Whitewater Rafting Cargo Nets: the better way to tie down a load

For the past couple of decades I’ve been tying down my rear raft load the old-fashioned way. I’d pile dry bags in vertical positions, stuff roll-up tables and chairs along the outside, then create a web of straps spanning the tops and weaving in and out of the dry bag handles until I was sure the bags wouldn’t come out if I ever flipped the raft.

I was aware that by creating this web I was also creating a hazard. If I ever got caught under the boat and somehow got my foot wedged into the web, it could become a lethal foot entrapment. Not to mention walking onto the raft from the rear was hazardous for tripping.

I tried different tie down methods but always ended up just using the straps. I didn’t think there was another way until my in-laws bought me an NRS cargo net.

Of course, rafting cargo nets have been around for a long time but I always assumed they weren’t very reliable. However,after using the rafting nets last season I became a believer. Not only are they incredibly easy to use, they are very effective at keeping all the gear inside the raft, even if the raft is upside down.

No, I didn’t test that last statement myself, but a friend of mine did. He put in on the Illinois river a few days after we did, and actually flipped his 14 foot raft in the green wall (a notorious raft flipper).

By the time the raft was put into its normal upright position, it had been inverted for about a half hour. It had gone through whitewater, been slammed into walls and been wedged on rocks but not one bag from under the cargo net came out. I was impressed and happy to know that my new cargo net could be used on even the gnarliest rivers.

How to use the Cargo Net

Of course you can’t just throw the net over the top of the bags and hope for the best. You have to actually tie the net to the raft.

The way I do this is simple. I place the net over the bags then connect a long piece of strap or rope to the very back of the raft frame. Then I weave the line through the bottom edge of the net and through the safety rope I have strung around the raft. This secures the net to the raft without leaving any gaps. I keep weaving the rope until I’ve reached the very back of the raft, and tighten and tie off the strap.

Then I do the exact same thing on the other side. When that’s done I secure the net to the frame directly behind the rowers’ seat with some short straps.

If I’m doing a river trip on an easier river, like the Rogue, I don’t weave the line as many times through the net. This makes the process easier and makes getting to the bags at the end of the day easier too.

I’ve always thought the rafting cargo nets were kind of cheesy and actually useless, but now that I’ve used them and seen them in action, I’d never go back to my old ways. What am I gonna do with all those extra straps?

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