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.



    • IoT Challenge

      IoT Challenge
    • Woodworking Contest

      Woodworking Contest
    • Classroom Science Contest

      Classroom Science Contest

    21 Discussions


    5 years ago on Introduction


    4 replies

    Reply 5 months ago

    I’m a white water rafter . We forward row everything unless it’s small volume and super technical. Big volume is awesome on a forward row . Ferry angle is key to everything rafting . I think another name for forward rowing is portague or something like that .


    You just don't want to row!

    There are several satisfactory ways to accomplish this.

    First, is teach somebody else to row.That will get you off the hook until they get tired of it. Best way I've found s to set them atop the gear pile behind me and demonstrate what the oar strokes do. Pull on the left/right. push on the left/right, push/pull on both oars. Then acquaint them with what the current does to the boat and how to ferry across currents, spin the boat, take a wave, or get you over to a good fishing spot(!)

    Second, is learn to like it. I'm in my 8th decade, been playing in the water all my life, and other than occasionally showing off, I haven't really learned this. Adopting a "Servant's Heart" will make you into everybody's hero and mentor.

    Third, is to row with those 3-bladed oars, put out by Evinrude, Mercury, Suzuki and Honda. They are easy, if noisy. Sailers call them "The Iron Wind."

    As for navigation, everything I know about rivers I learned before I was 10 years old, playing in a creek about 3 feet wide. Toss in a stick and see where the current takes it. The rest is intuitive and you'll figure it out.

    Oh yes! Despite what you've been told, there exists one foolish question; "Do I have to wear a life jacket?" The answer is "Yes!" Even when wading past your ankles, you'd better consider it. Up to your knees, I'll be all over you like stink. We know of too many ways that moving water kills. And even an Olympian will tell you they can't swim in the stuff where WE go! Every drowning is unexpected. But every drowning is so simple, looking back. Learn everything you can about RIVER rescue, so your trip doesn't necessitate a "recovery." That really ruins your day ... believe it.


    Reply 3 years ago

    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.


    Reply 4 years ago on Introduction

    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.


    8 years ago on Introduction

    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.

    1 reply

    8 years ago on Introduction

    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.


    9 years ago on Introduction

    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!


    10 years ago on Introduction

    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.

    2 replies

    Reply 10 years ago on Introduction

    I made mine in an hour once I had my materials. For me it was a no brainer, Under $200 in materials, thanks to the OP for this idea.


    Reply 10 years ago on Introduction

    and I forgot to add I used 6061 aluminum pipe and fittings from ebay 6 bucks a pop.


    10 years ago on Introduction

    you can get the pipe couplings at fastenal, and the offset for you foot bracket can be bent by an electrician on a chicago style or greenlee 555, simple 4 bend saddle. I added extra hypolon under the pipe fittings to prevent wear. Also when using the steel fittings with the stainless set screw I recommend a light coat of grease to keep the gulding down from the dissimilar types of metals


    11 years ago on Introduction

    first off nice job! I'm am going to replicate this project but I have a question. In your opinion do you all think that 6061-t6 pipe in 1-1/4" will be strong enough. I have a local shop that I can get it from although its more expensive I would like to save weight. is there a big difference in strength between the two? I will be using the same fittings. what would you guys use, aluminum or steel? same diameter tube. (without cost as a deciding factor) thanks


    11 years ago on Step 6

    I just made myself a frame. Awesome! I wanted my side rails to be longer than the 8 feet max pipe length available in Home Depot. Maybe you can get 1 5/8 pipe in longer lengths at a specialty store, but I found another solution: In the fencing aisle, they sell a sleeve that is meant to join two smaller top rails for fences. With a little hammering, these will fit flush inside the 1 5/8 pipe that you're using for frames, making a smooth join. Don't center the sleeve evenly between the two pipes; this would put the crimp right under the join. This should be stronger than the rest of the pipe, but use it at your own risk.


    12 years ago on Introduction

    Looks pro. Great job documenting, too. I'd love to see some action shots when you get a chance to try it out!

    1 reply
    big dutchnagutron

    Reply 11 years ago on Introduction

    few tighten the fit between t-fitting and pipe, slip raft (repair) fabric in and under the T fitting, it snugs it up. NRS sells end plugs for female opening at side tubes....or run them long and add crutch style end caps. Consider putting (approx) 18" x 18" corner flat pieces on all corners--use diamond plate or plywood, to make step location or place to strape your ammo can, or first aid kits, etc.


    11 years ago on Step 1

    Very helpful topic. Made a row farme very successfully. F.Y.I -- Bought SLIP ON FITTINGS and Aluminum pipe(which is much better than steel pipe) on It is cheap and best. ebay store name is EZsMART