Types of River Boats

March 3, 2019

There are many ways to enjoy floating downstream on the river. Different riverboats provide different experiences—and when it comes to whitewater, experiences can range from mild to wild! Here at WRO, we have your options covered with a wide range of watercrafts. Our company operates on rivers of different character, which means we need a variety of sizes and styles of boats. Below we have outlined the different types of boats you will find on WRO trips.


You will find oar boats on almost every multi-day river trip offered at WRO. This craft varies greatly in size, but all have one guide rowing and maneuvering the boat with two long oars. Oar boats are extremely useful as they are able to carry substantial weight: personal gear, food, camp supplies and equipment, along with several passengers. With a guide piloting the raft, passengers are able to sit back, relax, and enjoy the scenery, making oar boats the cruiser option.

Tatshenshini River, British Columbia Canada


Looking a little more action and participation? We bring paddle rafts on most of our trips.  This is a fun option as every passenger wields a single-bladed paddle, helping to propel and maneuver the boat through rapids during the day. The guide sits in the back and steers the boat with a slightly longer paddle, giving commands and instruction to the crew. Because paddle rafts usually carry minimal gear, the boat is much lighter than your standard oar boat, making for a more exciting ride through the waves and rapids. This is a good middle-of-the-road adventure boat.


For those looking for a higher level of adventure craft, we bring along inflatable kayaks. In an inflatable kayak, IK, or what is most commonly known as a “ducky,” you are your own captain, choosing your own line through each rapid. For more exciting sections of the river, our guides will give you specific instructions and advice, but ultimately you are in this type of craft by yourself and are responsible for navigating through whitewater. The Main Salmon is a prime inflatable kayak trip—there are some super mellow days when you can get a feel for the ducky without much risk of tipping over or falling out. But on more exciting days, when the group encounters larger, more complex rapids, you could easily find yourself swimming down the river alongside your kayak! While duckies represent one of the highest levels of adventure for a newer river runner, they don’t require previous experience. You can normally learn the ropes of the inflatable kayak without much trouble.

Ducky Action on the Middle Fork Salmon

These three types of boats are standard on most trips down the Middle Fork Salmon, Main Salmon and Middle Fork Flathead. If water levels are high, we may not take inflatable kayaks, or if a group isn’t interested in paddle rafting, we might not take a paddleboat—but we routinely have all crafts as a choice on our trips. Now we’ll get into some of the less common varieties of watercraft.


Stand Up Paddle boards, or SUPs, are a relatively new type of river craft. The Main Salmon, with its deep water, big eddies, and pool-drop style rapids, is the best river for SUPs. Big eddies on the Main are the perfect place to try your hand at paddle boarding, especially around camp or during lunch. If you feel like you’ve mastered paddling around the eddy and want something more exciting, there are a few sections where you can try taking an SUP downriver. This is very challenging and you can probably expect to get wet!


Hard shell kayaks take performance up a notch from the inflatable version. A hard shell comes with the advantage of being able to roll back upright if you find yourself upside down in the river. This huge advantage can also be a bit of a disadvantage if you haven’t mastered the roll—they tend to tip over the other way pretty easily! Hard shell kayaking is not something you want to try on a trip without prior experience. We often do kayak support trips in the spring on the Middle Fork Salmon for experienced kayakers, with oar rafts carrying all the gear. We also offer some more beginner kayaking trips on the Main Salmon later in the summer. If you go to a YMCA or local club where they teach the roll and some basic kayaking skills, a six-day trip down the main could be the next step in pursuing the sport of hard shell kayaking. Our fleet of about 15 kayaks in Idaho is available for rentals, saving you the hassle of traveling with your own boat.

Hard Shell Kayak Surfing on the Middle Fork Salmon


A fishing raft—the dedicated craft for the hardcore fly fisher out there. We have several fishing boats of different sizes, but all are available with casting braces, seats, and a professional fishing guide to put you in the right place to land a nice cutthroat trout. This type of boat can be added to most standard trips for an additional fee, and they come as a standard on our designated fly-fishing trips on the Middle Fork Salmon, South Fork Flathead or Middle Fork Flathead. We also have a drift boat option available to add on a Middle Fork Salmon trip for a similar ultimate fishing experience.

Fly Fishing on the Middle Fork Salmon


The sweep boat is the ultimate gear hauler, specific to the Middle Fork Salmon. The boat is run by a guide and occasionally a swamper, who is there to help load and unload gear and help if the barge gets stuck on the rocks at low water. This legendary boat is a modern, rubber version of the historic wooden scow boats of the Salmon River. The sweep travels faster than boats carrying passengers, so when it is loaded up at camp in the morning, it heads straight to the next camp where the guide and swamper get things ready for when the rest of the group arrives.


WRO also has a small fleet of AIRE BAKrafts. These are another type of inflatable kayak, but they are made from a stronger, more lightweight material. The whole boat only weighs 10 pounds. These boats are well-suited for trips like the South Fork Flathead, where all the gear is packed in by horses, or the upper Owyhee, where possible portages and the option of carrying an IK on a small raft mean keeping everything very lightweight is desirable.

AIRE BAKraft on the Middle Fork Flathead


In many people’s minds, the dory is the Cadillac of the river. This boat is made of wood and fiberglass. The sealed storage hatches built into each dory prevent the craft from sinking if it were to tip over, distinguishing dories from drift boats with their open hatches. This type of boat is more common on the Grand Canyon and generally best for deepwater rivers with clean, big wave trains. Salmon, the newest addition to the WRO fleet, will only come out for select, higher water, early-season Main Salmon trips. The dory is an amazing craft, but it doesn’t like rocks, so every trip down the river comes with a certain amount of risk. We will certainly keep you posted on Salmon’s journey with WRO—there will be more photos to come from the maiden voyage in spring 2019!

Of all the different types of rivers boats and crafts out there, WRO has them covered. If you have any questions about your choices between boats—which trips are best for inflatable kayaking, for example—don’t hesitate to ask. We love all boats and the experience each individual craft offers on the river. Let us know if you want to come try some out for yourself!

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