White water rafting means peaceful floating past scenic vistas and sudden interruption by thrilling plunges through crucibles of churning water. It mixes relaxation with hard, physical work. It forges friendships. It is easy to learn and enjoyable from the beginning. But it can be intimidating and dangerous. So whether you are a newcomer hoping to find an approachable, exciting vacation (congratulations! You found it) or an expert rafter, here are a few general tips to make sure your trip is terrific, not traumatic.
Begin With a Good Outfitter & Knowledgeable Guides
For your first several raft outings, or if you haven’t been for a while, make sure to go with a reputable company and a good guide. A good guide will be equipped with a measure of fun and jokes to keep you smiling and laughing all the way, but will always be serious about safety - so paying attention to your guide is vital. He or she will instruct you with all the things you’ll need to know to be safe. Most of these protocols make perfect common sense. There will be many new things to learn however, so it is ultimately up to you to pay attention and ask questions if you don’t understand.
Know the River. Know Yourself.
Rivers demand attention and respect, but once paid, they offer unforgettable memories that can last a lifetime. A healthy awareness of your own abilities, balanced with a healthy challenge of self-imposed limitations are the keys to a successful outing. Choose an outing that challenges you, but doesn’t test the limits of your physical or technical ability. Rafting utilizes a classification system to describe rivers and sections, ranging from easy Class I to experts-shouldn’t-even-try-it Class VI. With a good guide, inexperienced rafters can manage Class II and might stretch to Class III if they are strong and able to paddle. But even experienced rafters should go down the river with someone familiar with its details.
Quality rafting companies train their guides extensively on rafting skills and safety, but also on the specific rivers they will run. Remember that regardless of classification, rivers vary year by year and even day by day: the water level, speed, and hazards can change rapidly. Do a little homework before embarking, and don’t assume that because you did it once three years ago you will know what to expect this year.
Know Your Ability Level and What is Expected on Your Expedition for Basic Safety?
What does a rafting adventure require physically? The first requirement of any rafting trip is the ability to get into the raft! This can sometimes be tricky on slippery and unstable surfaces, but no one says it has to be pretty getting in! An ability to grip a rope or paddle is also definitely a minimum requirement for these “white-knuckle” adventures. Paddling requires average torso and arm strength, but often there are options for those who wish not to paddle. Swimming ability, or confidence in the water with your life jacket is important. There’s more about swimming in rivers below.
Many rafting trips are organized in groups on large rafts with a dozen people. Note that not every rafting adventure requires paddling. Many times you will ride in an oar-powered raft. Some trips, like in the larger volume of the Colorado River are run on large motorized rafts. These provide a measure of safety in the big waves, while still providing a place to “go for the gusto” up front.
Choose a good life jacket and wear it properly. The fit is important—if it is too loose you could slip right out of it once in the water. Also remember that if you do find yourself in the water, float feet first downstream and lay back with your arms out for steering. This will keep your head and feet and butt up close to the surface where they will avoid hidden rocks or other obstacles under the surface.
Know the weather:
Amidst the rush of cool water and all the fun you will be having, it is easy to forget about how the conditions around you might be having an effect. The good news is that with a few simple precautions, many of these are easily managed. The factors are simple and straightforward: Sun can burn, water and wind can lead to cold temperatures, and not drinking enough can lead to dehydration. Take the time to put sunscreen on before getting on the water.
If the guide is wearing a wetsuit or fleece and rain-gear, you should be as well! Be sure and keep jackets in a dry place, but accessible in case weather changes quickly. Stay hydrated (drink water) while on the river. You may not feel thirsty, but you will be exerting yourself. Foul weather is sometimes unavoidable while on the river. If you’re prepared it shouldn’t have a big effect on anything - even your attitude! Your guides have rafted through most any weather condition so follow their lead and enjoy the moment; often foul weather doesn’t last as long as you might think at first.
In short, rafting is a very approachable, incredibly stimulating activity. If unprepared, however, seemingly small details can ruin a rafter’s good day on the river. Consider these tips and come prepared for an awesome rafting trip adventure on the water!