Designing your raft frame.
So you have your boat...
You will need to know the overall width of the boat, the inner dimension (tube to tube) of the boat, the diameter of the tubes, and the measurement from the start of the rocker to the start of the rocker (aka the flat part of the boat).
It also doesn't hurt to think about the life left in your current rubber. Are you designing a frame to last the boat 10 years or will you upgrade to a different raft in the future?
While we are at the beginning of the process let's talk BUDGET. For outfitting most rafts, used or new, a good rule of thumb is that you will spend 1-1.5 times what you spent on your raft to outfit your boat with a frame, oars, cooler, boxes, straps, etc. It all adds up.
Prior to designing your frame, you need to have an idea of what cooler size/type you will have on the boat. We can help you with this as there are lots of choices BUT there are certain characteristics to look for in cooler size and how well it will function in a raft frame.
It is good to have a cooler take up as much of the width of a bay as possible, yet still be lower profile (not stick up more than 5" from the deck of your boat) and to have latches that work when they are close to a frame crossbar.
In general you want a cooler that is less than 20" high, can take the wear and tear of being hauled around, stepped on, sat on, and hold ice for a long river trip. Canyon Coolers, Engel, and Black Rock Coolers all offer good "river compatible" coolers.
A stout dry box can serve as a great seat, kitchen box, dry food storage, etc. In planning for a full size dry box, it is good to think about what you will store in it for your set up, as that will dictate the box width (think about the inner dimension of the box).
Carefully consider the merits of a large dry box vs other options. Would your kitchen be better served in 2 smaller easily transportable captains boxes vs one big coffin of a dry box?
As with coolers it is good to rig your boxes 4-5" above the deck of your frame. A standard height is 15-16.5".
People can tend to think solely about dry boxes and tend to overlook the value of a hatch/ drop bag combo.
To Hatch or Not to Hatch
A hatch/ drop bag combo is often one of the most undervalued options in outfitting your boat. For long trips, a hatch can serve as a great catchall for all your hard to rig gear. For many day trips, a hatch can be a permanent storage compartment for the "don't forget it" gear like life jackets, pump, repair/ first aid, spare PFD, etc.
When the hatch is down it can serve as a passenger platform, deck space, or sleeping area. The hatch can be made to be removable so as to double as a table, which is good but could also be bad, because when you want to sleep on your boat, the hatch might be being used as a table in the kitchen.
If you are planning on rigging down a "paco" type pad to your hatch, it is good to make the hatch the width of the pad, to keep it from bunching up under your rigging straps.
For the best overall strength, we recommend that your hatch bay be a fixed size.
As part of the design process, we work with you to determine what size footwell you need. Consider how tall you are, if you are a pusher or a puller, and what you want to rig to be close at hand. We recommend that a footwell be no less than 20", 22"-26" seems to be ideal for most people. Having a rigid footwell helps as a space to carry more gear, and serves as a solid platform for moving in and out of the center area of your boat. An important safety issue about footwell size is the swing of the oars as it relates to other passengers on the boat. The more you compress your footwell, the more it brings passengers sitting in adjacent bays into the arc of a swinging oar.
Oar Size/ Length
The length of the oars you will need is determined by the measurement from oarlock to oarlock. Sometimes the wider the frame, the longer the oars you will need. It is good not to purchase oars until you know the overall width of your frame. There are times when a single rail frame oar length differs from a double rail diamond plated frame. The standard rule of thumb is to figure 1/3 of your oar length is from your oar tower in and 2/3 is from the oar tower out.
If you do any boating on desert rivers, you might want to think about adding some shade to your boat. Umbrellas are better than nothing, but once you try a bimini you may never go back. Even if shade isn't a priority for you right now, maybe you need some time to save money for this addition, while you are designing your frame is a good time to plan for places for umbrella holders or bimini mount slots.
It is normal to want to make all kinds of changes when you get a new boat, and we look forward to helping you make those changes happen. That said, before you give us some your hard earned money, we suggest you spend some time getting to know your boat as it is currently set up. After a couple trips, you will have a better idea of what you want to change, as well as a better idea of where those changes lie on your priority list. While we would love to sell you some cool custom thingy, that may not be the best way for you to start out with your new boat. Taking the time to figure out which bay you want your cooler in, what your passengers may be sitting on, what you may be sitting on, etc., is time well spent as well as good, fun, research.
Other Options and Things to Consider
What do you normally run for your gear load on a boat? For example, will you have coolers, rocket boxes, water jugs, .... ?
Adjustable vs. Fixed bars. What do you need? People often think they need more adjustability than they actually end up using. More adjustability ultimately makes the frame weaker. At the very least, have at least one fixed bar to "brace" the inner rails of your frame.
Do you need a bimini top or want to plan for one in the future? If so, how adjustable?
What are you planning to sit on? What style oar towers do you prefer?
The design phase is the time to think through all the details.
If you are ready to talk about designing your raft frame, please contact us.
For more pictures of custom raft frames, check out the gallery page.