The Drift Boat has been on my mind for just about as long as I can remember.
As a young kid, I remember how exciting it was to leave town, drive out of our neighborhood, and pull the drift boat behind us.
I felt like we were doing something unique and special every single time.
That same feeling is still with me today as I load up the boat for the next trip and now take my own kids along for a journey.
I think it has something to do with the unknown. What are we going to encounter on this trip? Will there be any new challenges? Will we flip the boat?
I recollect the first time I was really scared in a river as we were confronting my first class 4 rapid.
I was 5 years old at the time.
My dad who was a pioneer on our local river was rowing the drift boat, and my mom and brothers were all along.
I remember not wanting to go and hearing my mom say he can walk around the huge wave train.
My dad would have nothing to do with that idea – “He’s going down so get the life jacket on.”
This was not good news to me and as we set up and dropped into the rapid and side curl which was like the perfect ocean rip-off of an unnatural jetty, I began to think about what swimming through it would feel like.
As we crashed through and past the rapid, it happened as quickly as taking a leak.
I was through my first big rapid in a drift boat.
I would find myself in much more challenging rapids in my life which we’ll touch on today.
But I want this article to serve as the definitive guide to the drift boat so you understand the history of how it all started in Oregon, how to get started on owning a boat and why you’d want to.
Maybe you have an interest in making your own boat. We will touch on that as well. be it whitewater, boat building, or just understanding the history of where we came from and who paved the way to get us here, today we will cover it all.
Let’s jump into the drift boat. I’m excited to join you on your journey with one of the great outdoor tools of the last century and beyond.
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Drift Boats Table of Contents
- What is a Drift Boat
- Drift Boat History
- How to row a drift boat
- Drift Boat accessories
- How to build a drift boat
- The Top Tips on finding drift boats for sale (2900)
- Drift Boat Podcast Season Episode list
- Drift Boat Giveaway
link to different companies
Chapter 1. What is a Drift Boat
When drift boats first came onto the scene in the early part of the 20th century, wood was the only game in town. As we moved into the 20th-century new boat companies started utilizing new materials. Aluminum was one of the first big changes and is still a leader today.
Now we have Wood, aluminum, fiberglass, and polymer boats like Boulder Boat Woks who were on the podcast here.
In its essence, a drift boat is a specially designed boat that helps the rower get down through rivers and whitewater. Much of the time it’s to get to the next fishing location.
But as you can see here in places like the Grand Canyon, these boats were designed for highly functioning whitewater.
I interviewed the filmmaker behind Martin’s Boat which documents the late great Martin Litton who created the wooden dories that currently run the Colorado River.
Here is the definition of a drift boat and a photo showing a typical drift boat.
Boulder Boats breaks down the basic of drift boats in this 2 hour class:
Not only are there different types of materials drift boats are made out of but there are different styles. Skiffs are gaining popularity because of their easy to use but they are not best for whitewater.
Chapter 2. Drift Boat History
I had one of the greatest drift boat historians on the podcast recently and we were able to dig into the entire history going back to before 1920 when guys first started taking wooden boats down the Oregon rivers to find fish with a fly.
Listen to the full podcast with Roger Fletcher below:
Here’s a short summary of how the Drift Boat came to be
The first drift boat style boats came onto the McKenzie River and other Oregon Rivers in 1925 by a man named Milo Thomson.
A little bit later, Veltie Pruitt took that boat and made it much shorter and lighter. This was important because they were now able to portage easier and the boat was lighter and easier to maneuver through some of the fast river sections.
Around 1934, a gentleman name Woody Hindman would create the start of the modern drift boat and the first double-ender.
From here the boats slowly transitioned into the traditional Rogue or Mckenzie style dorie and all dirft boats still have this connection.
Today, drift boats have expanded into the river skiff area as noted in my podcasts with Boulder Boats, and Adipose Boatworks, both of which are leading with great river skiffs.
So, what’s next?
Chapter 3. How to Row a Drift Boat
There is a lot to learn about rowing a drift boat but the best advice is to get on the river with someone who has experience first.
Many of the boat shops around likely have staff that can provide tips to get started and you can always pay a guide to take you down the river and get some fishing along the way.
I won’t break down every step here but give you a few resources to get started. This video from Red’s breaks down the basics to help you understand a little about getting going.
Chapter 4. Drift Boat Accessories
Like anything great you own, you can bling it out as much as you like. Like the dude with the jacked-up pickup that is a little annoying at times, your boat can balance on that edge.
So what are the important items you must have for your drift boat to make sure you’re good to go.
Top Must have Drift Boat Accessories
- Trailer – The trailer is essential because you won’t be putting this bad boy on your car too often. I’ve used a baker trailer in the past but there are lots of good ones. I like a trailer with a low profile so the boat slips off into the water easily. Steel trailers are great but if you want one for the long term you should look at an aluminum boat chariot.
2. Drift Boat Oars – We did a full season on choosing drift boat oars with Kevin Young from Sawyer Paddles and Oars. He noted the differences in choosing oars and the difference between wood, composite, and full synthetic.
The image above shows the square tip oars that our counterbalanced. Also, remember that you should always have a spare oar in the boat just in case you break an oar on a trip. Keep it easily accessible when floating down the river.
3. Drift Boat Oar Locks – Another essential is the oar lock. You should also have an extra oar lock like an oar in case you break one. In all of my years of drift boating, I have been in a boat and seen an oar lock broken once.
4. Rod Holders for Drift Boats – With fly fishing rod holders are not as common as with gear fishing where it is common to stick your rod in the holder. Here are a couple of common types of rod holders.
- drift boat motor
- drift boat cover
Chapter 5. How to Build a Drift Boat
The building process of the drift boat has evolved over the years as new materials came into play from wood to aluminum, fiberglass and plastics. Even for wood, there is the conventional style of wood boat building like Ray’s River dories.
I had the current owners of Rays on here and we talked about what is involved with boat building.
But, there’s also stitch and glue type wood boat building that is a very beautiful and clean way to make a wood boat.
How to Build a wood boat
How to build a fiberglass boat
How to build an aluminum boat
Chapter 6. Drift Boats For Sale
To this day I still have not purchase a brand new drift boat and that’s ok. The great thing about most drift boats on the market is that they actually retain their value because they last for years and years.
My aluminum boat has been sitting outside for years and havne’t had a care in the world. Still good to go. Koffler was on here and noted this big bonus of the aluminum boat.
But, if you are in the market for a new boat I wanted to provide a few tips to help you in finding and choosing the right drift boat.
Top tips on finding drift boats for sale and selecting the best one
- When you find a boat (if aluminum) take a look at the bottom to make sure it’s not all bent out of shape. This is a sure sign that’s it’s been abused a bit.
- Drift Boats Craigslist – Still one of the most popular places to find anything for sale.
- Check your local boat company – Not a used car lot but they have some good stuff
Chapter 7. Drift Podcast Season
Episode 1: Pete McBride – Listen here
Episdoe 2: The History of Drift Boats
Chapter 8. Drift Boat Giveaway
We are in the process of setting up a new series on how to build a drift boat where the culmination, after watching the boat become a boat from scratch, we give it away to one lucky winner.
You can join the giveaway here
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