Intro to RaftingDecember 18, 2020
There is nothing like the freedom of running a river on your own or guiding your friends or family on an adventure. No matter what your experience level is, there is always room to learn, allowing for a safer, and ultimately more enjoyable experience.
Paddling is a pastime that can be enjoyed by all walks of life, and can be enjoyed throughout an entire lifetime. Some of us are lucky enough to grow up on the water, but for everyone else, jumping into rafting can be overwhelming.
Chances are that if you are reading this you have been whitewater rafting before and you already know you want to learn more. If not, now is a great time to go on a commercial raft trip to see if it is for you. We recommend starting out on a more beginner level, working your way up to harder rivers. A Class III river would be a good introduction, saving Class IV/V for later. (maybe link for class descriptions here). On your trip you will notice that your guide is decked out in safety equipment, appropriate layers for the weather, and has the knowledge to give you commands on when to paddle and where to swim in a rapid if you were to fall out.
River guides are trained in reading whitewater, CPR/First Aid, rescue techniques, and telling bad jokes. You may have the latter locked down but not the skills. Becoming a river guide is an excellent way to gain skills quickly AND get paid for it. This is a great option for a summer or weekend job, or, for some, a full-time job change. You will quickly learn the ropes and be introduced into a network of boaters you can learn from and travel to new rivers with.
Ok, so being a raft guide is definitely NOT for everyone. You do have other options. You can research to see if there are any whitewater clubs in your area to get involved with. You will need to learn a lot about boating and safety on your own to help earn the trust of others too. You can also attend a raft guide course through a private outdoor education school such as National Outdoor Leadership School, Outward Bound, Oars, American Whitewater School and many others.
Anyone who wants to paddle a river of any degree of difficulty owes it to themselves to be educated in safety practices. CPR and First Aid are musts. You can get certified locally though the American Red Cross. Employers often offer this in your workplace as well. For people who want to get into overnights and extended expeditions should consider a Wilderness First Responder (WFR) or Wilderness Emergency Medical Technician (W-EMT) course. Swift Water Rescue Training is also a good idea for people who want to paddle on whitewater. All of the things you learn in these courses will hopefully never be acted on, but if they are, you will be so glad you took them.
Proper equipment is also essential for getting into whitewater rafting. We recommend talking to an experienced outfitter to help you pick the right gear and ensure a proper fit. You will need a Personal Flotation Device (PFD) that is Coast Guard approved. (link?) Rescue vests are a great option, but only appropriate when you have had the training to use them. You will also want to have a helmet. There are so many options out there, you will want to try them on in person to ensure the fit is snug and covers your head well. On or in your PFD you will want to have a river knife in the event of a snag or entanglement and a whistle to alert others when needed. Other items you will always need in your boat include a throw bag, a first aid kit, sunscreen, a small raft repair kit, a small pump, and clean water (for drinking and/or first aid), paddles, and a spare paddle (link to sawyer?). These are the minimum items required to be safe and prepared. For longer day trips and expeditions the list goes on you can check out recommended packing lists from Down River Equipment here. (link) You should have a working knowledge of how to use all your equipment before paddling on your own. Take care of your gear, check it often, and practice using it.
Layers fall into the equipment category and the needs change quickly depending on weather, time of year, and water temperature. Packing extra layers is always a good idea. A basic summer rafting outfit will likely include lighter synthetic or wool based clothes (remember cotton is extremely cold when wet). Shorts and a t-shirt may be enough, but a summer storm could have you shivering in no time. Packing an extra warm top, and splash jacket or dry top will help you be more comfortable. If the water temperature is very cold, you may be dressing like it’s winter anyways. Shoulder seasons and the winter require paddlers to be layered up very well. Fleece long underwear or a union suit under a dry suit is a great option. A drysuit keeps all of the water out and you remain dry inside the suit. Another less expensive option is a neoprene wetsuit. This material is meant to be wet and keeps you warm by insulating you with a thin layer of water against your body. You may also choose to layer a splash jacket over this. Footwear is also important. In warmer weather strapped sandals are enough, however, we prefer shoes that cover and protect the feet. (link to astrals?)
Finally, you can’t go rafting without a boat. Investing in a boat is a big and exciting commitment. The best way to find out what kind of boat you like is to go rafting with friends. There is so much variety from little playboats in the 9-10 foot range, rafts best for small groups and families in the 12-14 foot range, and even bigger boats for larger groups and overnights. Inflatable kayaks (IK’s) are also a great option for flat and whitewater. Smaller boats are best for solo boating and groups of 2-3 and also offer a more exciting ride. They are lighter and more nimble in the water. A larger boat will allow for more passengers and also offer more stability. Ultimately you may end up wanting more than one raft or inflatable kayak! It never hurts to have a quiver of boats for any type of river setting or group.
Overwhelmed? No worries, we can help. We’ve got the right boat for you, and can also help with finding the right gear to get you on the river fast. TeamRMR believes spending time on the river with friends and family is the best way to spend time! Once you have all the right gear, a day trip becomes very inexpensive and a week-long trip can cost a fraction of the average vacation.