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Have you ever dreamed of feeling alone in the world, experiencing the wild life, stepping out of your comfort zone and making a childhood dream come true? Then, maybe the answer is to build a DIY raft and sail into the unknown!

In June 2020, we built our own raft in wood and agricultural containers and went down the Dordogne in France for 120km (75 miles). This unique and unforgettable adventure pushed us to give you the keys so that you could live this crazy experience too.

Table of Contents

1. Why build a DIY raft?
2. Our tips to build a DIY raft
3. How to choose the river?
a. Season and flow
b. Dams
c. Width of the river
d. Legislation

The story of our raft adventure on the Dordogne can be found in this article: Rafting down the Dordogne river - 9 days of adventure

1. Why build a DIY raft?

The idea of building a raft to navigate is not a new one. Neither for us nor for the rest of humanity. We won't tell you the whole history of the raft, which probably dates back to around a long time before Jesus Christ, but we can tell you about our history with rafts.

As far as I'm concerned, it was my first raft. But Nil already had some experience. In the summer of 2015, with his brother Noé and two friends, they felt the need to get away from it all, to have an adventure. For health reasons among others, they had to find something not too physical, not too cardio.

The raft has established itself as THE solution, at the same time making a childhood dream come true.

2. Our tips to build a DIY raft

Get ready, here we are talking about straps, agricultural containers, waterlines and centerboards of all kinds.

To build a DIY raft, you need to make sure:

  • That it floats of course, neither too high nor too low
  • That the paddle position is comfortable and efficient
  • To have some space to chill and fish
  • That it can withstand adventure
  • That it can protect from the sun and the rain
  • That you are able to lift it over short distances

We started with the idea of ​​having a 220L agricultural container per person. They will make the raft float and each of us will have a seat. The rest is on a wood and plywood base. We added stakes and a tarp and we were fine. Or almost.

The indicative list of the material used for the construction of our DIY raft:

  • 6 agricultural containers of 220L, bought in a farm, ad found on Le Bon Coin (French equivalent for Craig’s list)
  • 10 sections of rafters for the structure
  • 4 battens for the roof
  • Some screws and flat angle brackets
  • 1 tarp
  • 12 retaining straps
  • String
  • 1 large plywood panel for the deck and centerboard
  • 2L of olive oil to feed the plywood
  • 1 drill-driver
  • 1 saw

We chose to put a removable centerboard on our raft so that it stays straight when we're not paddling.

Sorry, we don’t have an exact plan or dimensions for you. You still have the photos and your imagination;)

For the list of outdoor equipment we took on board for this adventure, click here.

3. How to choose the river?

Building a raft is fine, but you have to know where to take it (and where it will take you). It sounds simple, but finding the right river for a raft adventure is a big deal!

During this raft adventure on the Dordogne, we covered around 120 km (75 miles) in 9 days (a little less if you count that the first day we started late and the last one finished early in the afternoon).

a. Season and flow

We made the choice to leave as early as possible in the summer so that the level of the rivers wouldn’t be too low. It was left to find availability for the whole team: after some exchanges, it was decided. 9 days straddling the end of June and the beginning of July.

The great heat of May and June 2020 didn’t make our life any easier. The level of rivers in France was particularly low this year. We were initially supposed to sail on the Aveyron river, after considering the Loire river, but a few days before the start we had to change plans as, in some sections, we could barely take a foot bath.

Visit the site www.vigicrues.gouv.fr (for France) to check the flow in cubic meters per second and thus get an idea of the situation on your river. Or check out RiverApp to view water levels, flows, and water temperatures.

b. Dams

With its almost 450 dams, France is the 10th country in the world in terms of the number of dams on its territory. So, for safety reasons (water releases) and if you don't feel like carrying your raft too often, look for a section without a dam.

For that, we relied on this map and all the information we could find on the internet on each particular river. A good tip may be to see if there are canoe/kayak rental services on the section you are targeting. Don’t hesitate to contact them to find out how far the river is passable in the season you are considering.

Also remember to check the difficulty level of the river. They are categorized into “class”:

Source: Guide to freshwater water sports from the French Ministry of the Sea

c. Width of the river

Small checkpoint: will the river everywhere be wide enough to let your raft go through? Read up on the internet, watch satellite images and don't forget to take into account the vegetation on the banks which in late spring can be heavy and shrink navigation space.

d. Legislation

By the way, is it even legal to build your own boat and go on an adventure?

Let's talk about the situation in France. First, we can only advise you to consult the specific police regulations applicable to the area concerned. Finally, you must have “personal buoyancy equipment” with you. In a word, a life jacket.

To be honest, we learned once on the Dordogne, that rafting there isn’t 100% allowed... It is sometimes difficult to sort out what is prohibited, permitted, tolerated...
Fun fact: in Dordogne county, we met some police officers, they just waved at us from the shore, amused by our funny crew.

Here is a fairly complete guide (for France, in French).

Did this article help you build a DIY raft? Did it make you want to roll up your sleeves for an extraordinary adventure? If so, let us know in the comments and share this article around you.
If you have any questions, let us know too!

To see the article and video of our raft adventure on the Dordogne river, click here.

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