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Building a raft – Practical instructions for an exciting DIY project with your kids

  • DIY

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Floating on the water in the summer months is bliss, especially if you want to build a raft yourself. You can drift and leave the worries of life behind for a while. Take advantage of the opportunity to keep your kids busy with adventurous activities during the warm days. Thor Heyerdahl did it when he built Kon Tiki, and Huck Finn did it when he floated down the Mississippi River with Jim in “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.” This guide is for anyone who wants to create their own adventure during the summer.

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So much of our daily lives have no tangible end product. Watching an episode of Game of Thrones can be an enjoyable way to pass the time. On the other hand, if you were to build a raft, it could lead to a sense of accomplishment as well as a lot of laughter and good humor. And there’s always the option of practicing swimming once you’re in the water. Strange as it may sound, it’s hard not to envy Tom Hanks as an islander while he had to build a raft in the movie Castaway. Maybe not his exact situation, but the experience on the open sea.

Building your own raft – A real challenge

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Building a functioning, floating raft requires both rudimentary skills and lateral thinking. If you’re looking to build a raft in your backyard, not only will it perk up your kids, but it will also put your much-vaunted DIY skills to the test in a physical and mental workout.

The challenge is to construct a waterproof raft using only basic supplies and your initiative. While this is worthwhile on your own, it is better to first plan the project well in advance with family or friends. Regardless of whether you build a small raft, or prefer a larger model with barrels or drums, for this you can use simple materials such as nails to finally tie everything together with a rope. In fact, if you scour YouTube, you’ll find online both an American 10-minute building tutorial and a time-lapse video from the UK showing how to form a team for an annual raft trip. The materials shouldn’t cost too much, and you’ll only need simple tools for construction.

The platform

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The raft can consist of three main parts: the platform, the tubes (or barrels made of plastic) and the deck, which can also be called the “house”. In addition, there are various accessories that are necessary for a fun, safe and successful raft ride. Building a floating structure requires space and some instruments.

Assemble the top layer of the platform

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First you need to lay out the main part of the raft. For this you can use a sheet of plywood, which you will work on first. This is the heaviest part of the raft and really needs to be stable to withstand the weight of a few people plus luggage while you ride waves or currents. You can start with two layers of bolted sheets of plywood. You can lay out the bottom layer lengthwise with most boards, and join the top layer horizontally with it as well. This cross-direction fit creates greater stability, but you can use longer screws to attach the two layers together. This basically means that the platform will not fall apart when you first load the raft. This will save you from having to repair it later if necessary.

Attach support struts to the bottom of the platform

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First, attach ten 2 x 4 cm wooden slats, which you should not attach to the broadside, but you can drill through the narrow edge and again screw them shut with long screws across the width of the platform.

Then it’s time to attach the guide rails to the underside. One problem that can arise is that the tubes get pushed to the side of the raft by the water flowing underneath. This can lead to instability in the middle and pulling on the platform. To prevent this, you can create guide rails at the bottom of the main section, where you screw the boards along the length of the raft with a second rail about 50 cm away from it. The tubes, respectively the barrels or drums would sit in this area, while the rails will also give you much better attachment points for the straps. It may surprise you how well this system can work in reality.

Securing the engine

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If you are building a simple and small raft, you can obviously use paddles to move around in the water. However, the larger version will probably require a more powerful engine that can get you to the destinations you want through longer raft rides. You will need to reinforce the back of the raft in this case, as this would support the weight and power of the outboard motor. A 10 x 10 cm wooden batten can be attached to the top of the platform. On it you will clamp the motor. Below the platform, reinforce the area with a few stout pieces of wood and some very long screws.

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Round out the top with a set of 2 x 4 cm slats. You can screw these flat around the edge of the platform and accordingly ensure extra reinforcement to hold the cleats in place. This is important if you want to take your raft up somewhere and keep your stuff on board. Thus, you have more or less completed the platform.

Keep raft on the surface

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If you are going to build a raft, you will need something that will hold it above the water. A common option is to use sealed drums or barrels made of plastic. For a professional option, you can buy two rubber tubes new or used. When new, each tube can support 1.8 tons before being fully submerged. This means that even though the hoses are a few years old, they can provide more than enough buoyancy for your purposes.

Inflating the rubber tubes

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The tubes usually have three inner chambers that can be inflated separately. This means that if a puncture occurs, the whole thing won’t collapse immediately. Supposedly Titanic was also based on a similar principle, and we all know what happened to that, so the decision is yours to make. If you unstuff the tubes, they can be bagged for transport, although they will still be heavy. So the tubes are unfolded and ready for storage.

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You can secure each tube with tension straps by running the straps in different directions to pull the tubes equally forward and backward instead of upward. By doing this, you create a much better hold and fix the tubes in a more stable way.

Building the canopy from the raft

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The main purpose of this element is to serve as a sun or rain shelter. With small improvements, you can create a porch on the raft to enjoy the trip in the best possible way. Perhaps this will not stop a storm, but if it does not happen too often, such an additional construction can be of benefit. This structure is essentially the frame of the five sides of a cube, which you can attach to the base with metal clamps and diagonal braces. In addition, you can add more struts on the back, which will significantly improve the overall stability of the structure. The sides can be made of rough chipboard. You can cut these in half and bolt them to the diagonal braces to prevent your stuff from falling overboard. The whole thing can be provided with side panels and compartments.

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You can cover the roof with a regular tarp that you staple to the frame. In this example, about half of the raft has been turned into a rolling parasol with two extra pieces of wood and some straps, covering most of the raft when needed. This also allows you to fully extend the roof.

Useful tips when building a raft.

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If you want to build a weatherproof raft, we recommend that you allow for a low, sloping roof and an option to cover it. However, you also need to keep in mind that the rafter needs a clear 360° view at all times, not to mention access to the engine at the back of the raft.

Note on raft rides

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For some of Europe’s main rivers, an idyllic raft trip is rather impossible. Due to heavy river traffic with huge cargo ships, cruise ships and many small motor boats, it is necessary to equip all vessels larger than a canoe with a motor. On parts of the Danube in the direction of Vienna, the number of boats can decrease and you can spend a long time in wonderful silence. If you want to make a non-motorized adventure with raft, then you need to do it on a much smaller, quieter river. In Germany there are enough travel offers for this, for example, even possible as a team building or company outing.

Luggage storage

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Another thing you will probably realize very quickly is the limited space for luggage on the platform. The more passengers there are, the less space there is for personal belongings on the raft. In addition to large and small backpacks, as well as pouches for valuables , cooking and camping equipment, as well as food and water for some people can also be brought along. For long raft trips, there are quite a few things you need to have on board, such as life jackets, fire extinguisher, life ring, first aid kit, ropes, paddles, etc. When you cross the border, the authorities in each country will check that you have the necessary equipment and paperwork with you for the trip.

It’s surprising how quickly all these paraphernalia can get jumbled, despite your best efforts to keep everything in order. For this reason, you can read a few more tips in the next lines.

  • Bring boxes – you can keep all your cooking utensils and food in a large plastic box with a lid. It is also advisable to bring two other hinged boxes for general equipment that needs to stay dry. Alternatively, you can create compartments using a rough chipboard where you can put tents, small bags and other things.
  • A good idea in this case would also be a storage net that you can hang from the roof and store small items like sunglasses, sunscreen, cameras, towels, etc for quick access.
  • Hooks and clothesline – From hanging laundry to securing the shower curtain, you can use straps and hooks to help.

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If you want to build such a raft, it can be a difficult task. So, we hope you found some useful information about it in this guide. Plan your next trip with a self-made raft to spend unforgettable summer vacations.