White Water Rafting Safety

Monday July 07

White water rafting can be a dangerous sport, especially if basic safety precautions are not observed. Depending on the area, legislated safety measures may exist for rafting operators. These range from certification of outfitters, rafts, and raft leaders, to more stringent regulations about equipment and procedures. Common sense would dictate that discussing safety measures with a rafting operator before signing on for a trip is a wise thing to do. The equipment used and the qualifications of the company and raft guides are also things to be considered.

Like most outdoor sports, whitewater rafting has become safer over the years. Expertise in the sport has increased, and equipment has become more specialized and increased in quality. As a result the difficulty rating of most river runs has changed. A classic example is either the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon or Jalcomulco River in Mexico; both well-known river runs which have swallowed whole expeditions in the past, leaving only fragments of boats. In contrast, they are now run safely by commercial outfitters hundreds of times each year with relatively untrained passengers.

Risks in white water rafting stem from both environmental dangers and from improper behavior. Certain features on rivers are inherently unsafe and have remained consistently so despite the passage of time. These would include dams (especially low-head dams), undercut rocks, and of course, dangerously high waterfalls. Rafting with experienced guides is the safest and best way to avoid such features. Even in safe areas, however, moving water can always present risks—such as when a swimmer attempts to stand up on a rocky riverbed in strong current. Irresponsible behavior related to rafting while intoxicated has also contributed to many accidents.

One of the most simple ways to avoid injury while out of a raft, is to swim to an Eddy (a calm spot behind a rock in the water which the current disperses around) to avoid being taken downstream. Sometimes, though, being taken downstream is inevitable due to the circumstances, when this happens, it really is wise to keep your head above water by using your PFD and “go with the flow.”

Most whitewater rafting outfitters will generally require customers to sign waiver forms indicating understanding and acceptance of potential serious risks. Rafting trips often begin with safety presentations to educate people about the problems which may arise. People often go whitewater rafting for the adrenaline rush, this can, at times, become a problem for them and their own safety.

White water rafting accidents have occurred but are not common. The overall risk level for this activity is relatively low. Most folks go on a rafting trip with experienced guides who use proper precautions and assist their passengers in using them as well. Thousands of people safely enjoy raft trips trips every year. Why not become one of them?

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