Raft Safety 101

When it comes to rafting, even the lowest-grade rapids can be a source of danger. Whether you prefer high-speed whitewater or a leisurely float down the Colorado River, new and veteran rafters must abide by a set of safety standards. Though not enforced by any institution or organization, it is in your best interest to practice safe and educated rafting. If you plan to ride with a licensed and professional rafting service, they should implement a number of safe rafting procedures; these are often contractually enforced.

However, with several online resources designed to target rafting safety, it may be difficult to discern he necessary from the superfluous. This no-nonsense Raft Safety 101 guide should serve as your crash course in rafting standards.

Our first piece of advice? Always wear a life jacket. Though obvious, this is the most important piece of safety advice we can provide. Even if you consider yourself to be an experienced rafter or a strong swimmer, it can be difficult to predict water speed and intensity. If you’ve experienced other boat- or water-related activities, life jacket policies may have been recommended but not compulsory; this is not the case with rafting on a river. Anticipating the rapids just around the corner is very difficult, and rocky floor or narrow passages can be dangerous if you find yourself tossed from the boat.

Additionally, your life jacket should be brightly colored. If you are tossed from the boat in whitewater, your guide or friend may have trouble locating a dully-colored jacket. If your bright red, orange, or yellow floatation device has begun to fade, it may be time for a replacement. Always wear your jacket correctly—fitted snug to your body and unable to be pulled over your head.

Our next essential safety practice? Hold the paddle properly. You may be thinking–how is there a wrong way to hold a paddle? Unfortunately, this is a massive safety concern; an improperly-held paddle is easily removed from your grip. This can cause damage to your hands and/or wrist, but it may also result in a serious head injury for a fellow rafting partner.

When holding your paddle, one hand should always be at the end of the shaft, directly over the “T” grip. Your other hand should rest on the shaft itself. The hand on the “T” grip controls the paddle, cushioning the blow of heavy rapids or surprise pressure.

All remaining safety tips, such as staying in the boat, understanding important directions, and wearing the correct non-floatation gear, are secondary to these two essential tips. If you have your life jacket and are holding your paddle properly, your chances of experiencing injury are significantly reduced.