Join The Party! A Guide To Boat Raft-Ups

June 6, 2012

At one time or another, you’ve probably seen a group of boats banded together in a floating, fun-loving, makeshift community.  And when you see everyone swimming, grilling, laughing, dancing and generally having a great time, you might just ask yourself: How can I join the party?

Raft-ups are great way to enjoy spending time with friends, family and, occasionally, complete strangers. As with any worthwhile endeavor, however, there are both time-honored traditions and unwritten rules one must abide in the quest of boating fun. And once you master a few easy techniques, you’ll be a raft-up master in no time. 

Gear Up

You’ve probably already got the necessary gear on board. If you don’t, a quick stop at any marine retailer can help you fill in the gaps. Before you pull up to a raft-up, make sure you have at least two fenders, four bow lines, two spring lines, a good anchor appropriate for your body of water (sand, mud, rocks, etc.), and anchor line equal to about 10 times the length of your boat. One optional piece of equipment is a boat hook, which really helps with close-quarter pulling and pushing to keep your hands safely inside the boat.

Step Up

Well, it never seems to work out this way, but in an ideal world, you want the biggest boat to set a good, strong anchor, then have all the other, presumably smaller, boats start tying up from either side outward. About every third boat then will set anchor and ease into the raft-up. If you’ve got a raft-up veteran directing the show, things will move quickly and efficiently. If not, don’t worry…figuring out each individual raft-up layout is half the fun.

Heads Up

Assuming you’ve been invited, pull up within hailing distance and get your host or other appointed dignitary on the VHF radio or cell phone. If technology fails you, which it has been known to do, look for the wildly waving arms of a friendly guide telling you what side you’ll be hooking up to.

Set Up

Spring into action by getting your fenders out on both sides of your boat, securing your bow and stern lines to the cleats, and getting your spring lines out and available. Make sure everyone on your boat has a job. You need your lines manned, but don’t toss them to the other boat until you’re almost in place. Those well-meaning souls can tug you out of position in a hurry. Trim up your engine and trim tabs to make it easier to glide into place.

Pull Up

You want momentum, but not speed. Bump the throttle as needed to keep your forward motion, but careful not to create a wake and slosh the raft-up. You should be approaching the line astern, and if things are going as planned, everyone’s bow should be into the wind. Be on the lookout for any swimmers, your first priority is safety for everyone inside and outside your boat. If you’ve got kids or other guests that aren’t helping with the raft-up approach, they need to be seated and quiet. Pull up easy and stop at idle next to the boat you’ll tie off with, but don’t turn off your engine until you’re securely attached.

Lines Out

Toss bow and stern lines to the adjacent boat and adjust forward and aft so your stern lines up with the other boat. This makes it easier to step from one boat to the other. Use spring lines between boats to make sure you don’t shift forward and aft. Now you can shut down the engine and allow passengers to move. Make sure children are wearing life jackets at all times.

Party On

Now for the social aspect of rafting. You should have brought enough food, beverages and appetizers for your boat and extras to share with the other members of the raft-up. Be considerate about your music volume, splashing, language and anything else that may rankle your new neighbors. Be willing and able to lend a hand as new boats arrive or leave.

Take Off

Just like with jumper cables, your departure should operate in reverse order of your arrival. Help the folks on the end if needed and be patient for your turn. If you’re one of the first boats out, take off slowly with no wake so you don’t disturb the other rafters. If you (or another boat) need to leave from a spot in the middle of the line, tie two long bow lines to boats on either side of you, and a long stern line to one of the boats. Take off your spring lines, then the bow lines, then the stern lines and back up and out. Toss the stern line from one remaining boat to the other, pull them together, and secure lines between them.