Since my first trip down the Grand Canyon in 1997 I've wanted a whitewater dory.  However, money and time have delayed the dream until now.

Recently, I picked up a drift boat and trailer for $600 from a guy who got it from a guy who owed him money.  I believe it might be a Don Hill 16' (approximately) design, but I'm new to this so could very well be wrong.  It measures closest to his 16ST plan:

It has (had, I took everything out) floor boards, foot controlled anchor, front seat with removable backs, and a rope rowing seat.

A fair amount of the outer layer of plywood on the outside of the boat has delaminated and is gone (you can't really tell from the picture).  The seller said that the builder told him it happened when he put on the finish.  So, at the very least I plan to glass the exterior and have a drift boat.  The guy I bought it from allowed water to accumulate on the inside to some degree, and the inner ply has some issues as well.  I've scraped away all of the loose parts and what remains appears to be sound.

I'm not much into fishing (though a few friends are and I can see a symbiotic relationship forming if I leave it in drift mode) and I'd really like to deck it over and turn it into a whitewater boat.  I realize it is smaller than the typical Grand Canyon dory, but don't know if/when I'll ever get back down there (did make it down this summer on rubber).  Typically, my group of friends runs rafts down Cataract once or twice a year, tries to pull a Main Salmon, and sometimes gets invited on a Desolation trip.  

My question is whether this boat is a decent candidate for conversion to a whitewater dory?

If yes, other questions will follow.  Or, feel free to offer any advice or thoughts.


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I built a Don Hill 16x48 standard in 1995 with a half decked interior. It has one compartment in the back and one in the front and the middle is open with a standard passenger seat box. It is a great boat for what I use it for, training, day trips and Oregon camp trips for two people.

I think this particular hull size is too small for a fully decked boat, mainly because of the side height (not enough room for decks, footwells, self-bailing false floor, etc), however, many people have done it with success. It all boils down to what you will use it for and how much crap you want to carry. If you pack like a back packer, you will be fine, if you pack like a rubber boater, you will not be fine.

If you do choose to deck it over, some thought and research needs to go into your existing ribs;

_ Are they glued, sealed or epoxied to the sides and bottom plywood? If not, if you are using them to attach bulkheads and you want them to be water tight, then you will need to be sure to use a technique to make them water tight, also so water does not stand / congregate between the ribs and plywood to induce rot.

_ I would recommend using some sort of 5200 or Sikaflex type product to seal all of the bulkhead and deck joints. This allows them to flex and move a little without creating a crack or hole for water to enter. You can coat it with epoxy / paint later for the finish.

_ Link to my bigger 18x54 ribbed boat decking adventure:

Others on this site have some great posts on how to repair rot and wood damage, be sure to pay attention especially to the ones who talk about glassing over / around the outer chine areas.

Cheers, Robb

Robb, I checked out your thread on your conversion to a decked boat.  Great work! Beautiful boat. I will be using it a guide to follow for my upcoming mods.

Thanks, Kevin

Robb -- Thanks for your thoughts and advice.  Great looking boat!  I've been thinking a lot about the ribs over the past month or so, particularly because the outer layer of the plywood on the inside of the boat was severely compromised.  I've scraped out that layer, but now suspect there isn't anything beyond the screws from the outside of the boat that is holding the ply to the ribs.  My plan was to loosen the screws on each rib, insert some glue/epoxy (not sure which), then tighten down the screws until it dries.  Somewhere on this site, or maybe another, I read that I shouldn't glass over screws, so my plan was to remove them.  Possibly, I'd add some glass to the inside to add strength.

I have read some posts about how to handle the chines, especially the part about not glassing over the sacrificial wood strip (it's late, can't think of the vocab term).  I've already remove one strip and plan to take the other off before glassing.



Hi Jim.  I am much like you. Was in the Canyon once in the late eighties, but have guided whitewater all over including OZ and NZ.  I have dreamt of Dories since I first knew of them.  I have run everything from Kayaks, decked canoes, open boats, boogie boards and all manner of rubber.

I have only recently acquired a drift.  As with you mine is a standard configuration 16' and I am planning on decking for WW.  I say go for it, regardless of its size. Whether or not you choose to run the Grand, you will make that decision  when the opportunity arrives.

There is a great link on here to someone who made a ww drift/dory from scrap.

I am motivated by the efforts of Powell, Kolb, Marsten, Holstrum... the list goes on.

Remember it ain't  adventure if you know the outcome.

Cheers Kevin

Kevin -- Thanks for the motivating thoughts.  I'm still deliberating.  Thinking Chris' post below might make some good sense.

What's your budget? How many trips does it have to make? What would happen if it failed on the trip, is it expendable? With appropriate skills many different watercraft have traveled the Canyon, many have made it in fine style.

There is a guy that runs a 16' Tatman that has been decked over and is apparently very solidly built and runs the desert southwest rivers. Dave Inskeep is his name. Larry Hedrick on writes about Dave Inskeep and is familiar with his boat as they boat the Grand Canyon and other rivers together. It would interesting to see what Mr. Inskeep did to his Tatman to make it suitable for the Grand Canyon.

Have you read the recent book by Kevin Fedarko, The Emerald Mile. A pretty small boat in some really big water.

Rick Newman

Rick -- Great question in regard to budget!  I haven't dared put together a budget.  Just figured it'd go the way of a number of my house remodels, once you take a sledge hammer to the kitchen you are rather committed to put it back together regardless of cost.  More to the intent of your question, as to whether I'll assume the fetal position for days on the beach if I sink the boat in Crystal, I can't quite process an answer.  To be honest, total loss hadn't been in my thinking.  I'll work on that.

Thanks for the lead on the Tatman.  I just googled it and now have even more to read while suffering from insomnia!  

Yes, I read the Emerald Mile last year.  I loved it.


One little pretty sure dave inskeeps boat is not a 16x48 fishing boat. Its a 17.5x54 highside...much bigger boat. There were pics of it on the tatman website back in the day.
I launched on the grand canyon on the same day as dave, larry, jeremy, and kyle frye a few years back, so ive seen all those boats in person. Heck i might not be here today if it werent for that strange twist of fate.

Larry Hedrick never suggested the size so that certainly makes a difference. Chris, you brought up some very very valid points. This is a great part of this site, the ability to share a broad range of opinions and information in a civilized fashion.

Rick Newman

Dave's boat, the Hellgrammite is a 16 foot decked tatman.  As heavy as you can get.  It must be about 600 pounds.  Much of it is glass covered 1/2 inch plywood.

The boat could be about 15 years old with thousands and thousands or river miles.  It's been down the Grand Canyon 4 times.  Dave is a powerful rower and in all those miles the boat is in great shape.  He almost never tags rocks.  I'v rowed it many times.   You can see many images of it and other boats at

A 16 foot McKenzie hull is a good size.  My current boat is a 16 footer.  Just be aware they are not the long flat bottoms of the Briggs Grand Canyon boats.  My first dory run down the Grand I rows a 14 foot converted Mckenzie,  made it fine but, it's too small and wants to spin. 

As for Crystal,  anyone can lose a boat at Crystal or Hance.  So if you do smash a boat you won't be alone.  Last time I ran Crystal the flow was about 8000.  Never again.  If the flow is less then 9K at launch the dory stays home.

Im gonna have to disagree here. I read this alot about folks trying to convert a 16x48 fishing boat to be a grand canyon dory. This is like taking a 2wd pickup truck and slapping some bigger tires on and thinking you can go rock crawl in moab. Sorry, wrong tool for the job.

This boat wont make a great whitewater dory for idaho or desert bigwater... its too short, narrow and the sides are too low. A boat made for whitewater needs way more width if its gonna be a 16 ft long. It really just needs to be bigger all around. It needs higher sides so that every big crasher wave doesnt bury you and fill your boat to the gunwales. So that being said, your not invested into this boat for very much, so why take this old fishing boat and try to make it something its not, your not going to get what you are really after in the end.

So ill offer another opinion, why not just fix this boat enough that you can get your money back out of it later on, then just take it on the river and enjoy having a boat while you build a real dory from scratch. Its a long process, and the hardest long part is fitting the bulkheads, decks, gutters, coamings, hatch lids and trim and trying to make it all fit. If you are gonna do all that, why not just scarf another couple more sheets of plywood, foam core, plascore, whatever together and stitch them together into a hull. Youll get the boat you want in the end, and it wont really cost that much more money, or time in the grand scheme of things. Then you can part with your fishing boat and get some good use out of it for free, and by fixing delaminated wood, epoxy, fiberglass, varnish etc youll gain the experience youll need to fix the boat when you inevidably slam it into a rock and have to do the repair on some beach in the middle of a canyon.

Fwiw, im about 18 months now into my build of my dory. Theres been many tough things to do, mistakes made, lessons learned, etc. its been a learning process. But what i have learned is that in the overall grand scheme of things is the hull is the easy thing to build compared to all the decking details. So starting with a poor foundation and expecting it to morph into a boat that youll take down the ditch someday is a poor plan. If thats really your long term goal, i think its time to set back, reassess your plan and acknowledge that the whole process is gonna be way more involved that you would otiginally thought, you might as well start with a blank canvas, roll up your sleeves and get to work making your own piece of art.

Chris -- Thanks for the sound advice.  The drift boat fix-up option has been rattling around in my head for awhile.  I think my plan is to fix-up the exterior, do some touch-ups to the interior that will no impede putting the seats, etc., back in and run it down the river with some friends who want to fish.  Guess it'll give me the excuse to use the fly rod I bought a few years ago.  Then, depending on how I feel about it, deck it over or sell it.  I was hoping to save some time on the whitewater build, but your points about starting out with a substandard foundation have me thinking.  Thanks - Jim


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