Rock the Boats

Raft Rental, Bozeman, Montana

Rock the Boats

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Kurt Dehmer

Like most outdoorsfolk, I'd love to have “the garage-majal” fully stocked with a driftboat, a cat-a-raft, two canoes, a float tube, a personal pontoon, a 16-foot jet boat, and the various accoutrements that accompany each. That ain’t my reality, and just like many a humble sportsman, my wallet and limited storage space don’t afford much. So what is a hard-up water-adventure-seeker to do in such a position? The answer quite simply rests close at hand—in a concept made popular by the ski industry.

I'm talking about rentals. Not only does renting a boat form a great contingency plan for a situation like mine, but it also provides an opportunity to test-float a variety of craft before buying. Here are some things to keep in mind.

Tailor the craft to the excursion. Any old military-surplus raft might do for a hot day’s bob down the Madison, but a trip involving whitewater, hauling a few days worth of gear, or packing the craft over a portage or two may require a bit more planning and consultation with a knowledgeable support person.

Scrutinize the equipment to get the best price. Prices and conditions can vary greatly. The best way to get a feel for the quality of the gear is to find out how many times it has been rented, how often it is replaced, and how thoroughly it is inspected before it goes back out the door. Remember that renting is the same as purchasing in one regard: you get what you pay for. Don’t expect bargain prices to produce high-end experiences. A good rule of thumb would be not to rent a whitewater raft from an outfit that also rents irrigation pumps.

Keep your expectations of the rental equipment realistic. Anything used as frequently as rental equipment has the potential to malfunction once or twice now and then. 

Check things out thoroughly at the shop rather than at the boat launch. Two hundred miles away from town is a frustrating place to find out that the oars are different.

If you're thinking about trying a raft, canoe, or drift boat out for a couple of days this season, don’t hesitate. You may just be able the rent the very thing you never knew you wanted.


The following business offer quality boats, rafts, and various other types of outdoor equipment for rental.

Northern Lights Trading Co. / The Barn: northernlightstrading.com

Round House Ski & Sports: roundhouse-sports.com

Big Boy’s Toys: bigboystoysrentals.com

ASMSU Outdoor Recreation Program: montana.edu/outdoorrecreation

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