Introduction: Go Rafting (on the Cheap!)

Below is a set of guidelines for making a raft on the cheap. Our version cost about $80 but it was shared between three people which, for the experience, was quite good! (Keep in mind, this price was because most things were scrounged fo' free)

Still not sold?

Well to help you with determining if this instructable would be fun for you to complete I have assembled a checklist of suggested prerequisites that you can use to evaluate your match:

- Have you ever wanted to escape to the great outdoors like Huck Finn?

- Is it summer?

- Do you love adventures?

- Are you poor?

- Is there an unexplored river in your area?

- Have you taken a bet to make a raft and use it for a day from your friends?

Hopefully after this self assessment, you have realized that rafting on the cheap is for you!

Safety Stuff:

- Please look into local boating laws in your area (just call or email a local marina or police dept. and they should be able to set you straight) to figure out if it is legal to be where you will be on a homemade raft. In most places personal watercraft are tolerated very well and you will not need any permit or experience to get started adventuring!

- Wear a lifejacket at all times (as you will be able to see, we wore ours even while the raft was being assembled). This is a no brainer; what you will be making is a cheap, semi-disposable raft and going down a river on it.............tons of stuff can go wrong.

- Let a landlubber know about your adventure (and I don't just mean bragging, let them know the details so that an alarm will be raised quickly if something bad happens. You should brag a little though)

Cool, now let's get down to business...

Step 1: Materials

The materials for the raft are quite simple and you will probably be able to find most of them lying about (that's what we did)!

1) Plywood - We decided to make our raft 6' by 8' which required us to buy 1.5 full sheets of plywood (we got one sheet cut in half lengthwise at the store for free leaving us with a 2' x 8' piece and a 4' x 8' piece of plywood for assembly. The plywood was 3/4 inch thick and was pretty much the cheapest type we could find.

2) Two-by-fours - We got three of these (8' long), again the cheapest ones possible... pine I think.

3) Wood screws - We used a bunch of these. As long as they are long enough to attach plywood to 2x4 they will work.

4) Sealant - This is the waterproofing stuff that comes out of a spray can, we got it so that we would not have to buy pressure treated lumber which is expensive and unecessary for this project. Rust Oleum might work as well but I have not tried it out yet.

5) Rope - I have no idea just how much of this stuff we used but it was a lot. Have at least 80' of it. We just got some cheap cord from Wal-Mart and used old climbing rope for the hand holds/perimeter roping.

6) Bungee Cord - This stuff may be considered optional to the plans but it served us well. We had about 5' of raw cordage just lying around that we used. If you don't have the stuff just lying around, pick up one of those "bucket o' bungees" thing from your local hardware store and you should be set!

7) Free Inflatables - Every family should have a bunch of these leftover from their child-rearing days so just talk to neighbors and friends and scrounge what you can. Minor leaks are okay because they can be fixed!

8) Bought Inflatables - Once you are convinced that there aren't any more free inflatable anythings in a three block radius of your house, you will have to cave and buy some. Our group was able to find some nice $1.50 inflatable lounge beds at walmart and got a bunch!

9) Spray Paint - Come on, admit it, half of the reason you are building this thing is so that you can brag to your friends and wave to people on the river banks and such so why not make your raft awesome looking? If you are not artistically inclined in the least bit, get one of your arty friends over and let him/her go to town on the raft!

10) Duct Tape - Apart from being awesome, this stuff will also patch cheap vinyl floaties like none other. and it is cheaper than a patch kit. Bring a roll.

11) Long aluminum pipe - This will be for your venetian pole. We had a 12' one and it worked fine! Try and get one with a diameter of about 1.25 inches as this will fit most comfortably in your hands. The piping will almost certainly be the most expensive part of your project if you buy it new so try and find it used (this can be tough but it is manageable, we got ours from a machine shop for free with the promise that we would bring it back after the trip).

12) Various implements of mobility - These again can and should be scrounged. We used two cheap, three foot long, plastic paddles but they broke within 4 hours of use so I would suggest using hardier things.

13) Trash Bags - These are the cheapest dry-bags available. To use, just put stuff in them, push out all of the excess air, tie them off and shove them into your backpack. They might let in a little bit of water if your raft gets fully submerged for some reason but are a good way to keep spare clothes and towels with you.

14) Friends - These are important, friends provide monetary backing to your project, help with building, and company on the raft. Choose them wisely and you will be rewarded greatly!

Step 2: Assembling the Deck

Form the deck by laying the 2' x 8' piece of plywood next to the 4' x 8' piece of plywood to for a 6' x 8' piece.

Lay the three 2x4s on top of the deck in parallel with the 6' side of the platform. Put one on each end and one in the middle. There should be a foot of each 2x4 sticking out of either side of the raft... these extra bits will make for great places to attach rope to later! (What you will be looking by this step is actually the bottom of the raft as it will be flat on the top and have the 2x4s on the bottom)

Take screws and affix the 2x4s to the plywood. This should be done from the 'bottom up' where the screw goes through the 2x4s first leaving the head sunk in. This way, if the screws are too long, as ours were, and pop through the plywood, you can just file them down without the risk of popping your inflatables.

Use as many screws as you deem necessary for a sturdy raft. We sure did!

Next Drill holes wherever you will foresee needing to make a handhold or a tiedown. Don't worry about making too many holes - your raft is a sturdy thing. The diagram of where we drilled is shown below.

Next take your spray can full of waterproofing spray and soak the bottom of the raft (the side the 2x4s are attached to) in the hopes of waterproofing the plywood. (It should be said here that cheap plywood, in general, highly disagrees with water and will start to fall apart fairly quickly when wet) You can spray the top too if you wish. We used one spray can per side.

Finally pull out your decorating materials and go to town on every part of the raft you want!

Step 3: Add Floatation

This part can be as simple or as hard as you want it to be. To add the inflatables to our raft we flipped it upside down, blew up the inflatables, layered them on until we thought we had enough, and started lashing.

Our particular raft used four inflatable lounges, one inflatable rowboat, and one snow tube!

To attach the lounges, we essentially wove them together by putting multiple ropes over and under them in an alternating fashion. Every time the rope made it from one end of the raft to the other, we tied it off on one of the holes and then started a new 'weave'.

To lash on the bigger items, we just threaded the ropes through the handles of the items, tied them off and that was enough.

Again, every raft will be a bit different but as long as you use good judgment with the amount of ropes and inflatables needed, you will be fine. (Our logic was: the rowboat was for two people, the snowtube was for one person, the lounges could each hold one skinny beautiful model-type, so we three should be fine combining them!)

Step 4: Add Ropes and Bungees

This step is also fairly open ended. Basically put a rope wherever you want a handhold or tiedown or bungee.

The diagram below shows where all of the ropes not used to tie down flotation devices were.

Essentially, we installed a big thick climbing rope around the perimeter of the raft and then we put four hand holds/tie down loops pointing in the cardinal directions towards the center of the raft. These holds also became catch alls when we attached things to them with carabiners during the trip as well.

Additionally the group looped a bunch of bungee cord around a grid of holes to make a very useful hold-all thing. The cord was strung through two lines of holes in a sewing-esque fashon to yield a bunch of parallel bungee cord lines on the top deck of the raft that stuff could be put under for a snug hold.

Step 5: Make Venetian Pole

This step is very simple. Cut the dowel into two 1.5 inch long sections. Place one on each end of the pipe and hammer it inside for a friction fit.

As mentioned previously, the diameter of the wooden dowel should only be slightly more than the pipe's inside diameter otherwise this step will prove near impossible to do.

A fall back option could be to duck tape the ends of the pipe very snugly but I woudn't trust the watertight seal to last long. (The seal is quite important because it will make the pole float and it will be harder to lose and easier to use!)

** This pole is by no means necessary for the raft's success but it worked wonders for our group! If you haven't noticed already, the raft is not hydrodynamic at all and so paddling doesn't help with propulsion too much. The pole on the other hand can be used for pushing the raft forward and keeping the vessel free of rocks and other dangerous phenomena. Furthermore the pole can also be used to defend your raft against pirates (Somalian?) if need be.**

Step 6: Christen and Test!

Once you have assembled everything the boat needs to be christened! Traditionally one would break a wine bottle on a vessel's hull but, seeing as the hull can be popped and also seeing as you are trying to do this on the cheap, a high five will suffice!

But wait! - you are not done with the christening yet. You must also name your vessel. The naming is very important and should be done with great foresight. Accordingly, our raft was named Duke Nukem

Now that all of the landwork has been finished, you must test your raft out on the open sea (or lake)! Being from Milwaukee, our group decided to break-in the craft in the greatest testing ground in the area: Lake Michigan!

During the test, we noted how well the raft floated, how easily it tipped (it was surprisingly stable...impossible to tip while standing on the deck) and where any leaks were. We found a fairly large one in the yellow rowboat and fixed it by covering the hole in a few pieces of duck tape. This worked fine!

Step 7: Shove Off!

Now is the time to go conquer whichever waterway you choose!

Safety First

- Get a map of the body of water you will be on and talk to people who are familiar with it to get an idea of possible barriers to travel. Take the maps with you in case you get lost (this doesn't seem possible on a river but it is very easy to think you are in one place and actually be in another)

- Wear lifejackets! - Again, this is a raft, not a yacht. You built it as cheaply as possible and it uses only childrens floatation devices for buoyancy.... to be quiet frank, no matter how well you built it, it could sink at any time and you should be ready for that.

- Tell somebody when, where, how, and how long your trip will be. This takes five minutes max and could potentially save a life if something terrible happens.

Things to consider

- Can you lift the raft easily? - The raft will get much heavier once the plywood is wet so keep portaging to a minimum and rafting to a maximum

- Will there be rapids on the body of water of your choice? - our raft held up quite well to Class 1 and 2 rapids but I wouldn't recommend it for anything more, especially because it is extremely hard to maneuver once it gets moving. Also keep in mind that rivers become more dangerous and faster flowing after heavy rainfall.

- Will there be rocks and debris in the body of water of your choice? - again, our raft held up very well, even going straight over a few jagged, unavoidable rocks without damage but this should still be considered.

- Don't expect to go anywhere fast. - It took us 11.5 hours to raft 9 miles downstream. (This was with paddling and polling and even pulling the raft along by swimming.) But hey, this is rafting! you are supposed to take your time.

- Have an end goal. - This will allow you to plan a pick up and celebration ceremony (our goal was to hit Rock Bottom and eat dinner there- Rock Bottom is a conveniently named restaurant in Milwaukee's downtown that overlooks the Milwaukee river.)

Some things to pack:

- Towels and clothes (in trash bags to keep dry)

- Food - whatever you want, just make sure it is easy to prepare and easy to store watertightly

- Drink - whatever you like! Take a lot of liquid though because even though you will be surrounded by water, you will still get dehydrated quite quickly

- Duck Tape - this stuff will patch plastic tubes just as well as anything else, but for much cheaper. (If the tubes you are using are rubber, a true patch kit would be recommended as rubber is much more elastic than the plastic used in cheap flotation items)

- Sun Block and Sunglasses - this stuff is optional only if you prefer to be burnt to a crisp.

- Venetian pole - don't forget this, you made it specifically to use with the raft remember?

- Identification, Whistle, money, cellphone etc... - for safety reasons and the proverbial plan B

LAST BUT NOT LEAST: Have fun! you have just made a raft for as close to as cheaply as possible. The raft will not last as long as a traditional boat but it will work fine for a week if you treat it right! Also, keep in mind, this instructable should only be a jumping off point for your own ideas, the possibilities are endless!

Here are some more ideas for future modifications:

- Anchor
- Sail
- Cannon
- Built-in chairs
- Umbrella
- Roof
- 26" rims

the list goes on....

Comments

author
buck2217 (author)2015-07-01

cool, I love cheap ( just not as much as I love free)

author
kristenbaird91 (author)2014-08-06

So i am a couple of years behind on this, but once you had collected all the materials how long did it actually take you guys to construct?

author
chipper35 (author)2011-12-20

....and an exceedingly well written instructable to boot!!

author
chipper35 (author)2011-12-20

11.5 hours to go 9 miles downstream......nobody died and nobody ended up in the ER.....I'd called that adventure a major success!!!!

author
wusufasa (author)2011-09-14

Did you guys have an anchor or something to stop you from drfiting? Thinking of building this but want to double it up as a floating platform to swim of or play king of the hill with.

author
willdeh2 (author)2011-07-24

This reminds me of the adventure I just finished. Three of my friends and I just finished a trip down the Mississippi River. We started in Minneapolis and ended in New Orleans. We had the idea of building a raft or homemade pontoon but we found a real pontoon for cheap. We have heard many stories of people constructing homemade rafts and taking them down the river, but it is slightly more involved than your process :) ... Very cool though, and good job for actually doing it.

If you're more interested you can check out the blog. willdeh2.wordpress.com

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author
SIRJAMES09 (author)2011-07-22

using 4 plastic barrels & building a fram around them would make a raft that will maybe out last you. this is something that you could use on a yearly basis....it could be anchored somewhere to swim from or it can be used to float down the river or acoss a lake....
Not to mention that using 4 plastic barrels would be tons more stable. :)

you guys look like you had fun doing this, so that's the main thing...

author
okayknockout (author)SIRJAMES092011-07-23

Plastic barrels will definitely last longer. If you want this to be a reusable raft, I'd suggest using marine plywood that has been extensively waterproofed. Our particle board + spray on sealer could only realistically last about a week in the water...

author
SIRJAMES09 (author)2011-07-22

TY guys for sharing & giving this old man something to smile about.
been a long tiime since I had fun like you did with this raft. was a very enjoyable read, & yes it gives me plenty of ideas on how to build my own raft...

TY again for sharing.

author
okayknockout (author)SIRJAMES092011-07-23

I'm glad you liked it! It was very fun for us too and the story actually earned us free dinner at the restaurant we ended up at!

author
SIRJAMES09 (author)2011-07-22

you're funny! If nothing else, I'm enjoying just reading this. :)

But for the record, I AM gonna build a raft one day....

author
alexgeorge1998 (author)2010-06-30

would Styrofoam work?

author

yes, i made one like that, but use insulation foam. its alot more bouyant, and you can get it at your local lumber yard.

author

So did you just spray the foam over the whole bottom of the raft? If so, has it held well to the raft? I'm not very familar with this material.

author
Turtledude_1 (author)2010-12-19

Strangely, the '26" rims' part gives me an idea... Raft+bike=paddle boat of some sort? Or you could just put wheels on it and push it around, so you wouldn't have to carry it

author
Turtledude_1 (author)2010-12-19

i think i might make mine with a few water tight 50gal. plastic barrels. Pontoon Style! :)

author
Cleveland Motley (author)2010-03-24

 Excellent raft. Your foresight, frugalness, and design  was topnotch. 
I once rafted down a river in a Reno NV sort of spur of the moment on one of those inflatable lounges.
It was difficult to keep my drink dry, some other people came barreling past me on inflatable mattresses.  While expensive to buy, everybody has one and can be borrowed. They are usually built much stronger than even rowboats, and are generally much larger. Also keg shells work pretty good too.
Thanks for the instructable. nice work.

author
gabo_ftw (author)2009-08-30

Nice raft! hope you can improve it! What do you think about using it at the sea?

author
BgRdDragon (author)2009-05-26

you said add a instructable on how to add a sail,cannon,etc

author
okayknockout (author)BgRdDragon2009-05-31

I said that you could, but we never did. I have some ideas about how to do all of the modifications but I won't publish an instructable until I have done some because then I could work out the inevitable kinks...

author
lil jon168 (author)okayknockout2009-06-11

potatoe cannon

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BgRdDragon (author)okayknockout2009-06-01

that would make sense

author
lil jon168 (author)2009-06-11

/ive got one ove those boats there cool

author
mash4077 (author)2009-05-01

thats awesome it's just like vivala bam!!!

author
lemonie (author)2009-04-22

I like it - and it works too! You should put one of the pictures from step 7 at the beginning to show it off. L

author
okayknockout (author)lemonie2009-04-22

thanks, will do...

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