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Anybody have any first hand experience with a light to moderately loaded Aire Lion cat set up versus a traditional 14ft raft? I’ve owned many rafts over the years, but have never rowed a cataraft. I’m hoping a cat will feel sportier and more maneuverable, but is that just a pipe dream with the bigger and flatter tubes of a Lion? Thanks!!
 

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I have rowed 14, 15 and 16' rafts, lightly and heavily loaded (normal, modern self bailers). After I got a 16 foot NRS river cataraft, I was floored at how much faster it was to accelerate and change momentum. When its lightly loaded, I feel like I can paddle it like a kayak. I used to load that thing pretty heavily (definitely overloaded) and still enjoyed rowing it more than an equally loaded raft. I now have a 16 foot Lion. Last week we set out on a light day run on class 2-3 with the wife, kid and dog. Very lightly loaded. Boat rowed almost effortlessly. about halfway through the wilderness stretch, encountered a party of 4 on the river that had lost their boat in a strainer and had a rough swim. We just stacked all four of them on the boat (probably 700-750) lbs of extra weight on top of our already 500 ish.

Boat felt nearly the same. Super quick, slightly less maneuverability, but accel/decel seemed unaffected. I wasn't punching any holes. I would imagine that a light 14' cat might be a little more hole bait-y than a loaded boat, but with a boat of that size, and with that much top speed, you can go around a lot of stuff pretty easily.
 

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The only cat tubes that I have experience with is my 22 year old 16 foot Aire Lions tubes. I have only had my rig for 4 years. They are nothing like what MiddleagedGoat experience with NRS river Cataraft. They are sluggish under any load. They catch the wind like they are sails. Very slow rig, but very stable.
 

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I’m sure people with a lot more knowledge and experience than me can set me straight. But I don’t really understand the gear cat concept. Seems like you negate a lot of the performance advantages once you have a floor, boxes/ coolers, and a flatter tube shape.

The main advantages I see with the cat is ease of flying, and being able to move it around empty on your own. If you’re talking about a “light to moderate load” there are tube shapes out there than IMO would be a lot more fun. FWIW.
 

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I can only speak to my experience on my 16ft Lion vs a 18ft rental grand rig. The lion can drag if its overloaded, and will certainly catch the wind as slipshot mentioned. It does coast over holes due to having less surface contact (the same feature that's an impediment in the wind). Mine (2007?) tracks like a dream, moves and turns fast with 1 passenger, a full Canyon 150, personal and a lot of the groups gear (kitchen box, groover, trash, 10gal water, etc)... 2 passenger with all that gear seems to slow it down. I've taken than boat down small low rivers like North Gate at 600, Browns at 800, Gates at 800 and it is responsive enough for the required rock dodging. I've also taken it at mid-water Salmon, Gates and West and been just as happy with it. It is a big boat at 8ft wide and I've always wondered about the 14's.
 

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I’m sure people with a lot more knowledge and experience than me can set me straight. But I don’t really understand the gear cat concept. Seems like you negate a lot of the performance advantages once you have a floor, boxes/ coolers, and a flatter tube shape.

The main advantages I see with the cat is ease of flying, and being able to move it around empty on your own. If you’re talking about a “light to moderate load” there are tube shapes out there than IMO would be a lot more fun. FWIW.
2 things I've noticed, and I'm sure you've got more experience than me but here are my obs.: If you keep the floor and all the gear far enough out of the water (6" for my tubes), it still behaves very similar to the empty version. The lions profile/contact with the water doesn't change much when appropriately loaded. The only time I've been caught and this was when I had the kitchen box in the front bay, was straddling a narrow wave train in Westwater. The tubes missed it entirely and the wave smacked the front box and almost dead-stopped the cat for a moment. Comedic. Such a narrow wave train though poses little risk to that tank of a boat.
Loving that cat like I do, I bought a phat cat (big tubes, flexibility to paddle if desired). That boat cannot carry weight well and slows down as soon as I add a passenger. The floor on it is lower than my Lion's, especially in proportion and I theorize that makes all the difference. (also the big tub diameter puts my center of mass higher :-/ ). I am currently thinking to replace it with a MiniMax which I've seen carry a good bit of weight.
 

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2 things I've noticed, and I'm sure you've got more experience than me but here are my obs.: If you keep the floor and all the gear far enough out of the water (6" for my tubes), it still behaves very similar to the empty version. The lions profile/contact with the water doesn't change much when appropriately loaded. The only time I've been caught and this was when I had the kitchen box in the front bay, was straddling a narrow wave train in Westwater. The tubes missed it entirely and the wave smacked the front box and almost dead-stopped the cat for a moment. Comedic. Such a narrow wave train though poses little risk to that tank of a boat.
Loving that cat like I do, I bought a phat cat (big tubes, flexibility to paddle if desired). That boat cannot carry weight well and slows down as soon as I add a passenger. The floor on it is lower than my Lion's, especially in proportion and I theorize that makes all the difference. (also the big tub diameter puts my center of mass higher :-/ ). I am currently thinking to replace it with a MiniMax which I've seen carry a good bit of weight.
I don’t have much experience with round boats or heavy gear hauling. Speculation on my part so thanks for the more informed opinion. I do have a mini max sized boat. Can confirm it carries a surprising amount of gear while still performing well. Space is more an issue than weight for me. It’s possible but difficult to overload.

My biggest cat tubes are 24’. I ran a cooler in the front bay on the Grand and it didn’t seem to be a problem. Until I straddled a small hole and got stopped dead. Sounds like that extra 1.5” on the Lion would have made a noticeable difference. I understand the OPs frame size needs. Just not sure that a Lion in particular is gonna feel noticeably more “sporty and maneuverable” than a round boat. Smaller boat and 120” frame doesn’t leave OP with a lot of choices though.
 

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Quite a bit of my raft rowing time has been on cat boats. Big Aires, mid size RMR and small JPW.

All rowed really well for me. But when I over loaded them the performance went from good to terrible almost instantly when I added that extra gear bag or what ever.

Bottom line. Be careful loading your cat boat or you will pay the price in performance.
 

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I am new here. In Southern Oregon. Have looked at the forum plenty of times.... I will post on introduction sometime but thought I would chime in as what you are thinking is right up my alley.

I have a 14' Star Kannah and a 14' Aire Lion. Both sit on 120" x 72" NRS frames. Started with the Kannah, upgraded to the Lion, kept the tubes, and just bought another frame this spring. I have friends with rafts and they are great for families, hauling weight, and all sorts of things, but I personally like fishing from the cataraft better (I am sure someone else likes a raft better).... I feel closer to the water, its easier to keep clean if you ever use bait or end up with fish in the boat (with trampoline floor), can land larger fish straight off the front easier in my opinion (salmon, steelhead), have the long and flat frame to mount extra rod storage/holders, and more... I also like the cataraft as does the wife for splash and giggle day trips (we dont have kids and our dog is a wuss about water)... We mainly do class 2-3 stuff that is close with a section containing class 4 here and there.

The tube size on the Lion does float a lot higher than the 24" tubes on the Kannah and is affected less by weight. So i think for one or two extra guys and fishing stuff you are on the right track for tube diameter. I run some tiny coastal rivers in the winter where even length can make a difference getting through things so I stuck with the 14' large tubes instead of going longer. If I wasnt doing that I would have gone 16'....

Sooo.... With my limited experience rowing rafts but being around them a decent amount and decent amount of experience with catarafts (90% of the time with fishing rods on board), I would go raft if it was a family and dog rig that will also be used a lot for multi day hauling a bunch of gear. If it was more day trip, fishing, older kids, some multi day with one other passenger and not packed for luxury, and/or if you are not sensitive to something taking a little more grunt to move if you overload it on occasion, I would go cataraft.

Just my thoughts...
 
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