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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what about kelly's old driftwood driftboat.. this was a 16x48 single tripper.


That's the blog I was referring to. Outstanding, creative and uninhibited effort! I absolutely admire Chris' work on that beautiful boat.  Unfortunately for me perhaps, while I possess some skill with woodworking I often lack the inclination or patience and operate somewhat fast and loose.  IMHO, Ultimately for me the key is "the doing of the thing" to steal from Buzz.

I ride motorcycles and often lean on the expression that it doesn't matter what two wheels get you there, as long as you go.

Thanks for the dialogue


I don't know that she has taken it down the Big Ditch. I know she has taken it down the Lower Main Salmon in late season. The water isn't as big and the opportunity at that time of year to fill it with water is limited. The pool and drop nature of the Lower Main is similar to the GC but the length of the drops and the size of the waves even at 6,000 to 10,000 cfs are far different than the Lower Main at similar levels of flow. Most of the time on the Lower Main (Whitebird Idaho to Heller Bar on the Snake) the water is flat like much of the Grand Canyon. With Kelly's Grand Canyon experience level the Lower Main Salmon would be a piece of cake in her drift wood boat. Also there are fewer opportunities to hit rocks in the LMS.

I plan to float the Lower Main next summer, however I want to do something like Robb Grubb did to his original boat. I am more concerned about loosing or swamping the boat without enough floatation. The trips are also shorter, the loads are less and there are so many people on this un-permitted river that there is almost always someone around to help you or move you down river.

Rick Newman

Honestly, if i had a boat like you have rick, and wanted to make it able to handle a little bigger water, id do just like you are saying and seal off the ends of the boat with cabinets and leave the rest open...then skip all the decking details and make the boat convertible with removeable dryboxes In the center. You could have 2 big dryboxes that span the beam for the rower and passenger, then 2 small captains boxes on either side of the rowers footwell. Stick a big cooler behind you in the rear passenger footwell, and mount a 1100gph bilge in the bottom of the boat and ide say thats a boat wit enough floataion to make it down the salmon.

Even better, you can buy really cheap aluminum boxes from frontierplay. Like a little over $200 apiece for the big ones, the small ones are even cheaper. Now i realise this is a wooden boat forum and all, but ive made a few plywood dryboxes with the necessary glass/epoxy/primer/paint and in the end its really tough to come out much cheaper than those frontierplay boxes. Especially once you factor in your time. You could deck the whole center of the boat for under $1000, paint the boxes to match and put nice foam or neoprene on top and instant removeable decking. Just hang em on a couple 1x4 spanners across the beam that mount to the ribs in the stock seat holes, and you are in. If you have any gaps along the edges curve of the boat, make a couple running boards to cover the space and make for a nice solid walking platform all over

Chris, I will think about that, you have some good ideas.


I'm liking this idea too!

+1 for Chris' thoughts. I plan to start with bow/stern compartments. Will look to utilize my cooler and Lg dry box amidships. Also like the running boards.


I think Chris is offering a good option.  With the exception of taking on the big waves of the Grand Canyon, or Cataract, adding some sealed cabinets and water tight dry boxes should give you enough floatation for most Class III and a few Class IV runs.  I have been down Deso many times and even at 45000 CFS I have never taken on more then a bucket of water.  Even after the Flash flood that turned Joe Hutch rapid into a close to Class IV run a few years back I have never tank on more the a bucket of water.  Since the rapid has intensified I have run it at least 10 time in flows of 1000 (yes Deso in a dory at only 1000)  and 45000.   In my trips down the Grand Canyon I can honestly say that on every trip, if I had and open boat it would have filled to the gunwales more then once and would likely been lost.  

Hey Chris, 

Do you have pictures of what your boat looks like with cooler or dry boxes in.  I am planning on decking the back and front and put metal dry boxes and coolers in the middle. I also thought about making tight fitting compartments for dry box and cooler to slide into, making the whole boat decked once the cooler and dry boxes are in.  


Hey, I have the larger high side Tatman that I converted to a dory years ago. I get out on all of the upper Colorado and Green Canyons at medium to high flows. The commercial grand companies have moved away from the traditional Rogue Hull and toward a narrower more sleek design. If your boat is a high side definitely go for it. Even if you are set primarily on a Grand boat, smaller boats will probably still work. Hopefully, current Grand water levels change but isn't looking very positive. I ran Crystal this past May at only 5600 cfs, guessing it had been 25 yrs since I had saw that low of water in the gorge. I also have a cataract boat (not necessarily the optimal design) that is only 15' 6" and a very shallow design, but Canyoneers ran those boats commercially into the 60's.

I picked up a decked high side Don Hill  16 x 48 a few years back. As someone else mentioned, there is not a whole lot of room under the decking.  I have done a few multi-day trips with it but always had raft support.  What I really like about the decking is that it provides a HUGE platform for standing, sitting, sleeping, fishing, and the dog loves it.  A couple of soft Paco Pads and that thing is comfy.  As I said, the decking was done by someone other than me but I think it works great.  I've done multi-day lower San Juan, Upper Colorado and Ruby/Horsethief canyon of the Colorado in it so class II/III water.   In fact, heading out tomorrow for a day run on the Upper C. I have included a link to my page but not sure if it is accessible to all. Some pictures from before the refurb but you'll get the idea.  Let me know if you can't access and I can post some pics.  Might provide you with some ideas (I am thinking about adding side hatches on both sides of the rower's bay for next years project).


Hi Mike -- thanks for your post.  The link didn't seem to work for me.  Do you have any pictures of your boat that you can post?  



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