Choosing the Right Row Boat Oars for Your Raft (2022)

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Spring is approaching, and that means whitewater rafting! It’s time to get my gear and paddle rafts ready for the next season, which means assessing my row boat oars and paddles. Most rafters use oars for their row boats, whether from a stern-assist or a center frame, and you need to choose the right oar length and type for your raft.

whitewater rafting

In this article, we will give you an overview of the material, different blade types, and show you how to determine the length of oars you need for your raft or drift boat. We will also recommend a few brands that offer quality oars.

What are oars made out of?

Oars are available in a variety of materials, with Wood, Fiberglass, and Carbon Fiber. Plastic and Aluminum are also popular owing to their low cost.

Wooden Oars

There is something special about oars made out of wood. It is somewhat similar to fishing with a bamboo fly rod instead of a newer carbon fiber one. I have had some great memories rowing a wooden drift boat, rowing wood oars, surrounded by old-growth fir on the Mckenzie River–which was the birthplace of the drift boat.

Also, wood oars tend to flex when rowing them, which increases the power of each stroke and can give you an extra nudge forward.

Another nice feature is that the tips also float making it easier to pull them out of the water between strokes.

Ash is the most common wood species used and can hold up under the demands of whitewater rafting.

The drawbacks are that they require more upkeep than other materials, are heavier, and they typically don’t last as long as carbon fiber.

Carbon Fiber

Carbon fiber is a great material for making oars. It is a lightweight material and incredibly durable. This makes it the perfect material for rowboat oars. I would recommend purchasing a pair of oars that are counterbalanced as it will help keep your tips up.

Carbon Fiber Oars
Carbon Fiber Oars

Today, they are able to make carbon fiber oars that flex as much as wood does. Making them a lighter version of the benefits of wood.

Your arms will also thank you on long multi-day trips because they are considerably lighter than wood as well.

The main drawback to carbon fiber oars is the cost. They are one of the most expensive options on the market. They also tend to splinter over time, so you will need to be careful to not get slivers.


Fiberglass is a happy medium between wood and carbon fiber. It is not as lightweight as carbon fiber but lighter than wood. They are the least long-lasting of the choices, and would only recommend them for rowboats if the price was the primary factor.

What is the best oar blade type?

You want to keep in mind that when you purchase an oar you will also need a blade or sometimes called the tip. Wooden oars have the shaft and the tip constructed as one piece, and carbon fiber oars have the tip sold separately. The concept of being able to change my tips is one of many features I like about carbon fiber oars.


Wide oar blades are the ideal oar blade type when rowing on high-volume rivers. They provide more power for breaking through waves, eddy fences, and holes, and they also help move the raft quickly through flat water.

Wide oar blades are especially nice for rowing a gear boat or heavy passenger boats.

Most of my boats are outfitted with wide tips on the oars. They are a perfect all-around tip.


Narrow blade oars are great to have when rowing on technical rivers where precision is more important than power. A wider blade can provide more power, but it can also be more difficult to row with precision.

I would recommend a narrow blade when rowing on rivers such as Illinois in Southern Oregon or the Upper Clackamas outside of Portland, Oregon. I also like narrow tips when I am on tight rivers where I have to ship a lot.

Shoal Cut

This type was designed for rowing in low water river conditions. where scrapping the bottom can happen frequently. The scooped blade and broader oval design help to keep the oar from scraping on shallower rocks. 

The Shoal Cut blade is extremely popular with anglers in fishing rafts and Drift boats since anglers are often running in low-water rivers, such as the John Day river in late Spring.

How do I determine the right oar length for my raft?

Ok, are you ready to do some math? I hope so if you are in the market for oars for your boat! Oars come in many lengths and it is important to choose the right length for your boat. For rafts and drift boats, it is optimal to have 1/3 of the oar on the inside of the oarlock and 2/3 of the oar on the outside of the oarlock.

You will need to first measure the width of your oar frame from lock to lock. Next, take that number and divide by 2. Lastly, you take that number and multiply by 3 to get the oar length that you need. Keep in mind that the overall oar length is the length of the oar shaft and oar tip combined.

For example: Let’s say that you have an 80” wide oar frame from oarlock to oarlock. Half the distance is 40”. Multiply by 3 and you will need a 120″ or 10’ set of oars for your boat.

What else do I need for my oars?

Oar Stops

Oar stops come in a variety of designs and sizes. These rubber or plastic pieces keep the oar from sliding out of the lock.

Oar Wraps

Oar wraps are made with a rope being wrapped around the shaft from just near the tip to below the oar stop. This protects the part of the oar that will be rubbing against the oarlock and extends the life of the oar.

Oar Locks

Oarlocks are what attach an oar to the side of a boat. There are a few different types of setups: Pins & Clips, open locks, and Oarights. I prefer the straightforward open oarlock such as the Sawyer Cobra Oarlock.

Which Oar should I buy?

I would recommend you purchase a carbon fiber oar and tip. They perform well, are long-lasting, and are lighter than wood. If you can afford it, make sure to get them counterbalanced.

I use the Cataract oar shaft which is a great deal for the price.

Price per oar shaft: $240.00

Cataract oar shaft

For the tips, I like the Sawyer blades, and are priced right!

Price per oar tip: $65

Sawyer blades

Let’s go rafting

Well, as I said in the beginning, Spring is almost here and it is time to get our whitewater gear ready for the river. Check out our Gear Review page for other items you will need to have to make your trip more enjoyable. This website is dedicated to providing reviews on products that we use and can stand behind as commercial outfitters.

We also provide River reviews on various rivers in the Pacific Northwest. Contact us if you are wanting more information on a river we run or want us to make a review on a river.

We’re reader-supported. We may earn an affiliate commission when you buy through links on our site.

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