Before setting your paddle in a river, you should know the basic safety tips of whitewater rafting. Many people wrongly believe they can simply get a raft, grab a couple friends, and set out on a big Huckleberry Finn adventure, but that would be short lived the second trouble strikes. Hundreds of thousands of people have rafted before you, and your bravado will not match up to the knowledge that has been cumulatively learned by rafters over the years. These rafting safety tips should be earnestly followed by everyone ranging from the first timer to the seasoned veteran.
Do you know why it’s called safety gear? That’s not a trick question. A third of all rafting fatalities sadly occur because the victim either wasn’t wearing their life vest or it was improperly secured and numerous deaths occur on the simplest of rapids. Without a helmet, you can easily bump your head on a rock when you fall out of the raft. Without shoes you can cut your feet on the river bottom as you scramble for footing. If you become separated or lost from the group, and don’t have a whistle, it will be much more difficult to locate you. That said, you should always wear and properly secure your life vest, helmet, shoes, and whistle.
You should never use drugs or alcohol while rafting. They dull reflexes, hamper judgment, and overall slowdown your survival responses. Some would argue drinking gives you “liquid courage” but bravery is not a good substitute for sound thinking and a clear head. Clear eyes, clear hearts, can’t lose! Wait until you’re off the river to celebrate, as then you’ll actually have something to celebrate.
Every river has specific hazards and dangers that rafters need to avoid. Learning each dangerous section or point is vital to ensuring your trip is a success. Study river maps, look online, ask locals, and study reference books to determine any and all possible obstacles. It’s also wise to scout out upcoming sections on foot if you are unsure how to safely navigate the rapid. Finally, know the experience of your group and don’t underestimate the river. You have to know your group’s limits and match them up to the difficulty of the rapids you expect to hit. If it seems to be an unfair match, take pride in knowing when you’re beat and that you can still raft another day.
Weather presents special problems for rafting. If it has been raining a lot or snow is melting quickly, the resulting high river flow can change the difficulty, and character, of a river dramatically. The rapids will be higher, the water will travel faster, and debris may have been swept into it creating numerous obstacles. Conversely, if there has been a dry spell, and water levels are down, this as well can create problems with rocks and hazards being exposed that once weren’t.
Rafting in cold weather particularly needs extra attention to safety. Specialized gear is often needed if the water is too cold, such as full body wetsuits or drysuits. In early spring months, the water may be mountain runoff from snow melt. No matter how far down river you may be, the water is going to be cold. It doesn’t take long being submerged in icy water to become hypothermic. So to stay safe, pay attention to incoming weather, and the source of your water.
If you happen to fall out of the raft, it is critically important that as you’re moving downstream you travel feet first (this is also why shoes are important) with the tips of your toes above water. You want your feet to take the brunt of striking any rocks or other hazards rather than your upper body. You also don’t want your feet to become stuck or lodged, so keeping them from dragging underwater is important. Don’t attempt to fight the flow of the water especially in whitewater rapids. Simply remain calm in this position and try to carefully steer yourself toward the shore or wait until it is clearly safe to swim to shore.
At Salt River Rafting Arizona, we love providing the best guided whitewater rafting trips on the Arizona Salt River. If you want to schedule a trip with us, such as a full-day rafting trip, or half-day rafting trip, please be sure to contact us! We’d love to provide you with one of your next greatest experiences and memories!