known for: Being stable (and having snacks)
Only in an oar raft: Can you put your feet up
Pro-guest tip: Don’t sit on the bow of the raft, especially if it is windy,
aka: paddle boat, party boat
Size: 14 feet
Carries: You plus 4 to 6 friends (including your captain)
Powered by: You and your crew-mates using paddles (and steered by your guide who, in this case, is called a “captain” and also uses a paddle)
Crew qualifications: Trust (whimsicality is welcome)
You need to: Be a team-player and know right from left
Known for: Being on the edge (and laughter)
Only in a paddle raft: Can you play charades while you are rafting
Pro-guest tip: Appreciate the chemistry with your guide (and avoid asking questions in the middle of a rapid)
aka: Hybrids, Jackalopes
Size: 14 feet
Carries: you plus 1 to 5 friends (including your guide)
Powered by: You and your crew-mates using paddles AND your guide who uses oars, (hence the name).
Crew qualifications: Versatility; gusto is appreciated
You need to: Know forwards from backwards
Known for: Being there when needed (and having energy)
Only in a combo: Can you feel secure and bold at the same time
Pro-guest tip: Embrace, enhance, and appreciate the chemistry with your guide
aka: Duckies, Divorce boats (doubles)
Size: 8 – 11 feet
Powered by: You (or you and the most important other person in your life - and no guide) with a double-bladed paddle.
Crew qualifications: Independence; plus pluck (and/or luck)
You need to: Be comfortable in the water (or really good at paddling)
Known for: Being in strange places (and having swimmers)
Only in a duckie: We’ve seen everything
Pro-guest tip: Practice in slow water at camp (and practice your self-rescue before you need it)
So, to re-cap:
"Oar" is a noun and "row" is the corresponding verb; you row with oars (plural)
"Paddle" is a noun and is also the corresponding verb; you paddle with a paddle (singular)
(You can't "row" with a "paddle" and you can never "oar")
And here are some other types of boats we see on rivers:
Dories - Hard-hulled (usually wood), decked-in, whitewater-specific boats that are rowed. These are the bridge between the crude wooden row boats (pre-WWII) and our modern rubber rafts (WWII surplus). Because they are more fragile than rubber rafts, their use is pretty much restricted to deep-channeled rivers like the Colorado in the Grand Canyon and the Main Salmon.
Drift boats - Hard-hulled (usually aluminum), open-decked boats that are rowed. These are the traditional inland fishing boats common on many rivers of the west. They provide a stable fishing platform and can hold their place against the current (good for fishing), but they can't carry very much gear and they sink if they tip over (not good for us).
Kayaks - Hard-hulled (usually plastic), closed-deck, single-person boats that are paddled with a double-bladed paddle. They require the paddler to be able to "roll" (right oneself after tipping over) because the kayaker is fairly securely attached to the kayak. [We occasionally allow experienced kayakers to join us on our trips].
Canoes - Hard hulled (aluminum of plastic), open-decked, single or double person boats that are paddled with a single-blased paddle. The original river and lake craft; they are great on flat water, less so when there is current, even less so when there are rocks.
Catarafts - Soft-hulled (rubber or urethane), pontoon-tubed boats that are rowed. Very common on whitewater rivers because they are easy (and fun) to row and because they are forgiving. They can't carry as much gear as our oar rafts, so their use is limited primarily to non-commercial trips where there are typically more rafts in a group.
(Paddle and combo; oar by request) (Combo; oar by request) (Oar and combo) (Combo and paddle) Oar, paddle, combo,