Why Use a Drift Boat? Here are 6 Top Reasons

Two people using a drift boat in whitewater

A drift boat on the water is a beautiful sight to see. Most drift boats are expensive boats that look almost like works of art and are truly majestic on the water. So you may be surprised to learn that some people use their drift boats through rapids and row them through tight rocky canons where the slightest mistake means no more boat.

But this is just one of the strange uses of a drift boat. Before we look at all of them let’s examine what a drift boat is.

What Is A Drift Boat?

Drift boats are exceptionally stable shallow water vessels that are ideal for river fishing, especially in rivers with shallow areas and whitewater.

Drift boat fishing involves fishing downstream while the boat moves upstream.

A drift boat is one of only a small number of vessels capable of riding whitewater rapids and successfully navigating through tight rocky canyons and it is the biggest vessel that can do so.

Aluminum drift boat with motor

If you fish in shallow rivers that are laden with obstacles and rapids, a drift boat is the perfect watercraft for you.

The Most Common Uses Of The Drift Boat

A drift boat is a shallow draft boat that is used in rivers, mostly for fishing and river running.

The design of a drift boat makes it ideal for inland waterway use especially in rivers that have shallows, whitewater and rapids.

It is a very responsive boat and very easy to handle by someone with a bit of experience.

Although its shallow draft is not unique, (there are many shallow draft river boats, such as the Jon boat), the drift boat’s hull design is truly unique. The hull design gives this beautiful boat some capabilities that other river boats would find impossible to match.

The two main uses of a drift are:

  1. Drift boat fishing. A unique type of on-boat fishing that involves fishing from a moving boat.
  2. River running. This involves rowing through whitewater areas, riding rapids and navigating through tight rocky canyon passes.

These two activities are not mutually exclusive as many fishing trips must include whitewater and/or rapid riding in order to reach prime fishing spots.

Although a drift can be fitted with an outboard motor it is essentially a rowboat and performs best under oar power.

Drift boat fishing

The drift boat evolved from the ocean dory boat.

The dory boat was a fishing vessel that was carried on a schooner and launched when the schooner was out at sea.

The dory boat would then be used to catch ocean fish.

It would make several fishing outings each time bringing its fresh catch back to the mother-ship until it was eventually hauled back aboard once its day’s fishing was complete.

So having evolved from the dory boat the drift boat is a natural fishing vessel.

As the dory boat was most used in ocean areas off the Pacific coast it is no surprise that this boat was adopted by inland fisherman in Oregon.

Its seaworthy nature and flat bottom hull meant it was well suited for use in the Mackenzie and Rouge rivers where whitewater and rapids abound.

Guy fishing from a drift boat

As the dory boat was designed to be used in open waters, but has a flat bottom, only some minor modifications were needed to make the boat more suitable for use in shallower inland waters.

Fishing from a drift boat is usually done in a slightly different way to fishing from other boats.

Where you would normally anchor a boat before casting off, drift boat fishing is done while the boat remains in motion.

Drift boat fishing is slightly different from most other on-boat fishing types.

You fish downstream at off the bow of a drift boat while the boat is moving upstream under oar power.

There are very specific techniques employed when drift boat fishing that are too numerous to go into in this article.

We have a much more detailed article on drift boat fishing here that you may want to read.

Drift boat fishing (video)

Below is a perfect example of the many benefits of fishing from a drift boat.

River Running

Have you ever seen a river kayak riding dangerous rapids or witnessed a whitewater raft dodging boulders in troubled water?

If you have then you will know the type of turbulent waters the guys on these small vessels must navigate successfully in order to stay topside.

You may well then be surprised to learn that a much larger fishing boat, usually made of wood, is used to do the same things.

As the dory boat, from which the drift boat evolved, was mostly used in ocean areas off the Pacific coast it was no stranger to turbulent water.

So, it was no surprise that this boat was adopted by inland fisherman in Oregon where rivers can be very challenging.

Its seaworthy nature and flat bottom hull meant the ocean dory was well suited for use in the Mackenzie and Rouge rivers where both whitewater and shallows abound.

When it evolved into the drift boat it was even more suited to these waters.

Whitewater river running

Drift boats are excellent rowboats for maneuvering through turbulent whitewater. They are incredibly responsive to even the smallest movement of an oar.

Although the drift boat has a flat bottom, (most flat bottom boats don’t handle rough water well), it can easily handle very turbulent water.

A drift boat river running

Having evolved from the dory boat it is better able to deal with choppy water and can sit quite happily in whitewater all day.

Whitewater is abundant in some American rivers, especially in Oregon where the drift boat originated, and in these areas a drift boat is the preferred type of vessel.

Rapids river running

It isn’t just whitewater that this vessel can easily handle, the drift boat was designed to ride rapids and can easily handle very turbulent water.

Where you would normally only see whitewater kayaks and river rafts it is not unusual to see the odd drift boat rowing by.

Due to its incredible stability and superior handling a drift boat can handle rivers with up to class IV rapids (though only by experienced boaters).

In most cases drift owners will think nothing of running class II and class III rapids.

Running rapids in the Rogue River, Oregon (video)

Rocky canyon passes

A drift boat is very responsive to the oarsman and can literally turn on a dime.

This fast and easy responsiveness is needed when river running on very turbulent waters as constant and continual adjustments must be made but it is even more essential when passing through tight rocky canyon passes.

This type of whitewater river running is usually done in a modern inflatable river raft that can take hard knocks and will simply bounce off rocky outcroppings.

As most drift boats are made of wood they would not fair as well as a rubber raft if they hit the rocks.

So skill and patience is needed when navigating through these areas.

You will see in the video below that fast and accurate movements of the oars are needed when navigating rocky areas of water and because of its fast responsiveness a drift excels in these situations.

Drift boat river running (video)

In the video below you will see why boaters use drift boats to river run.

Summary: What A Drift Boat Is & How It Is Used

Drift boats are unique inland waterway vessels with a shallow draft. They are most often used for drift boat fishing and river running.

Drift boat fishing involves an angler standing at the bow of the boat casting off downstream while the drift boat moves upstream.

River running involves rowing through whitewater, rapids and tight rocky canyon passes.

As a drift boat evolved from an ocean-worthy vessel, yet has a flat bottom. It can navigate through shallow water easily while also being able to handle turbulent water.

This makes it ideal for use in rivers with whitewater and rapids.

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