6 Tips for Your First Whitewater Rafting Trip

If you like the idea of pad­dling furi­ous­ly at the com­mand of your guide, brac­ing for rapids, and rid­ing wave trains, white­wa­ter raft­ing might be for you.  This exhil­a­rat­ing sum­mer activ­i­ty is a great way for every­one from adren­a­line junkies to vaca­tion­ing fam­i­lies alike to expe­ri­ence the rush Moth­er Nature has to offer. But that first trip out on the riv­er can be an intim­i­dat­ing expe­ri­ence.  From choos­ing the right guides to choos­ing the right gear, here are 6 tips for a great first raft­ing trip.

Safe­ty First
This isn’t the wild riv­er ride at your local theme park. White­wa­ter raft­ing is very real and has the poten­tial to be very dan­ger­ous, which is why safe­ty should come first on any raft­ing trip.

Start by famil­iar­iz­ing your­self with the class rat­ing sys­tem. Rivers are clas­si­fied on a scale from I to VI, with I being a mean­der­ing riv­er and VI being a dead­ly water­fall. Before you head out, call up a local kayak/canoe out­fit­ter and ask what the weath­er con­di­tions are like on your local riv­er. Even slow high waters can mean fall­en trees and strain­ers (trees that strain water and debris). You don’t want to get caught in a strainer.

With any activ­i­ty that involves so much risk, it’s impor­tant to know what you’re get­ting your­self into and also know your own per­son­al lim­its. And it’s imper­a­tive to bring the prop­er safe­ty and first aid equip­ment such as hel­mets and per­son­al flota­tion devices.

Choose the Guide and Trip for You
Unless you’re slow­ly float­ing down a rapid-free riv­er, it’s prob­a­bly best to hire a guide for your first white­wa­ter trip. Guides offer the added knowl­edge and safe­ty need­ed to ensure that your first expe­ri­ence on the riv­er is a pos­i­tive one.  Many raft guide com­pa­nies will also help out­fit their clients with most of the nec­es­sary gear for raft­ing, includ­ing wet suits and dry bags for your per­son­al belongings.

Depend­ing on which region of the coun­try and which riv­er you’ll be raft­ing, there are many trip pack­ages suit­ed for fam­i­lies and thrill seek­ers alike.  Dif­fer­ent sec­tions of the same riv­er can vary wide­ly in dif­fi­cul­ty, so be sure to ask a lot of ques­tions about what kind of trip you are buy­ing when you hire a guide.

Come Pre­pared
Once you’re out on the water there’s no pad­dling back upstream, so make sure you come pre­pared with every­thing you’ll need. This means sun­screen. Noth­ing can ruin a day on the water quite like a sun­burn, so be sure to bring some—preferably one that’s water­proof and has a high SPF.

Eye pro­tec­tion is equal­ly as impor­tant as skin pro­tec­tion. Avoid a headache and a burnt reti­na by wear­ing sun­glass­es, and be sure to wear a reten­tion strap to ensure you don’t lose them in the waves.

Stay Dry
If you hap­pen to end up in cold water, you’ll want to dry off as quick­ly as pos­si­ble once back in the boat. To help speed up the dry off, wear syn­thet­ic cloth­ing that won’t retain water.  And to avoid hav­ing to dry off your per­son­al belong­ings, place any­thing you need to take with you, such as med­ica­tion, in a water­proof bag.

It takes every­body in a raft to suc­cess­ful­ly nav­i­gate a set of rapids, and your guide and fel­low rafters will be depend­ing on you to pad­dle when need­ed. Your guide should teach you a series of com­mands before hit­ting the water. Fol­low­ing these com­mands while raft­ing not only improves safe­ty, it improves the entire expe­ri­ence for every­one.  If a guide feels like he or she can’t rely on their crew, they might avoid the most excit­ing rapids, which would real­ly be a bum­mer, so lis­ten to your raft guides and fol­low their instruc­tions at all times. You’ll have more fun.

Have Fun
You wouldn’t be out on the riv­er if you didn’t want to have fun, and nei­ther would your fel­low rafters.  So be friend­ly and open to your guide and crew, be will­ing to pad­dle, and get ready for a wild ride!

Adam John­ston