If you’re a rafting rookie, thoughts of your first expedition can evoke anything from excitement to unease. A raft is not your typical form of transportation, afterall. Ideally, that excited feeling will stick around. And that nervous feeling? With a few helpful reminders, we can hopefully turn that around.
Follow the Rules of the Road. Oops, We Meant River
Did you raft to work this morning? We didn’t think so. Rafting might have been a safer choice than your Subaru, however. You’re far less likely to get injured in a raft than in a moving car, and the fatality rate for whitewater boating is less than a fifth of that for passenger vehicles. Realistically, a rafting trip should induce less fear and undoubtedly more enthusiasm than your morning drive or bike to work.
In fact, rafting (2.9 per 100,000 participants) has lower injury and fatality rates than many outdoor sports, including scuba diving (3.5) and climbing (3.2), according to American Whitewater. While exposing yourself to the elements in the great outdoors inherently carries some risk, rafting is probably only as risky as your last adventure. Every outdoor sport has safety protocol to keep you out of harm’s way. If you follow the rules of rafting the same way you double check your climbing harness, then you’ll decrease your chance of any avoidable mishaps.
You’re in Good Hands
Your rafting guide may as well be a whitewater warrior considering the level of prowess and security their training provides. To receive certification in the state of Colorado, rafting guides undergo weeks of training, a minimum of 50 hours of on-river training, and a rigorous vetting process. Compare this to only 6 hours of behind the wheel training to acquire a license to drive a 4,000 pound car and the previous section’s statistics start to make a bit more sense. Most companies ensure that their guides are equipped with water rescue, First Aid, and CPR training, as well. Rafting guides put in the hours and miles, and most have done so for years. After years of training and experience, they are masters of the rapids, and know exactly how to take care of you on your first trip. They’ve guided passengers of all ages and abilities and dealt with overboard situations of every variety. There isn’t much these guides can’t handle. Are you in good hands? If you listen to your guide, you will be.
Level Up – Or Don’t
This first time around, do your part and choose a trip that’s right for you. Rapids are typically grouped into Classes, or levels of difficulty. The level of rapid intensity typically ranges from Class I to Class VI.
Class I is easy — lazy river easy. The water is flat with few small waves, making injury less likely.
Think of Class II as the bunny hill of rafting. The water moves and splashes, but the rapids are still suitable for novices.
Wading closer to the middle of the spectrum is Class III. Filled with waves, rocks, and eddies, a Class III trip is for families and beginners who can’t seem to justify paying that much for a lazy river.
Class IV is for the daring. If you are not mentally and physically ready to navigate intense rapids and obstacles, you might want to scale back.
Class V is where the veterans hang out. These rapids require a bit of experience and even more guts.
Class VI is reserved for rafting demigods. Commercial trips stay clear of this territory.
Generally, a rafting trip is comprised of multiple river sections, each rated at a different class, so you and your group can choose a trip with the range of levels that suits your comfort level. Some companies take out the guesswork and make it easy to map out the ideal trip for beginners by filtering trip options by skill level, views, and number of participants. Knowing what to expect on your trip will quiet any first-time jitters. Plus, an easygoing introduction to the sport can help you ease into more difficult whitewater territory for the next time.
Pack the Essentials
A successful packing list should alleviate all other discomforts so that you can focus on the task at hand: rafting. If you’re miserable due to lack of preparation, you’ll be miserable for the fun part, too.
Wear secure, comfortable swimwear or athletic clothing and footwear for the river as well as a spare change of dry clothing to put on afterwards. Be sure to wear sunscreen and sunglasses, as well — unless you care to look as red as the Indian Paintbrush flowers on the side of the river.
Bring a water bottle. It seems straightforward, but many newbies forget that river water is not safe to drink. Drink up, and don’t give the river a reason to mock your thirst.
Don’t forget the most important piece of equipment: your brain. Most mishaps can be avoided or alleviated by simply following instructions. Commercial rafting expeditions begin with an introduction that will tell you what to expect, how to react to the unexpected, and of course, how to raft. Pay attention and you won’t feel nearly as out of your element as before.
Speaking of brains, yours will be nice and protected when you sport that uber trendy helmet provided by most rafting outfitters. The helmet will look almost as stylish as the PFD (personal flotation device), or life vest, that you’re given. While these devices seem rudimentary, they’re no match for the rapids. In fact, most outfitters don’t even include swimming ability as a prerequisite for expeditions. If you fall overboard, you’ll quickly turn into a human buoy, thanks to your PFD.
Nervous? Don’t Be
How should you feel about your first trip, then? Informed, prepared, excited, and ready to get started. How should you not feel? Nervous. Your first rafting expeditions can be as thrill seeking or relaxing as you’d like it to be. Moreover, you’ll have an experienced guide right on board with you to walk —or row— you through every step of the process. Knowing that you’re protected with time-tested knowledge and equipment, stay calm and float on.