What are Bamboo Rafts?


Bamboo rafts

There are many types of rafts used for many different reasons. But one type that is commonly used in many parts of Asia up to this day, and even in some western countries, are bamboo rafts. You may be wondering, what bamboo rafts are and why are they still being used today?

What are bamboo rafts? A bamboo raft is a flat bottomed basic water craft made of bamboo stakes that are lashed together with vines or rope. Bamboo rafts are designed to be used as a basic means of transportation, for fishing activities, recreational activities, and have even been utilized in survival situations.

Brief history of the raft

Nowadays, rafting is not only of great utility importance to people in remote parts of Asia, as well as some parts of Southern America. However the raft is popular with people who enjoy fun outdoor water activities.

The use of non-powered rafts started way back in 3,000 BC when they were used as a basic means of water transportation when movement across bodies of water was required.

Because they have very little components and are easy to build rafts were one of the first types of watercraft invented.

Any type of material that is buoyant, traditionally wood logs, can be lashed together with vines from plants to create a flat floating surface; a raft.

Rafts were utilized in the early days of commerce, commonly utilized in bartering and trading.

It is also worth mentioning that this type of watercraft was the backbone for hauling and logging activities in the coastal and riverside communities of Asia and Southern America.

Many longing companies created create massive rafts made up of fallen trees and float them downstream to their destination for processing. In some places this is still done today.

For more on the history and modern uses of different types of rafts read this article. If you would like to know more about the construction methods for traditional and modern rafts read this article.

Evolution of the bamboo raft

Let’s dive deeper into the old-fashioned and modern significance of bamboo rafts.

One of the most common types of traditional raft that is still built and used today is the bamboo raft.

Some rafts, like the ones made from tree logs and timber, are still built and used today but not on the same scale as in the past. Due to the declining sources of trees and concerns about the environment (which makes timber more expensive), making rafts like these is now beginning to decline.

The building of bamboo rafts, on the other hand, still survive due to fast growth and easily replenishment of bamboo,which is abundant in tropical areas such as Asia and South America.

Bamboo rafts in the early days were made using only sharp stones, using liana vines to lash together bamboo stakes. Nowadays, with the technological advancement in producing knives and ropes, rural communities have found modern tools and materials more useful in making more robust bamboo rafts.

Some have also employed the use of varnish and oil for better maintenance of bamboo rafts to help them maintain their water resistance longer.

The evolution of the bamboo raft does not only benefit the rural communities who still use it, but also the tour operators that employ these rafts for recreational activities.

Bamboo rafting
Bamboo rafting tour in Mae Wang

What is a modern bamboo raft used for?

As mentioned above bamboo rafts are routinely used for tours in places such as Thailand. But, modern bamboo rafts have other, “working”purposes.

Here are four of the most common purposes typically associated with the modern use of bamboo rafts:

1. Transportation.
2. Fishing activities.
3. Recreational outdoor activities.
4. Emergency situations.

Let’s take a look at these activities in more detail.

Bamboo rafts for transportation

Bamboo rafts, believe it or not, are still one of the main ways for carrying people, goods and merchandise, and cargoes in certain areas of the world.

In Southeast Asia bamboo rafts are very popular. Countries like the Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam have been employing these rafts to make river crossings for centuries right up to the present day.

Vessels like these are not only cheap and easy to make, they can also be deconstructed and used as materials for building more modern water vehicles like motorized bankas.

Bamboo rafts for fishing

Bamboo rafts are always imperative in certain areas for fishing activities in rivers, lakes and even the ocean.

It is an undeniable fact that a well-built modern boat, along with essential equipment, equates to a productive fishing experience. But this is not to say that bamboo rafts, although basic in design, cannot compete with modern technology.

Commercial fishing and leisure fishing can both benefit from using bamboo rafts due to their practicality and the low cost associated with their production.

Bamboo rafts for recreation

Outdoor activities are fast evolving due to the increasing demand for both extreme sports and water-based adventures. Although there are many water-based extreme sports that rely on modern technology, such as speed boating, for some a more unsophisticated means of exploring a water-based experience is preferred.

Enter bamboo rafting.

Advertised as a great way for a jungle and river experience, bamboo rafting is increasingly becoming popular in regions where the focus of tourism centers around water-based activities.

It can be said that while inflatable rafts are a more common type for rafting experience, bamboo rafting offers more thrill, excitement and rawness as it is done in the jungle or on forest rivers and lakes. This activity started in Asia and gained popularity in the USA because more people want to experience a different type of authentic water adventure.

Bamboo rafting is an exceptional outdoor activity that is best enjoyed with family and friends.

Bamboo rafts for emergency use

We have seen it in movies and true-to-life accounts as well. Life rafts are used for emergency situations involving water accidents and disasters.

But should you ever find yourself stranded on a deserted island you may never be fortunate enough to get access to such a rigid and advanced emergency boat.

Now, this may be when a knowledge of building a simple raft comes in handy. Bamboo is common on tropical islands, and therefore it is not hard to source and build bamboo rafts when the need arises.

During a deadly storm in the Philippines, one community found a use for bamboo rafts. This is just one example of how a bamboo raft can be used in a challenging situation.

How bamboo rafts are built?

In the early days, bamboo rafts were made with just sharp stones, bare hands, vines which were sourced from trees like Lianas, and bamboo stakes. Nowadays, bamboo rafts are made stronger by using materials like, a sickle or knife, varnish, wood rope or nylon rope, along with the traditional bamboo.

Bamboo rafts are made as a simple watercraft that is designed to float freely without aid. In essence, you only need a number of sturdy pieces of bamboo and long vines for lashing the bamboo pieces together in order to build one.

How a bamboo raft is propelled and steered

Riding a bamboo raft is not supposed to be difficult. For experienced fishermen, people who use it for commuting, or for anyone using it for leisure activities, some knowledge in steering the raft with a piece of wood or long bamboo stalk will do.

The long stalk is used to both push and propel the raft in the same way you move a boat when punting.

Best conditions for using a bamboo raft

Because a bamboo raft is a flat bottom boat with a very shallow draft it is best used in calm conditions.

As weather conditions always affect how the water behaves bamboo boats are best used in calm weather.

Calm weather without too much wind is the best condition for bamboo rafting. On the other hand, very windy weather conditions are not only inconvenient for bamboo rafting, they are also dangerous because of the unpredictable movement of water.

If on a tour, make sure the tour operator hands you the necessary life saving device such as a PFD.

Recap

A bamboo raft is a basic watercraft made from pieces of bamboo that are lashes together with durable tree vines or rope.

Bamboo rafts were used primarily for transportation and commercial activities as far back as 3,000 BC. But over the years, the utilization of this vessel has been expanded to adventure and recreational experiences.

Although there is a rawness in its appearance, a bamboo raft is comparable to other water vessels in terms of use and practicality. Make no mistake, motorized boats are still king of the rivers, lakes, and oceans but bamboo rafts can offer unique experiences to those seeking a more traditional way to navigate their local waters.

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