How to build a barrel raft (or dock)


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A few weeks back I was hired to build a barrel aft for a Japanese film crew up on the Mackenzie River in the Northwest Territories. The timing worked so I took the gig and heading north to do something I had not done since 2007… build a raft. With my buddy Ryan Sgro, over the course of a handful of days we built a 24′ x 8′ raft just outside of Fort Providence, NWT. For anyone out there looking to build a barrel raft, or a dock for the cottage for that matter, this post might be a good guide to help put your dream into motion.


I built the raft in 3 x 8’x8′ sections (above).


Each section would contain 4 x 45 gallon drums. The drums I sealed with silicon to make them air tight. The plan was to use rubber drums which is a better option for a variety of reasons but steel drums still do the tick (above).


I used metal strapping to secure each barrel to the raft to help keep the barrels in place when each section is flipped into the wate (above).


I┬ábelieve that each barrel can hold 350 lbs of weight above water. With 12 barrels, the raft would be able to hold 4,200 lbs above water, including the weight of the raft itself. To secure the raft I used both screws and carriage bolts to join the sections on the inside. On the outside I ran a 4 x 2″x6″ as giant scabs to provide further strength (above).


We laid down 5/8″ plywood. We only used screws for the entire contraction. 1/2″ is stronger but it makes the raft heavier and costs more. I would not go below 5/8″ for thickness (above).


Using L-brackets and 45 degree supports, the bow and stern each have a strong sweeper oar stand (above).


The finished product. The film crew wanted a small shelter to get the cast out of the sun. The oars where attached using row boat pins. We floated the raft 5 km down river to the boat launch. She handled like a dream, bringing back memories from 2004 when I rafted 1,400 km of this river from Fort Simpson to Inuvik.

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