Are you planning on a trip down the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon? Well this page should answer many questions you may ask (and some you may not have thought of!).
1) There are two ways to go:
A) The Commercial Trip - which is expensive but everything is taken care of. You will have trusty boatmen and you can likely get onboard within 6-9 months of the trip departure (sometimes at the last minute). Commercial motorized trips cover the distance quicker and cost around $2500 for 8 days. Non-motorized trips (paddle or oar raft or dory) can cost from $3500 - $5000 (for 14-16 days).
B) The Private Trip - which requires winning the permit lottery (may take years to win), organizing your trip (more on that later) and being or finding qualified boatmen (note: boatmen cannot be hired and/or paid to be on your private trip). Private trips (14 days) can cost around $1500 per person or less. See link at bottom of page for more on this.
2) You can go down the river in a number of water-craft. If you are on a commercial trip, you are limited to four basic craft:
A) The big engine powered motorized rig (image above left), which is the least expensive and quickest way to travel the distance. These commercial rigs (sometimes called S-rigs, J-rigs, or "Baloney Boats" ) will cover the entire Grand Canyon in about 8 days. They are large inflatables that can carry from 14 -17 people and the trip costs about $2500 per person. See more information and a diagram of an S-rig here. Incidently, the big motorized rigs are the wettest of all (if you are riding in the front) and are definitely the safest (almost never flip or fold up in a rapid). The only danger is for someone to be lax and get thrown out.
But... If you have the time and you have the coin, I believe you will have a better experience by choosing the non-motorized option
B) Oar Raft - This is an inflatable neoprene raft that usually holds 4 passengers and one oarsman who handles all the rowing and negotiating of rapids (see image above). Oar rafts are about 18 feet long and tend to "bend" over the tops of waves, dampening the motion. But, since they are small, you will experience all the excitement of a non-motorized adventure.
C) Paddle Rafts - These are rafts where everyone paddles. They usually hold seven people, three on each side and a single oarsman who steers from the stern. This is probably the most exciting way to do the river on a commercial trip but you should definitely be in very good shape as you will be paddling each day for 10 - 25 miles. Remember the river is not all rapids and there is a lot of calm water that will require paddling and if you get a headwind, even for one day, it can become miserable. But, if you are in shape and are up for the paddle option, a paddle raft with a strong team (very important, I'll say it again, a strong team) wil be almost invincible in the rapids and you will maximize the excitement. Of course, you now can also eat as much as you want at camp each night! Note: Some companies offer hybrid trips (oar / paddle). If you choose to do this, contact the company in advance and get the whole skinny on how often you will be required to paddle and what really happens! (some people sign up for this then decide they really don't want to paddle anymore, yet someone(s) will have to paddle that raft down the river).
D) Dory - This is the way Powell went in 1869 but the modern dories are much more seaworthy! These are contemporary double ended boats, 17-18 feet in length, and highly specialized for white water running. They usually carry four passengers and one boatman. Because they don't bend like a raft does, they will fly up the face of a wave then rocket down the backside. They are quite stable and with knowledgeable passengers can remain upright in serious whitewater. They have waterproof compartments and can easily be righted by two people. Dories have a very good safety record and generally only one will flip per 5 separate dory trips (like 1 out of 25 boats). If you choose a commercial trip, I can highly recommend this option (again, if you have the time, money and are ok with white water excitement). Learn more about dories here.