Drift Boat vs Dory. Cost, Capacity, Use and Convenience

Drift boat vs Dory

There is a misconception among even the most experienced boat enthusiasts about the difference between a dory boat and a drift boat. Although both these boats are very similar they have key differences in their design that make each one more suitable for specific uses. In this battle of the boats post we will look at the drift boat vs the dory.

The dory boat was first used in bays and on ocean waters as a fishing vessel. Modern rowing dories are used on inland waters and motorized dories are used in the ocean. The drift boat evolved from the dory. It is used on inland waters for fishing and for river running in whitewater and class IV rapids. A drift boat is a dory boat but a dory boat is not a drift boat.

The origins of the dory and drift boat

The drift boat and dory are often difficult to distinguish for people with no experience of either boat. That is because the drift boat evolved from the dory.

The dory was used as a fishing vessel and its uses date as far back as 1719.

In America the dory was launched from a schooner, usually in bays or just off the coast, in order to fish in the ocean waters. It would fill its quota and return the catch to main ship before venturing out again. When the day’s fishing was complete the dory would be hauled back aboard the schooner.

Although used in the sea, these original dories were far from sea worthy. Many fishermen died in these boats when the weather turned bad because the boat’s flat bottom gave it very little stability in choppy water and waves.

However, these dories were so common that fishermen who plied their trade on inland waters started using them in Oregon to fish in the McKenzie and Rouge rivers. If you have ever ventured onto these rivers then you know they are in no way recreational waterways.

Both the McKenzie and Rogue rivers have turbulent whitewater and class IV rapids. A boat with a deep-v hull would be able to handle the rough water well but unfortunately it would be unable to handle the shallow water and would run aground.

Obviously a shallow draft boat with a flat bottom was needed to navigate these rivers and so fishermen choose the lightweight dory for the job.

As the dory was designed to be used in the ocean, but has a flat bottom and shallow draft, it had an inherent ability to handle rough water better than other types of flat bottom boat, such as Jon boat for example. So it is no surprise that the dory was adopted for use on the Oregon rivers.

However, the dory was not the perfect fit for these marine environments and over time modifications were made to the boat to make it better able to handle the whitewater and rapids. These modifications gave rise to the modern drift boat.

Differences between the drift boat and dory

Now that you know where both boats originated and their similarities let’s take a closer look at how they differ from one and other to see how this affects their uses.

Uses for a modern dory boat

The original dory was given a flat bottom not for shallow water use but simply so that multiple boats could be easily stacked on top of each other on the schooner that carried them. As I have already mentioned this made these boats less than sea-worthy and quite dangerous to be in on challenging waters.

Modern dories do not fair much better.

Most modern dories are usually either commercial fishing boats (that have a more v-shaped hull), motorized recreational boats or home-built marine plywood boats.

Although the drift boat is the preferred dory for inland water use these days you will see modern dories being used on inland waterways as well. Unlike the drift boat, that excels in turbulent water, modern dory boats are usually used in calmer marine environments.

Having said that, there are also modern dories that are used in ocean waters but the problem with these boats is that they follow the same design plan as the traditional dory boat and thus have all the same problems.

Traditional dories were considered somewhat seaworthy craft, at least in bays and coastal areas, but they were notoriously unstable, difficult to handle and dangerous to be in. These problems were offset to some extent when the boat was given some additional weight in the form of catch.

However, due to the lightweight nature nature of the dory it was totally at the mercy of wind and waves.

Modern dories have similar problems.

In fact, modern dories tend to be a good deal lighter than traditional ones, especially if they are home made from lightweight marine plywood. So this makes these boats even more susceptible to instability in strong winds and waves.

Their flat bottom hull, which makes them extremely stable on calm water, makes them uncomfortable to ride in on waves and more susceptible to taking on water in challenging condition because it gives the boat a low freeboard.

A dory boat is therefore best suited to inland bodies of water where the weather is predicable and the water is calm more often than not. They make good fishing vessels and fairly easy to row.

If you are the handy type and enjoy a good challenge then for a few dollars you can buy the book How to Build the Gloucester Light Dory, by Harold Payson. This is a truly excellent guide for building a truly excellent dory.

The Grand Banks dory (video)

Modern motorized dories in the ocean (video)

Some modern dory boats are motorized and used in the ocean as you can see in the video below.

Uses for a drift boat

Modern drift boats are used mostly for river running and drift boat fishing.

Drift boats are, in my opinion, superior to dories simply because they can do anything a dory can do plus a lot more. Unfortunately this makes them expensive, though you can build your own fairly cheaply.

Drift boats are river runners that can take on the type of rapids you usually only see whitewater kayaks and river rafts attempting.

The unique hull design of a drift boat means it can turn on a dime and makes it extremely responsive to the oarsman. This is why these boats can be used on class IV rapids that would smash a normal rowing boat to bits.

But river running is the not only unique use you can put a drift boat to. There is a thing called drift boat fishing that is very common on a rented boat with a guide as the oarsman but is also engaged in by drift boat owners.

Drift boat fishing involves rowing the boat upstream as the angler casts off and fishes downstream. The oarsman not only continually rows the boat upstream but he/she will continually re-orientate the boat to give the angler the best chance of a large catch. Although you can anchor a drift boat and fish from it if you are the only occupant of the boat, drift boat fishing is a much more effective way of using this vessel and results in much larger catches.

Drift boats are so amazing that we have an entire article, why use a drift boat, that covers the many ways you can use these boats.

Drift boat river running in Oregon (video)

Drift boat fishing (video)


If you want a boat for inland use on turbulent waters then a drift boat is the best choice. These boats can run rivers with class IV rapids.

Drift boats are also excellent shallow water fishing vessels.

Drift boats are expensive.

A dory boat for inland waterway use can made or purchased much more cheaply than a drift boat because these vessels are not as versatile. Modern dories are mostly used in calm inland waters for fishing.

However, there are dory boats that are motorized. These boats are mounted with a powerful outboard motor and used in the ocean.

There are a lot of plans available for building both dories and drift boats if you want to have a go at making one yourself.

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