With beautiful looks and versatile functionality it is no wonder drift boats are becoming more popular with each passing year. The drift boat is an evolution from the ocean dory, performing best on inland waters. It is a great utility vessel for shallow water use and is very popular as a freshwater fishing boat. But what should you look for when buying a drift boat?
The first thing to consider when you are in the market for a drift boat is the construction material used to build the boat.
There are 3 common types of material used for drift boat construction, which are:
There is a fourth material that is used in the construction of drift boats though it is much less common; Polymer.
Polymer drift boats are now available, though difficult to come by. Drift boats made from Polymer offer many advantages over boats made from the three more common types of material.
Let’s take a look at each of these 4 materials in more detail to see which one is the best fit for your needs.
Wooden drift boats are, arguably, some of most beautiful vessels on the water. As the drift boat is a natural evolution of the ocean dory, which was a wooden fishing rowboat that was launched from a larger vessel at sea, traditionalists prefer their drift boats to be made of wood.
But, it isn’t just about tradition. There are some very practical benefits to using a wooden drift boat.
Wooden drift boats are extremely quiet.
These boats naturally dampen the sound of chop hitting the hull and even reduce the noise generated by objects being dropped in the boat.
Although wood is heavy the heavier weight actually gives the drift boat greater stability in the water. Greater stability is an advantage to all boat users but none more so than anglers. Additionally, many veteran fishermen attest to the fact that drift boats made from wood give better tracking and handling when back-trolling plugs.
Wooden drift boats also seem less affected by outdoor temperatures when in use. Many users report that a wooden drift boat feels relatively warm even at the height of winter, while remaining fairly cool even in extreme heat or in direct sunlight.
You can also build your own wooden drift boat much easier than you can using other materials.
As you can see there are advantages to choosing a drift boat that is made from wood but be aware that wood does come with its own challenges.
Many drift boat owners stay clear of wooden drift boats for the main reason that wood rots. Of course you can use apply the appropriate product to protect your boat but that involves more maintenance than is required for a boat made from different construction material requires. In fcat wooden boats require a lot of maintenance.
The weight of wooden boats may give you extra stability but this comes at the cost of handling. Because a wooden drift boat is heavier it is somewhat harder to row and may require a higher HP outboard motor if you want to fit one – fitting a higher HP motor to a drift boat comes with its own problems as we highlighted here.
As many drift boats are used in rivers with both rapids and rock obstacles it stands to reason that you need to be a proficient rower if you want to avoid damage to your boat. Rocks and wood are not good bedfellows. Even minor collisions will take their toll on a wooden boat over time. Having said that, people do it.
Wooden drift boats don’t hold up well to prolonged exposure to the elements either and must be stored under some form of cover (see our guide how to store a drift boat).
Without regular maintenance a wooden drift boat will deteriorate. Over time the fasteners will work loose, glued joints will start to separate, and rot will develop.
Fiberglass is a very popular material for drift boats.
Both hand-laid and vacuum infused fiberglass drift boats offer benefits over boats made from other materials.
Obviously fiberglass is very lightweight but incredibly strong. It also absorbs sound very well and can also absorb energy from impacts without incurring any damage.
Fiberglass also reacts well to environmental temperatures remaining relatively cool in the summer and fairly warm in the winter.
The smooth surface that fiberglass offers means a fiberglass drift boat can easily slide over rocks and other river bed debris. They are also easy to slide down a hill or bank for access to the water if no ramp is available without worrying about damaging the bottom of the boat.
Because fiberglass is easier to manipulate and mold, many fiberglass drift boats incorporate unique hull design features, like recessed channels or pockets, which allow for better tracking and lead to improved maneuverability.
Another benefit to using fiberglass for drift boat construction is the cost. Fiberglass is cheap. It is also easy to produce. These two benefits mean that fiberglass boats are usually, either a cheaper option or offer more value for money as they come with better designs and more accessories.
Obviously, fiberglass, like all materials, has some drawbacks.
Fiberglass boats have an outer protective layer, called a gel coat, which is susceptible to damage from impacts. It can also wear away and crack if the boat is dragged for long periods over dry ground during launches or portages. Even stones and debris on roads, that are kicked up by the hauling vehicle during transit, can damage the gel coating.
Additionally the storing of a fiberglass drift boat outdoors without the appropriate protective covering could lead to cracking of the gel coat, discoloration and deterioration as UV light, temperature fluctuations and rainwater attack the boat.
If cracks do develop in the gel coating, which are sometimes difficult to see, and they remain untreated for a prolonged period they can allow water to permeate the internal layering of fiberglass which will lead to rot developing.
So, although fiberglass requires less maintenance than wood, it is not a maintenance free material.
It is believed that the pioneer of aluminum drift boats was Jerry Briggs. As documented in Drift Boats & River Dories by Roger Fletcher, when a friend saw Briggs first aluminum drift boat he quipped, “Damn it, Jerry. If God had wanted aluminum downriver boats, he’d have made aluminum trees.”
Aluminum boats, especially shallow water craft (like Jon boats), have gained in popularity due their low cost, availability, their incredible durability and their ease of maintenance.
As drift boats are often used in boulder-filled rivers and waterways aluminum has become the first choice for many drift boat owners. Aluminum is incredibly tough and very durable boat and can handle almost any type of abuse that is thrown at it.
An aluminum drift boat is not subject to rot or cracking and dents seldom effect it. Neither will it be affected by the elements including UV and rain exposure. An aluminum drift boat can be stored outdoors without any type of covering and will sustain no damage from the elements or the sun.
Aluminum drift boats require almost no maintenance apart from washing.
Due to the preference of manufacturers for using aluminum, over other materials, this has lead to much more choice in the marketplace for people who opt for boats made from this material. Thus you have better choices when it comes to aluminum drift boats with many different sizes, configurations and options available.
I’m sure you have already guessed that here are a some disadvantages to using an aluminum drift boat. So what are they?
Aluminum boats are noisey. Although there are ways to quiet an aluminum boat, like reducing hull slap and dampening engine noise (as pointed out in the article how to quiet a Jon boat), these boats are far from quiet. Even dropping something in the boat can make a racket.
Aluminum boats also require epoxy hull treatment to help them slide over submerged obstacles better.
It is also worth noting that aluminum and saltwater don’t play well together. Although you will most likely only be using your drift boat on inland freshwater bodies it is worth remembering aluminum boats need constant maintenance if used in saltwater environments.
Unlike the other materials mentioned, an aluminum drift boat will reflect the temperature around it. It will feel cold in the winter and very warm in the summer.
Polymer is material more common to kayaks than drift boats.
As kayaking comes with many dangers these small single-person boats need to be tough, resilient and durable. Polymer provides the material needed to make such a boat.
Because drift boats are used in similar whitewaters to kayaks it is no wonder some drift boat manufacturers started to see the advantage of building their boats using Polymer.
Polymer is not only a very tough and durable material but it is also very quiet. Like a polymer whitewater kayak, a polymer drift boat is lightweight yet incredibly hardy. In fact, a polymer drift boat can be 35 percent, or more, lighter than its fiberglass and aluminum counterparts.
As many kayakers will attest to, polymer boats are practically maintenance-free.
Polymer also slides smoothly over obstacles without the need for any type hull treatment.
Polymer is also cheap and is produced in bulk so it’s readily available.
Polymer drift boats are hard to come by. Although there is a definite future for these boats most manufacturers do not currently have the set-up to produce them for mass marketing. So simply finding one can be difficult.
This lack of mass market production also means that there are currently only limited sizes, configurations and options available.
Size is another important consideration when it comes to buying a drift boat.
The most common drift boats on the water will be 14′ or 16′ models – the tradition size of drift boats. These boats will tend to have 48″ bottoms.
For those who need more space, there are bigger boats available.
Although not as common, it is not unusual to see an 18′, or even 20′, drift boat on larger waterways. These boats tend to have 72″ bottoms.
The size of drift boat that suits you will depend largely on your need for cargo space and weight capacity. Obviously the larger drift boats have increased capacity for carry more people and gear. But, more than that, they also offer increased stability and because the weight is distributed over a larger area the boat will avoid having a deeper draft for safer shallow water use.
Although weight is often determined by the manufacturing material used to build the drift boat this is not the only contributing factor.
Be conscious of the fact that accessories and seating can affect the weight of the boat. Even the oars can have an affect. If the drift boat is fitted with an outboard motor this should also be factored into the overall weight of the boat.
Although weight will be a consideration, for towing for example, it should not be a major buying factor when it comes to a drift boat.
Weight capacity is a more important consideration, though it should not be a deal breaker. How weight distribution affects stability on the drift boat and its draft are the most important things to consider when it comes to weight.