Gear Reviews: NRS Otter Expedition Raft
Could any boater ask for a better birthday present than a mint condition, brand new raft? This article explores how my new raft compares to my old, beater raft, favorite features and why I am stoked to sport NRS. It is important to note my opinions are guided as a private boater rather than a commercial outfitter.
In terms of dimensions, I had my heart set on a hypalon, 14” long, 7” wide raft. To fit those dimensions perfectly, I had already purchased a Compact Outfitter frame, Eddy Out dry boxes, cooler, and 9' Squaretop Dynalite oars which had been used to outfit my first, used raft.
Raft gen.1 was a blue, red and black, 30-year-old Momentum with a worn in nautical, marine rope for a perimeter line. I called her Wonder Woman and although she’ll always hold a special place in my heart, she was an old girl and gripped the water like a suction cup. Ironically, when it came to building momentum as I rowed her, it was a real challenge. Keeping up with my rafting compatriots in their pingy, taut, PVC, 25-years-younger rafts on multi-days was difficult.
After saving up for over a year, in July 2021, I set the backorder ball in motion to purchase a brand new NRS Otter Expedition 142. In light of universal supply chain issues, I was surprised and stoked to wait only 3 months for her to arrive. By November I had sold Wonder Woman and assembled all the previous outfitting on the Otter. Without yet naming her (I heard it’s bad luck to name a new raft before her first flip), I set sail for a maiden voyage over Thanksgiving Day weekend (also my birthday) on the Macks Canyon section of the Deschutes River.
What a treat to row a brand spanking new raft over an unseasonably warm long weekend at the end of November. Here are some of the stock features that made me fall in love with the Otter:
The bow and stern have remarkably more rocker than Wonder Woman. This makes turning way easier and in rapids a rockered shape takes hard hits from large amplitude waves without sacrificing momentum. I knew Wonder Woman was flat, but I underestimated how much it impacted performance until I rowed the Otter for a long weekend. On the other hand, tackling some blind corner larger amplitude waves during a more recent Illinois River day trip, I noticed if I don’t T-up the bow or stern exactly perpendicular to a wave, the rocker could set me off on a slow-mo barrel roll. Upgrading from Wonder Woman, I underestimated how much I would notice a change in overall stability in sporty, hard hitting waves. The Otter demands precision.
Wonder Woman was hypalon also. I chose this fabric because of it’s superior performance over time and it’s resistance to oil, chemicals, ultraviolet rays and extreme temperatures. Although it’s more costly, it’s a longer lasting investment and perhaps, a more environmentally thoughtful choice. What do they say? PVC is a 10 year raft, hypalon is a lifetime raft? Luckily, NRS does offer an option of either fabric depending on your budget and leanings. Concerns over the lifetime of glued vs welded seams are one mark against hypalon.
It might sound silly, but I am still debating about whether to put a perimeter line on the Otter or not. In the meantime, the carry handles are worth their weight in gold. During the warm Thanksgiving maiden voyage, I couldn’t help but christen my boat by jumping off her, mid rapid, in the 60 degree sunshine. Between the carry handle and frame, even without a perimeter line, getting back in the raft was NBD. Not to mention transporting the boat to and from the trailer - the carry handles come in handy then too.
As a private boater who almost never has a passenger and exclusively rows, I expect my boat to take far less wear and tear than a boat in commercial rotation. Although NRS sources overseas, an orientation toward great service for private boaters combined with a reputation as a heritage brand developing high quality products since 1972 solidified my choice. And I am over the moon with my Otter.
As far as naming her. Because it’s best not to diverge from tradition, until her first flip, I’m calling her Jane Doe.