Boating on the River with another Cool Liquid

michael and steve on boats

The river water glistens and shimmers with the western sun. Waves lapping the sides of the raft occasionally rush over in a splash. The winter runoff feels frigid yet refreshing.

It doesn’t take long before another shimmery, cold, refreshing liquid enters the scene. And this one you can drink. We’re talking about beer.

Beer and Boating Just Go Together — Why?

“Because it has from the beginning of time,” says librarian and veteran boater LaVonne Meek. To her, it’s simple. “Hot Day, Cold Beer.”

© Jill Davis

© Jill Davis

“It’s natural,” says CEO of Epic Valley Salsa and boater Tim Markel. When on the river, according to Markel, “drinking beer is an automatic thing you do. There’s a natural synergy between boats and beer.”

Part of the connection is the social nature of river rafting says Meek’s coworker and fellow librarian Susan Mathews. And when you’re with friends and family on a hot day of rafting, beer is a bonus.

“It’s having something special,” she says. “We have beers, and then we let the kids have flavored soda water.”

Many boaters have that same attitude since beer often tops the list of things to bring on both single or multi-day river trips. Retail Buyer for Salida Mountain Sports Amy Reed has been on several multi-day family trips. She says beer is a must. “A lot of cheap, canned cold beer and soda for the kids.”

jason rafting JUG SHOT

Bringing Beer on the River

Computer and technology guru Jason Lapointe offers another reason beer and the river go together. “You’ve got to put something in the cooler — otherwise it’s just a floating box,” he says.

Mathews has a twist on the cooler theory. “You need a beer cooler and a regular cooler. The beer needs to be easily accessible in its own cooler that is preferably collapsible. And then you have your regular cooler.”

However, according to river raft frame welder Kurt Glaser, putting beer in a mesh drag pack that is secured to the raft is the way to go.  “The river keeps the beer cold and you don’t have to take up cooler space,” he adds.

Glaser also maintains, “A friend of mine says you always want to drink half of your beer right after opening it. That way, in case it spills, you only lose half.”

It’s Gotta Be Cans

Kurt and beer smokey the bear

Cans are definitely the way to go since bringing glass, which, of course is breakable, on the river is never a good idea. Aluminum cans make sense anyway according to Glaser since “you can crush and consolidate them.”  Not into wasting anything, he adds that the cardboard beer cases make great material for starting fires.

While many boaters like the cheap beer, several micro brews are available in cans including brews from Oskar Blues, New Belgium, Ska Brewing.

ska canned beers

However, many boaters prefer the kind of beer they shotgunned while in college. In fact, some river runners swear by PBR, Natural Light, Miller High Life, Tecate.

You can also dress up cheap beer with a lime maintains Lapointe.

“Put a lime in the Modelo to keep away the scurvy,” he adds.

Nurse Elizabeth Leigh calls beer with a lime an “International” and maintains there is a benefit to having one while rafting. “Drink an International so you can get your vitamins while you drink.”

Remember Water While on Water

Before getting carried away with the thought of enjoying Internationals all day, it’s important to avoid getting dehydrated when you’re drinking — especially on a hot sunny day.

© Amraepowell; Creative Commons

© Amraepowell; Creative Commons

“Make sure you hydrate,” says Markel. While some people may think beer is a beverage and therefore why not keep drinking, “use other methods of hydration.” Markel adds.

“I used to drink all day long, and then I’d have a terrible headache,” says Ron Ferris, the founder and owner of Riverboat Works in Salida, CO. Ferris has been on dozens of multiple multi-day raft trips.

“I’ve changed that,” he adds recommending two waters for every beer you drink.

“That keeps me from having headaches.”

Don’t Get Wasted

“I get rigged in the morning, and I have beer. It takes the butterflies away,” says Ferris. While he says that never wants to be drunk or impaired on the river, “it does take the edge off the nerves for me.”

Generally, however, according to Ferris, “heavy drinking during the day is a bad idea.”

Of course, drinking responsibly is a theme that definitely applies to boating. In fact, raging rafters create problems for their fellow boaters. Whether it’s not having fast enough reflexes to maneuver a boat or falling off the boat and needing to be rescued, inebriated rafters can endanger their friends.

“You become a liability for everybody else,” says Gabe Barnard, a raft frame builder and frequent floater. He adds that it’s not just on big rapids when alcohol related accidents happen.

“Even when you’re doing a fishing trip [in low water], it only takes six inches of water to drown.”

One of the most important things to consider is that, ultimately, road driving is almost always involved.  “You still have to do your shuttle and drive home,” says Barnard.

In many states, you can get charged with Boating Under the Influence (BUI), which is subject to fines and penalties. If you’re not the one boating, but you’re a mean drunk, watch out because you can get ticketed as well for belligerence.


Ferris has seen his share of people abuse alcohol on the river. “Boating is a social event; it’s a party. The Grand Canyon is a 21-day party and you’ve got to have an escape clause – a psychological escape. But alcohol isn’t a good one.”

kurt on whitewater

And, basically, the party has to go on hold when big water comes. “Don’t consume too many beers before the rapids,” Meek maintains.

“When I see someone sucking on a whiskey bottle before a big rapid, I get nervous,” Ferris maintains.

The party easily can continue or even begin once everyone is off the river and at camp. “There’s a time and a place for everything,” Barnard says.


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