Putting the raft away for the season is depressing, but it’s important to store it in a way that isn’t harmful to the life of the raft.
Here are some tips for storing your raft:
1. If possible leave it inflated. Not everyone has the space to store an inflated raft, but if you do, it is far better for the raft.
Don’t keep the raft inflated to its full capacity, deflate at least a quarter of the air from each chamber. Be sure all chambers have approximately the same pressure. You don’t need to measure the pressure, just eyeball it. If one chamber is inflated a lot more than another it can put a lot of strain on the baffles inside the raft.
2. Cover the raft. This is obvious, but even if you keep the raft inflated, cover it with a tarp. If it’s outside, use a sturdy tarp that will be able to withstand the weather. tie the tarp to the raft secure enough to withstand a windy day. You don’t want your raft absorbing all the rigors of winter without some protection.
3. Keep the raft off the ground. Try to get the raft off the floor whether it’s inflated or deflated. If you’re able to store it inflated and you have a raft trailer, leave it on the trailer.
If you don’t have a trailer or the space, consider suspending the partially inflated raft from the rafters of your garage. This is easier said than done, but it’s not too difficult to set up a nifty hanging system with ropes and pulleys.
This will hold up to 250 pounds
To ease the strain of rope against rubber, string the rope through 2 inch PVC pipe. Place the raft on the pipe and hoist it up by pulling on the rope which is strung through ceiling mounted pulleys. Never hang a raft by the D-rings.
If you have no space for hanging or storing an inflated raft, then loosely roll the deflated boat with open valves and store it on some wood pallets. Cover the pallets with indoor outdoor carpeting to guard against abrasions. Even being off the ground those few inches will deter a lot of rodent activity. The last thing you want is to unroll a raft that’s been home to a couple hundred mice over the winter.
4. Storing the raft frame. If you’re able to keep the raft inflated keep the frame attached to the boat, however don’t keep the straps tight to the raft.
If you must deflate the raft, then store the frame wherever you have space. It’s okay to store the frame on edge if necessary, however be sure to pad any portions touching the ground.
If you must store it outside be sure it is covered with a good waterproof tarp. Before tarping it, pull the oarlocks out and store them indoors (be sure to keep the oarlock pins with the oarlocks).
5. Storing raft boxes and coolers. Pull the coolers and boxes from the boat and keep them indoors, or in the garage. We tend to use our coolers even in winter, however when not in use be sure you store the boxes with the clasps undone and the lids partially open. We usually shove 2 sticks under the lid at each end to keep some airflow happening. This helps with condensation and mold growth.
Don’t store anything inside the coolers unless your positive there’s no chance of the item holding moisture. In other words don’t store your strap bag full of straps in the cooler.
6. Storing Straps and ropes. Speaking of straps, it’s a good idea to sort through your straps and hang them. Not only will this keep them fresh and dry, but also you’ll know exactly how many you have and purchase what you need for the upcoming season. I don’t know how it happens but every trip I come home with one or two less straps (I blame my thieving brother).
If you’re really anal, pull all the rope from your rescue bags, coil it and hang it. This will assure dryness and you won’t be faced with a rotting rescue line come Spring.
7. What about the oars? No matter what kind of oars you own, it’s a good idea to store them upright and straight. Don’t hang them from the rafters unless they’re supported from many points. You don’t want to warp your oars.
If you have the clip-on oar blades, you should detach them from the shaft for long-term storage. Lubricate the latch to assure a rust free winter.
If you follow these tips you should pull your gear out in the Spring and not have to do any repairs due to poor raft storage techniques.