How to Build a River Raft Frame





Introduction: How to Build a River Raft Frame

Why spend the big money on a raft frame? You can save a lot of money and build a comparable frame with as many options as you desire! Our cost was $340 and a comparable frame is over $500. The weight wasn't much more.

Step 1: Material Required

The following items are needed for a complete raft frame: galvanized steel pipe, QuickFit clamps, oar mounts, oar locks, and oar lock springs.

We are using QuickFit clamps from and galvanized steel from Home Depot wich is used to build chain link fences. The oar mounts, locks, and springs can be purchased from or

The completed weight is only a few pounds more than a comparable aluminum frame on the market.

Time spent to build the frame depends on how you choose to cut the galvanized pipe. Other than cutting, this frame assembles pretty quickly. Our kids thought it was a lot of fun assembling the frame.

Step 2: Additional Items for Assembling Frame

Items needed: tape measure, marker, allen wrench. One of the following items for cutting galvanized pipe: hax saw, pipe wrench, or power saw.

Step 3: Selecting Your Pipe

We purchased galvanized pipe from both Home Depot and Lowe's. We wanted the 1.660 chain link line post and not the top rail tube.

The top picture shows the pipe from Lowe's and the bottom pipe is from Home Depot. The price in our market was the same at both stores; however Lowe's pipe was a lighter gauge and seemed to compress more then we liked when the QuickFit clamp was tightened on the pipe.

Home Depot's 16 gauge in our market is what we are recommending because the pipe doesn't compress down when the hex nut on the QuickFit clamp is tightened down.

Step 4: Selecting You Fittings

We went with FrontierPlay's QuickFit clamps because they were easy to order and have been tested on raft frames.

Orignally we built our frame with 90 degree elbows for all 4 corners but ended up going away from the elbows because they cost more and are bulky.

The best item is the QuickFit T clamp ($9.95) because it's smaller, better priced and accomplishes what we wanted: a low profile frame which wasn't heavy, yet was durable with easy to add options.

Step 5: How Many Pipes and Fittings Do You Need?

Believe it or not this is the hardest step.

You now have to decide what size of frame you want to build. Are you building a frame for a day trip, overnighter or extended river trip? Do you want a place for a cooler, dry box, drop bag, etc? Will the rower sit on the cooler or seat?

The nice part about these frames is they are interchangeable with Northwest River Supplies ( aluminum frames and NRS's patented LoPro fittings (shown in picture). This option allows you to add fishing accessories, foot bars, and seat bars.

We recommend cutting your cross bars the same length as NRS's frame options so if you want to add a foot or seat bar it's easy to interchange.

If you really want to simplify the process FrontierPlay ( offers a "Build Your Own" package option where you can select all the features you can imagine. It's really cool and worth checking out.

Step 6: Assembling Your Frame

You now have your fittings and pipe and you are ready to get started.

You will have two rails ($8.75 each) which rest on the lateral tubes of your raft. We went with the 8' posts because the rails are the longest part of the frame. The cross bars can be shorter and cost us $6.98 each, you will need as many as your uses require.

There are two key frame measurements: center-to-center and flat length. Calculate the center-to-center measurement by taking the width (outer dimension) of your raft and subtracting the diameter of one tube.

We are showing two pictures. One picture places the frame directly on top of the tube using the above directions. We prefer to extend the frame a little pass the center which creates an easier walking platform and more frame surface area for securing your items.

For flat length, measure longwise along the relatively flat surface of a tube or pontoon; this measurement will indicate how long your frame can be.

We mentioned earlier that we recommend building the frame so it will inter-link with NRS accessories. NRS's frames comes in the lengths of 54", 60", 66", and 72". When cutting your cross bars subtract 1 3/4" from the NRS frame width. Example: for a 60" frame cut your cross bars at 58 1/4".

These pictures show a NRS foot bar being used with this frame.

Step 7: Putting the Frame Together

You have now made all your pipe cuts and you are ready to start connecting your rails, fittings, and cross bars.

Slide how many fittings you plan on using onto each rail. Lay the rail on a flat surface and estimate where you'll want your fittings and then tighten the hex screw.

When one rail is complete do the exact same thing with the other rail. It helps to line up the second rail next to the completed rail. Tighten the hex screw in each fitting.

Make sure the fittngs are tightened on a flat surface to ensure the cross bars will line up with each other.

Now separate the two rails and insert the cross bars into the QuickFit clamps. Once all the cross bars are in place go back and tighten the hex screw.

You now have a raft frame. You can measure your cooler and or dry box to determine where the cross bars need to be located. I usually at this point crab the cooler or dry box and adjust the bars based on the actual fit of the cross bar. Make sure you leave just enough room to get a strap between the cooler/dry box and the cross bar.

Step 8: Accessorize Your Frame

You now need to add the oar mount (69.95 pair). Placement for the oar mount is a personal preference.

It is our recommendation to purchase a NRS foot bar (69.95) because it's solid and won't rotate like a foot bar made out of QuickFit clamps can.

We have attached a picture of a foot bar made out of QuickFit clamps. We like this option if the bar is resting directly against a solid item such as a cooler or dry box. The bar won't rotate and works great for securing a cooler or dry box.

Step 9: Oar Mount Options

You're almost done!

Now you need to decide what type of oar mount sytem you want to go with. You can go with an oar lock or a pin and clip system.

Pros vs. Cons of Open Oarlocks:

Pros: Oars slide easily up and back down the oarlock when pulling oar in to avoid obstacles. Easy to re-position mid-rapid if "popped out" of oarlock. Ability to feather blade (when not using oar rights).

Cons: More expensive. Oar can be completely released from oarlock if enough force is applied. Has more "play" which can be noisy.

Pros vs. Cons of Pin and Clips:

Pros: Holds oar and blade very securely. Less expensive. Hard to lose oar if oar stirrup is used. Quiet System.

Cons: Oars can be difficult to pull in when approaching obstacles. Hose clamps can damage oar shaft. Feathering blade is not possible.

Step 10: Final Key Accessories to Add

With our frame we used four 6' 1" web straps for our cooler and dry box support with 8 strap sliders which was about $10.

If you want to really accessorize your frame, add the NRS cooler mount and NRS dry box mount ($65).

If you want to add comfort add the NRS seat bar ($95) and seat. There are two types of seats you can add. One is small and durable and easier to stack mutiple frames on top of each other for traveling ($66). The other seat is very comfortable and can get in the way a little more when transporting a lot of items on a vehicle. If you want the comfort, the bigger seat is worth the money $90).

Step 11: Congratulations!

Wow, you built your own frame and it's really easy to add or adjust as you wish.

Now get out of town and away from work and enjoy your new frame on your favorite river.

Have fun and enjoy!

Step 12: Improve Your Frame

If you want your frame really solid so it can't be taken apart go to Lowe's and buy Plumbing Contact Adhesive Sealant which is a clear substance (looks like shoe goe). Place this material around the outside edge of the T-clamp. Looks really good and holds extremely well.

We only found the need to use this material on our cross bar being used to hold a fishing thigh bar. The bar would rotate from the leverage placed on the thigh bar.



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    pushing is pretty but it ain't rowing. :) I use both a canoe and a raft, depending on the river. Canoes let you go places a raft won't go and vice versa.

    That's called forward rowing, or pushing... of course you can, but once you try pulling the oars you will see a huge difference in the amount of power you can apply.

    what size oar mounts did you use?

    One of these days I'm gonna put together that Dual Outrigger Indonesian Fishing Canoe with the inboard gasoline motor and triangle sail and post it here.



    Has anyone besides me had difficulty in contacting FrontierPlay? I ordered parts from them four days ago and have had no confirmation on my order. They have not returned my multiple calls or answered any e-mail. I don't know if my order went through or not. I can't even cancell the order (if they received it) to replace it with NRS fittings. I believe I'll stick with NRS after this.

    Hey this is an awesome guide for building a frame for a raft. My wife and I are looking into making something similar for our little sevylor fishing raft. I was thinking PVC since it will be mostly calm water with our little boat. I would be grateful for any input some people might have. Thanks!

    Why not go to and order a a 3 bay basic fitting frame for $410.. Aluminum pipe, 6063 1-1/4", mag-alum fittings, anodized pipe, light-weight, and professional service. Whats your time worth.