The purpose of this table is to provide some guidance when you’re deciding which type of river boat might be right for you. Please keep in mind this was made by people who live in the southwest and enjoy rapids. We don’t fish. We understand some people may not agree with this information. That’s fine. All boats have their pros and cons and, really, any boat is better than no boat at all.

Small Boats - Kayaks, IKs, Packrafts, SUPs Catarafts Smaller Rafts - under 15’ Larger Rafts - 16'+ Dories
Performance You're on your own. Potential for a lot of control & maneuverability. Can punch through waves & holes better than rafts. Quick & easy to move around. Can be piggy but can also take big hits. A fun ride in the waves, super responsive, & smooth in the flatwater.
Low Flows - Technical Water Low flows - No problem. Small catarafts are like sportscars. They can straddle rocks & sometimes take different lines & run at lower levels than other boats. Can be run as a paddleboat in low flows &/or technical water. The bigger the raft, the more water you'll need to get down river. Rocks are scary.
Big water Big fun. Yee Ha! Can be a wet ride, especially for passengers. Agile & tracks well in big water. Fun, maneuverable, & forgiving. Since entire bottom of the boat is engaged with the river, it moves reflectively with water features. Stable. Can provide good momentum for bigger hits. Will need finesse moves to get boat set for river features. What they're designed for.
What if I hit a rock? Boat should be fine, but you might be swimming. If you don’t tag the rock with the frame or a box, it isn't a big deal. No problem. Hopefully you'll just bounce off. No problem. Hopefully you'll just bounce off. Could be bad. Rocks are not a dory's friend.
Gear hauling capacity for multi-day trips Go light or get used to asking, “Can you carry my gear?” Catarafts are easier to overload than rafts but compartmentalization of frame allows for ease of organization. Depending on the stretch of river, you may need to go light or with other boats. A river mule. Great for long trips. Rumored to only want to carry potato chips & toilet paper.
People hauling capacity 1-2 people. Can be tricky to find seating for passengers. A seat takes away from gear space & sitting on gear isn't always that comfortable. Depends on whether you're running it as a paddleboat or an oar rig. Can work for 1-2 people as an oar rig. Depends on whether you're running it as a paddleboat or an oar rig. Potential for lots of gear & people hauling capacity. Depending on boat size, can carry 1-5 people.
Cooler carrying capacity You can sometimes carry a small cooler. Depends on the size of the cataraft. You'll need to have a dedicated bay in your frame for a larger cooler. The biggest cooler you're going to be able to have would be approx. 120/140 quarts. Potential to haul an iced coffin. Coolers can be tricky. What you can take will depend on the boat's hatch layout.
What about shade? Get a good hat or a helmet with a visor. Umbrella or Bimini. Umbrella or Bimini. Umbrella or Bimini. Umbrella - but sun can be intensified in a dory.
Affordability - $$$ Outlay You can get a used kayak or IK for $250 or less. Even new, smaller boats have smaller price tags. Cataraft tubes can be cheaper than a raft but you'll need a frame & want boxes, which will add to the cost. Raft can be cheap but outfitting it up to be an oar rig for multi day trips will add up. The larger the raft, the more it's going to cost. Depends on the size, but a big new dory might cost up to $25K.
Transport & Storage Easy to move and store. Depends on size but a 14' cat stores in less space than a 14' raft. Smaller set ups can be broken down & easily stored. Gear for an 18' raft can take over a small shed. Cover or covered storage is best.
Trailer Not necessary. Attaching a frame to cat tubes is time consuming. A trailer is nice to have. Depends on how much you like rigging & derigging. Rafts tend to get used more when they're on a trailer. Not having a trailer is not an option.
Care, Maintenance, and Post trip Chores Clean as needed. Wash & treat with 303, store or re-rig. Wash & treat with 303, store or re-rig. Wash & treat with 303, store or re-rig out of the elements. Potential for lots of tinkering & maintenance, which can be good if that’s something you’re into.
Nuances Small boats are easy to grab & go. If you drop your car keys, they may be gone. A small raft can be great for solo multi-day trips & can double as a fun paddleboat. The bigger the boat, the more stuff you may end up carrying. Dories tend to sit lower in the water, which makes them less desirable in lower flow rivers.
More Nuances It could be hard to carry all gear you might need. Catarafts can take longer to rig. Often people get stuck in the 14’ vs 15’ raft. If you like to sleep on your boat, get something 16' or longer. Dories demand a high level of focus & understanding of current.

Made your decision? Have a budget? Ready to think more about the design? If you’ve decided on some kind of raft, more information about other details you’ll want to consider can be found HERE. If you’re thinking an aluminum dory is what you want, more information about dories can be found HERE.