One of the first questions to figure out for rafting the Colorado River is the type of whitewater craft to use. We’ve written this blog to help you understand the different boats that are run commercially and how they change the experience of floating the Grand Canyon.
Motorized versus Non-motorized Rafts
A starting point for many when deciding upon a Grand Canyon trip choosing between motor-powered craft and non-motorized craft. We are often asked which experience is better, a motor trip or non-motorized. Our answer is the ever so annoying, “it depends.” It depends on what type of experience you are looking for, how much time you can spend in the Canyon, your physical capabilities and the age of your children (if any). Each type of craft provides a unique experience but ultimately they all provide the most important thing: passage into one of the world’s most scenic stretches of river.
To help you make an informed choice, we’ve created this guide with pictures and graphics to help give a feel for the Grand Canyon whitewater raft options. Have fun exploring and if you need help navigating – give us a call! We’re happy to guide you through.
One of the classic and most popular Grand Canyon rafting trips is the 8-day motor. Since 2012, the National Park Service Management Plan has these and all motor trips limited to a maximum of 28 guests and 4 guides. A fully booked motor trip will have two motor rafts with 14 guests and up to 2 guides on each boat. The motorboat trips have many positive aspects that people don’t often consider right away.
- They provide increased accessibility of the resource to the public, including children, elderly, and people with disabilities. Although many of these people can and do travel by oar boat, motorboats are especially handy because they provide the extra buffer of a larger boat, less likelihood of flipping, and more storage space for special requests and needs.
- They travel approximately twice as fast as an oar-powered boat. This means that you can run the full length of the Canyon in a little over half the time (6 to 8 days). Handy for people with limited vacation times.
- A large group can generally all sit together on the same boat and share the experience.
- Although outboard motors emit a loud noise, the sound is muffled by the rubber boat and the water. Passengers can easily be in any of the designated seating areas on a motor boat and have a normal conversation with the person sitting next to them. The person who will be most impacted by the sound of the motor will be your guide. However, they are always accessible to you and will motor down to answer any questions in addition to all of the planned floats where the motor is cut for Grand Canyon interpretive programs.
- Even though they are much bigger than the human powered rafts, rafters still get soaked in the rapids. These boats are actually a little cooler to ride on then traditional rafts due to the breeze from moving so quickly down river.
Below is a breakdown of the specific types of motor boats in Grand Canyon along with graphics and pictures:
An S-Rig motorboat is typically 25-30 feet long and can carry up to 14 passengers and 2 guides. The center of the boat is a large, oblong donut shaped pontoon with two shorter side pontoons strapped on either side for stability. Guests sit on decks or boxes that encircle a large duffle pile of dry bags with their feet resting—or braced in big whitewater—on the side pontoons. As with all the motorboats, the guide stands at the back of the boat in the motor-well where they operate a four-stroke outboard motor.
A C-craft motorboat is the largest motorboat in Grand Canyon at nearly 40 feet long and over 5 tons. The boat is designed with an open deck that runs down the center of the boat. Guests sit on benches around the deck during periods of calm water or mild rapids. During larger rapids guests sit down on the decks in the “down and in” position. As with all the motorboats, the guide stands at the back of the boat in the motor-well where they operate a four-stroke outboard motor.
The J-Rig ranges from 32-37 feet long and has the capacity to carry 15-20 passengers and up to 2 guides. The boat design is five pontoons lashed together. The seating configuration can vary between outfitters as shown in the pictures. As with all the motorboats, the guide is at the back of the boat running a four-stroke outboard motor.
Originally the 22-foot snout rafts were run as oar boats. Today they are run on the one-day section from Diamond Creek to Pearce Ferry. They have one guide plus 8 to 10 passengers. They are the sports car of motor rigs.
Fully booked non-motorized trips will average between 18 and 24 people with a guide to operate each boat. Generally speaking a trip will have 6-8 boats and the same number of guides. Here are some other aspects of non-motorized trips that I love:
- Whether you are sitting on an oar boat, paddle boat, or dory, you will be a part of the whitewater experience. Your guides will ask you to lean into the big water, adding stabilizing weight as the boat crests over a big wave. You will learn the term “high side” on your first whitewater orientation: a call for all passengers to move their weight to the “high side” of the boat to keep it from flipping. If you’re in a dory you will be asked to bail. Paddlers are asked to work together and follow their guide’s instructions in order to get downstream. The whitewater experience is inherently participatory.
- Non-motorized boats offer the gift of absolute quiet, allowing you to hear the riffles and the birds. They also sit much lower on the water letting guests simply reach down to touch the river’s surface. The serenity of a boat floating at the river’s pace is the perfect time to absorb the glory of the Canyon.
- Because non-motorized boats have limited capacities, often times parties have to split and mix with the rest of the group. This cultivates more community and allows for more of a variety as each raft is a different experience.
Below is a breakdown of the specific types of non-motorized boats in Grand Canyon along with graphics and pictures:
Carries up to 4 guests and 1 guide. The guide is 100% responsible for navigating the boat. Made of rubber or plastic materials, inflatable.
Carries up to 4 guests and 1 guide. The guide is 100% responsible for navigating the boat. Made of fiber glass and/or wood, hard hulled. Dories are higher performance craft than rafts. They are a fun ride on top of the water but flip more easily. Most people find them less comfortable to sit in than rafts.
Carries 6 guests and 1 guide. The guests are 100% responsible for propelling the boat while the guide navigates the boat from the stern. Boats are made of rubber or plastic materials, inflatable.
I hope this was helpful to you all, as it has certainly been fun for me to create. If you have any questions please give us a call or check out our pdf on whitewater crafts. We truly love talking about all aspects of Grand Canyon river trips and educating our clients. Enjoy your Grand Canyon Rafting Expedition!
~ Bianca Aiken