Rigging a raft for a multi-day river trip is an art every bit as much as rowing and river running. Unfortunately, many guide wannabes are inept at the skill, producing behemoths of tangled ropes and straps that come undone as soon as the first wave crosses the bow. And when that same boat flips in Lava’s ledge hole, the result is a junkyard of debris that settles to the bottom of Lake Mead.
One key is to take your time in the rigging process. This will ensure a package fit for rowing, while giving you the upper hand in the rigging game. Whether you’re at the put-in or breaking camp, load your boat as slowly as you can. That way your buddies will end up taking more stuff. Although it is a time-honored tradition to try and pawn gear off on other boats, eventually you’ll be faced with a pile of gear that needs rigging. The jumbled pile of rope scenario can be avoided by following a few simple guidelines.
The Value of D-rings
Proper D-ring placement is integral to solid rigging. If your raft doesn’t come equipped with enough of them, add more. Although it can be expensive to retrofit a raft with D-rings ($15 a pop plus glue and time), they open the doors to more rigging options. You can never have too many D-rings. And add some low on the inside so you don’t have to tie your gear to floor lacing. If you do add D-rings, make sure to do so correctly. D-rings are the weakest points in any rigging system, recounting horror stories of flipped rafts whose rigging pulled out at D-rings. Water doesn’t pull on the straps carrying the load, it pulls on the anchors, or D-rings. They’ll come off before the straps break. To add them to your inflatable, he advises cleaning the material thoroughly and using a two-part glue for greater bonding strength.
Rigging to D-rings
When securing the frame, use a minimum of six anchor points and camstraps (more for catarafts) that are the proper length for the task. Don’t use a 12-foot strap when a three-footer will do the job. Make sure the strap is long enough, however, for an extra wrap around the frame to provide slippage. Bader advises using 1.5-inch camstraps instead of one-inchers for securing the frame. They give you that much more extra strength. When rigging gear, try not to loop straps through D-rings already securing the frame. As well as making it difficult to slide a strap under, the frame is already applying torque to the D-ring. Why add more?
Hail to Hoopie
Even if you’re a cam junkie, take a netbag full of rope, or hoopie, along for tying in odds and ends. Rope is less expensive (a full range of cams can easily top $300) and more versatile. It also causes less remorse when you lose a tie-down to someone else’s strap supply at the end of the trip. If you’re a camaholic, protect your arsenal by color-coding the buckles beforehand. When rigging, half-hitch the end of each strap in case of buckle failure.
Whether you use rope or camstraps, always rig your equipment to minimize entrapment potential, and daisy chain excess line with half hitches. Most paddlers prefer camstraps for rigging and I loop each strap around the frame to minimize the risk of it falling into the river during loading. Sediment-laden rivers and dusty roads of the West can contaminate the spring mechanism within the cam buckle. Make sure you have cleaned each spring thoroughly and lubricated with a Teflon spray.
Other kayakers prefer the hoopie approach. Cams are a little more restricting. It’s also nice for last-minute tie-downs. Although typical hoopie bags have ropes of varying materials, diameters, colors and strength, make sure everything you use is in good shape and able to withstand the force of a flip. If you do use rope, make sure to tie proper quick-release knots. Many a guide has slapped hand to forehead at the end of the day trying to untie a three-inch-diameter knot carefully crafted by an anonymous helper during the rigging process. Perhaps the best knot for rigging is the trucker’s hitch, a simple overhand knot with a loop that, when threaded with a loose end, allows a mechanical advantage in the tightening process. Above all, avoid square knots and grannies. For both rope and camstraps, always have a lighter and knife along to combat frays.
Dryboxes and Coolers
Remove the raft’s thwarts to create frame drops where you can suspend dryboxes and coolers for added load capacity for multi-day trips. Make sure the box or cooler fits snugly across the width of the thwart area to ensure lateral rigidity, but not so snug as to be abrasive. Unless the box or cooler has specifically designed handles or ridges to rest on the frame, dangle two loops of webbing or a specially made drop bag (sizes XS-XL) in the thwart area to cradle the box. For longer trips, pull out both thwarts and suspend two dry boxes while hanging a cooler behind the front box. The oarsperson can then sit on the rear dry box with water jugs or rocket boxes amidships.
The Dreaded Gear
For rigging gear, use a suspended cargo platform and netting system to keep drybags, toilets, firepans, lawn chairs, water jugs, tables and other gear off the floor in the bow and stern. Hang the floors or nets off D-rings and the frame so gear is suspended three to four inches off the floor (never put gear directly on the floor, even with self-bailers, unless it is very soft and light). When rigging, make sure to lash each layer of gear separately—with either camstraps or rope—and tie in each piece of gear individually, even if the load is to be topped with a cargo net.
Keep the load as low as possible, rigging heavier items on the bottom and topping the mound with lighter gear. Pad sharp objects (firepan corners, etc.) as best as possible. If possible, cover the entire gear compartment with netting for added security. When rigging water jugs, rocket boxes and other gear on platforms or in the middle compartment, make sure the rigging pull is directed downwards to hold the gear in place. A good technique for ammo cans and rocket boxes is to line them up side by side and use one strap per side passing through each handle and back to the frame. This provides a snug fit while allowing the tops to be opened in transit.
Keep your load suspended and centered. This allows the inflatable to spin quicker because of less draft. Too much weight in the back or the front exposes the bottom to hydraulics and winds that may stall or upend the craft. An asymmetrical load will create a momentum differential, with the heavy end trying to constantly pass the lighter end. Some like their boats to have a 5-10 percent asymmetrical load. Some kayakers want the heavier load in back if they are boating defensively, using ferry pulls and crashing through eddy fences backwards. They put the weight in front for increased downriver tracking and punching power into hydraulics when using push strokes for acceleration.
However other people prefer to keep their bow and stern loads more equal. Sometimes you’re pushing, sometimes you’re pulling. Because of that, I like to keep the loads even. When rowing into stiff headwinds, you have two options –
- Rig gear directly on the floor for lower drag (“although you risk puncturing your floor if you hit a submerged rock”)
- Simply throw a couple of drag bags full of libations over the side to act as a sort of sea anchor.
With the absence of floors, catarafts require extra rigging precaution. Smaller catarafts typically have frames that hold one mid-sized cooler; several rocket boxes or a small drybox; a rowing seat; and a platform for drybags between tubes. Hanging a mesh or wood floor below the frame will help minimize splash and can catch accidentally dropped items. Larger catarafts can hold a second box, with most equipment lashed directly to the frame or D-rings. Whether you’re rigging a cataraft or standard inflatable, keep your spare oars accessible. Don’t bury them with gear and use quick-release knots or buckles to grab them in a pinch.