How to Make a Raft From 55-Gallon Barrels

By John Gault

Things Needed

  • 2 2-by-4s, 8-foot
  • 3 2-by-4s, 5 3/4-foot
  • 3-inch decking screws
  • 2 sheets of 3/4-inch plywood, 4-by-6-foot
  • 1 5/8-inch decking screws
  • 4 2-by-4s, 11-foot
  • Measuring tape
  • Drill
  • 20 bolts, 1/2-inch by 6 1/2-inch, with nuts and washers
  • 16 eyebolts, 3/8-inch by 2 1/2-inch, with nuts and washers
  • 4 barrels, 55-gallon
  • Silicone caulking
  • Steel cable with crimps or rope
Both plastic and steel barrels work well for rafts.

Barrel rafts are a relatively inexpensive and versatile way to transport people and materials over water. Fifty-five-gallon barrels make excellent pontoons for your barrel raft. They are durable and widely available, and each one offers around 400 lbs. of buoyancy. Barrel rafts can be constructed in many ways, but a basic design can be easily modified depending on the amount of cargo and water conditions. It also allows for a variety of propulsion options from paddles, oars or even a small motor.

Position two 8-foot 2-by-4s on the ground parallel to each other, and place three 5 3/4-foot 2-by-4s perpendicular to the 8-foot pieces. Place one at the top, one in the middle and one at the bottom. Connect the frame with 3-inch decking screws.

Attach the plywood to the frame using the 1 5/8-inch decking screws.

Turn the platform over. Align the four 11-foot 2-by-4s along the platform to use as barrel supports.

Position the first barrel support 6 inches behind the top cross support. Position the second barrel support 1 3/4 feet behind the first barrel support. Do the same thing at the back of the platform.

Drill five evenly spaced 1/2-inch holes through each barrel support and platform. Attach the barrel supports to the platform using the 6 1/2-inch bolts with nuts and washers.

Drill two 3/8-inch holes on each end of each barrel support. Drill the holes 25 inches apart and 3 inches from the end of the barrel support. Attach the eyebolts with the eyes toward the bottom of the platform.

Seal any openings or seams in the 55-gallon drums with silicon caulking. Seal around the head for open-headed drums. Seal around the bung, located on the head, for closed-headed drums.

Position a barrel between the eyebolts at each corner of the platform.

Lash the barrels tightly to the platform using steel cable with crimps or strong rope threaded through the eyebolts. Turn the raft over before setting sail.

Tip

Depending on the weight of cargo, the raft may float high in the water, which will raise the center of gravity. A raft with a high center of gravity may tip more easily. Adding ballast to each drum will lower the raft’s center of gravity, increase stability but reduce cargo capacity.

Warning

Ensure each person on the raft has a flotation device. Evenly distribute cargo weight to increase stability.
Don't use nails for the platform instead of decking screws, as doing so can result in slippage and the platform falling apart.

About the Author

John Gault has been a writer for more than 20 years. Most recently he has taught middle-school language arts both in the United States and abroad. Before that, Gault worked as a staff writer for the "Kennesaw's Brightside News" and "The Sentinel." He holds a bachelor's degree in English.