How to Rig a Dory for Whitewater

Every dory guide rigs their boat for a big day of whitewater a bit differently. In Idaho, we have guides who take minimal equipment or “fluff pack” to guides who want the toilet system, tent bags and just about everything but the kitchen sink beneath their hatches.

How to rig a dory for whitewater

How to rig a dory will depend on the hatch configuration of the boat, the number of passengers, material of the boat (wooden, aluminum, or foam-core) and the river conditions (high water vs. low water, technical water vs. big water, etc.). All particulars aside, these basic tips will help you prepare your dory for a successful day on the water.

Start With a Blank Canvas

Most of the work to ensure a successful dory run is done before the boat even touches the water. It’s important to inspect the boat for any hairline cracks, dents, or holes. Double check the hatch lids and the footwell draining mechanism. Since they’re not self-bailing boats, dories can take on water fast and not even a good pack job can compensate for a few dozen gallons of water in the hull. Inspect your oarlocks and oars for any extra movement. And a new coat of paint never hurts you and your boat’s confidence!

It’s All About Weight

Whitewater dories are extremely sensitive to weight shift both in gear and passengers, making rigging a dory almost as important as how you row it. Once your dory has arrived at the boat ramp it’s time to pack in your gear. When packed correctly, a dory can haul nearly as much gear as a similarly-sized raft. For most dories to row efficiently, the bulk of the weight of your gear should be centered around the rower. This allows the rower and the oars to be the fulcrum point around which the boat rotates.

When I begin to pack a dory I find lightweight, light-use items (like a spare sleeping bag kit or a rain tarp) and push them into the nose and stern of the dory. I then grab my heaviest items such as kitchen gear, ammo cans and canned beverages and puzzle piece them into the hatches, trying to focus the heaviest items under or near my rowing seat. Awkward and bulky items like umbrellas and tables should be rigged first, with smaller or softer items rigged last.

How to Rig a Dory for Whitewater

Skip the Straps and Get Aggressive

One of the best parts of rigging a dory is no complicated strap system! Items such as a first-aid kit, satellite phone, or midday lunch equipment can be rigged near the top of the dory for easy access. In the event of a high side or a flip, however, it’s important that the equipment under the decks doesn’t shift. Using lightweight, bendable items like tarps or sleeping bags to finalize your rig helps ensure a tight, flip-ready fit. Often, this will take some shoving and encouraging words. With the delicacy of your boat and your gear in mind, sometimes it takes a good kick or punch to get a round piece of gear into a square hole!

Safety First

For finishing touches, I think safety. I wrap a cam strap around the stern of my dory for an easily extendable flip line, lace my oar leashes, strap my seat down to the deck and clip a throw bag on to my oar stand.  My river map tucked under my seat is the final touch!

Looking for more dory info? Check out this video on how to run a rapid in a dory.

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