“Bucket” Boats versus Self-Bailing Boats

Raft with back end in water

At French Broad Adventures, we use two kinds of boats: Bucket Boats and Self-Bailing Boats. Contrary to what you may have heard, neither raft is ‘better’ than the other. Instead, they are each uniquely suited to different water conditions, and each have their pros and cons. A standard floor raft, sometimes known as a “bucket boat”, has a floor that is sealed to the outer tubes. Any water that comes in the raft stays in the raft until you use a bucket to bail excess water out. This style of raft was developed first, and is often a favorite amongst “old school” River Guides.

Bucket boat
Bucket Boat

Self-bailing rafts have floors that are wide, flat, inflated chambers approximately 4-5” thick. Where the floor attaches to the outer tubes there are drain holes. The top surface of the floor is above the water, so when water splashes into the raft it flows across the floor, down over the edge of the floor, and out through the holes.So just reading that, it may seem like the self-bailing raft is the superior boat. Read on!Bucket boats have a higher clearance and a little bit of give in the floor, which can be helpful at low water levels because you can slide over rocks you might otherwise get stuck on with a rigid self-bailing floor. The bucket boat is much lighter than a self-bailer, making it easier to carry. Also, when running Class I-II whitewater or running a river at a lower water level you will actually stay dryer because water does not flow freely at your feet. But buckets are human-powered, so bucket boats require a little extra work to keep the water out.

Self-bailing boat
Self-bailing Boat

Self-bailing boats do not require buckets to remove water; they are self-bailing as the name indicates. This can be critical at higher water levels because any water that splashes in flows out automatically and quickly, keeping you more maneuverable in big rapids. Additionally, some Guides will argue (we have this argument repeatedly over campfires after work) that a self-bailing raft will track better. ‘Tracking’ refers to the raft’s tendency to stay on the line your River Guide steered it in, requiring less micro-corrections midstream. But this argument may never be decided!

So which boats do we use?

Very low water: We typically use more bucket boatsVery high water: We typically use more self-bailersAny water level in between: Guide preference

Basically, we want you to have the BEST TRIP EVER, so we watch the water levels, and choose our rafts accordingly.

So are my feet gonna stay dry?Absolutely not! Regardless if you are in the bucket or self-bailing boats, you can expect wet feet, lots of splashes, and buckets of fun!