Whitewater Rafting Information

Insider Info

dotWhen it comes to whitewater rafting, you've got leisurely floater trips for the whole family. Then, you've got the extreme, white-knuckle, hang-on-for-your-life adventures. From mild to wild, it's your choice.

dotRapids are rated on a scale of one to six. A rapid rated as a "one" is an easy rapid. A "six" is a rapid that few human rafters have ever mastered. This scale is used around the world to classify rapids. This way, rafters know what they're getting into!

dotIt's not quite The River Wild, but note that this can be a dangerous sport. Rafters should follow safety guidelines at all times.

Rafter Stan Bishop says one of the most dangerous habits is not listening to your team or your guide. Scream if you must, but pay attention to the person reading the rapids. If a guide yells or signals, "Lean forward!" you'll definitely want to know about it.

"You get a lot of high school kids together and they don't listen," says Bishop. "They want to cut up and joke and it can be dangerous."

Courtesy of: Adrift Adventures

dotSpring means the beginning of rafting season. All over North America, rafters travel to their favorite rivers. They are drawn to the sport by the thrill of it all.

Robin Tierney owns Adrift Adventures and has been rafting since the '70s. She describes the feeling of her clients at the end of a weekend trip: "They're just invigorated! Their batteries have been charged and they've done something completely different from work."

dotMany rafters think of the sport as one person against the river. While this is an acceptable fantasy, you'll need to gather your team spirit and help out when the time comes.

Tierney says, "You need to be able to work well with other people in a teamwork situation, especially when it comes to the possibility of performing river rescue. You have to be able to rely on everybody else."

dotThere are rafting areas on all corners of the continent, but most rafters have favorite local adventures.

dotDon't judge a river by its size. Rafters say smaller rivers can actually offer more challenge. The difference is how technically challenging the water is.

dotCan a raft basically find its own way down a river? Or does it take an experienced group of paddlers and a guide to maneuver the vessel around rocks, down fast drops and through hard-to-spot routes?

dotWhile there are no formal competitions in whitewater rafting, several top adventure races have begun to include difficult whitewater rafting runs. As well, many serious rafters are also canoeists and kayakers. Both sports have organized leagues.

dotWhat about equipment and costs? Rafts range in price from $2,000 to $3,500 for a 12-foot raft. Then you have to outfit it with a frame and other gear, like lines. You'll also need a life jacket and paddles. If you plan on overnight rafting trips, you'll also need camping gear and cooking equipment.

dotThere's lots of planning to do before every trip. A route must be chosen, usually with four or more people on each raft. Then rafts must be brought to the river. On longer trips, arrangements to get back to the starting point must be made. And then there's packing food and clothing in airtight containers just in case the raft flips.

dotRafters like to talk about the rapids they've run. The higher the number, the better the story!

dotExperienced rafters often follow their love of the sport by becoming rafting guides, leading trips down rivers that they know by heart. Becoming a guide, however, means more than just a lot of rafting experience.

Getting Started

dotIf you're interested in this sport, take a few rafting trips with a commercial rafting company first. Do not get a raft and put it in a river just to try it out! You need to know what you're doing first.

dotHere are some essential skills and equipment for rafting:

  • Become a competent swimmer and stay in shape. You also need to be able to handle yourself underwater.
  • Wear a life jacket. It should fit snugly. It will protect you and help you swim in whitewater.
  • Wear a helmet. This is especially important for rafters running steep drops.
  • Consider getting some first aid and CPR certification before you even begin. Many courses require it but you'll want it simply for your own safety -- not to mention your mom's peace of mind!
  • Do not tackle rivers that are beyond your skills. This is called "boating out of control." You should not run a rapid unless you are sure you can do so safely or be able to swim it if you fall out of the raft.

dotNote that, while an ability to swim is essential for aspiring guides, almost anyone can experience rafting.

According to Bishop, physical abilities aren't a prerequisite for passengers. He says, "We actually take some handicapped people down the river. We've got one guy who's taken quadriplegics down the river. I've taken people down that were in their 70s. Everybody paddles but everybody paddles just as much as they can. The main thing is we just try to get them to work together."

dotTake a river safety course. Experienced guides and rafters say it's absolutely essential for your own safety and ability to have fun. It will ensure you know how to handle yourself, the raft, and the rapids.

A good whitewater school will also teach its students how to respect the outdoors and treat the river with care, says Tierney.

dotConsider taking a guiding course. This will teach you how to handle groups of people on and off the raft.

dotGet involved with a whitewater club near you. It's a good way to learn from others.


American Whitewater

North West Rafters Association


Safety Code of American Whitewater
Learn more about keeping yourself safe so you can enjoy your trip!

Whitewater Glossary for the Casual Paddler
What's a haystack? Who's the paddle captain? Find out here

Whitewater Rafting Planning Guide
Tips and other information for a perfect rafting adventure