Useful skills rafting skippers have to know
There are not that many group activities which have the insane level of excitement and fun as rafting. Sure, you can say that skydiving in a group is much more extreme, and you would be right. However, you can’t just gather your squad and go whenever you want. Rafting tours on Tara river are available for the entire year and this is the main advantage of rafting adventure. But there is prior knowledge you need to gather if you wish to be safe.
While rafting is a truly unique experience, which is packed with a lot of entertainment, all that fun can quickly turn into chaos if you are not adequately prepared. This is why all of our skipers – the guys who ensure your safety – have IRF licences. They know exactly what to do in the case of an emergency. The training they have undergone is extensive and combined with their experience can guarantee that you will be safe on our rafting tours. However, the first thing you should do is listen to the skipper’s instructions. Maybe you are wondering, how does skipper training look like, and what do they learn?
Before they even consider entering a river, skippers have to master these techniques.
You are probably thinking to yourself – well, of course they have to learn to swim! We don’t mean the regular pool swimming. Swimming in whitewater is very different than regular swimming. The first thing that they teach skippers is the defensive position, to roll over and lie on their backs.
This is opposite to the offensive position. Think of your body acting like a boat in a current. It can move faster than the current, and this is called steering. It can move slower than the current, and this is called ferrying. It can also move with the current, and this is called floating. It is important to always scan your surroundings and act appropriately. Be proactive rather than reactive.
Equipment is more than half the safety and this is fundamental to all extreme sports. You can have a vast amount of experience and the best swimming skills. However, if your equipment fails you are in big trouble. The essential thing is not only to check the equipment, but to learn what is the most effective place for a piece of equipment to be. Also, a skipper needs to know exactly where a piece of his equipment is at all times. In a hazardous situation there is no time to check your pockets.
Essential skills on the boat
These are the skills which skippers have to perfect in order to rescue someone.
Proper throw bag technique
Learning the best way to throw a bag is essential whitewater skill. Most people make the mistake of not leaving enough rope on their hands, this causes them to hold the rope statically which will lead to some party eventually letting go.
The proper way is to leave a tail of rope, at least 15 feet, on the ground and throw the rest to the swimmer. What this does is allow you to hold the rope in a dynamic way, and avoid a sudden jerking stop. When a swimmer gets hold of the rope you should pull it tight and let some of it. Repeat the process until the swimmer is safe.
How to escape a hydraulic hole
Falling into a hydraulic hole can be a really scary experience. You go through all the techniques but it’s not up till when you actually find yourself in this situation that you can fully understand the seriousness. There are two ways to get out:
- Try to swim for the side
- Try to swim for the bottom
The key is to reach water that is moving down the stream. If you are unable to swim to the side, swim heavily into the current and get yourself curled into a ball. There is a bonus technique if everything else fails. Just relax and if you are lucky enough, you’ll end up safe.
How to quickly coil throw a rope
Time is an important factor in any water rescue. Butterfly coils can be an effective method but there’s another alternative known as the true method or the Thompson river University technique. The true method provides a fast, simple way to get your second or third throw out, without risk of your rope becoming tangled or bunched.
Simply take the end of the rope in your throwing hand to begin. With your palm facing out and the Rope pinched between your thumb and your palm wrap the rope under your arm outside your elbow and over your wrist in front of your forearm. Then wrap the rope back around your hand across your palm.
Repeat as many times as necessary to form a figure eight coil long enough to do your rescue. Now just slip the bottom of the rope coil off your elbow, shake out your rope and you’re ready for a tangle-free second throw. With practice, you’ll be able to do this extremely fast. This can be done quickly and as many times as necessary to complete the rescue.
Communication while rafting
Rafting skippers must always be physically ready, but there are other items. Communication on rafting can be difficult due to the high noise generated by fast mountain rivers . Therefore, there are a number of rules of non-verbal communication, which facilitate communication between skipper and other participants. Also this is a very useful method in emergency situations, when two skippers must communicate with each other even though they are far away in their boats.
These are some examples of how non-verbal communication while rafting looks like, and probably are the most useful signs:
1. Raised hand in salute position means that the swimmer is not visible.
2. Waving with the paddle in a circular motion over your head means you need a helicopter.
3. Raised hands in front of chest, palms outward is a sign to stop.
4. Raised, crossed hands or paddles is a sign that first aid is needed.
5. Left arm with the palm outward or raised paddle means that there is no problem.
These are just some of many useful rescue techniques to help keep you and your paddling partners safe. But don’t be concerned about safety beyond your behaviour and in a case of an emergency, just let skippers do what they are trained for.
Is Rafting Safe for Non-Swimmers
Rafting might very well be the ultimate water sport. It is the perfect balance between thrilling, adventurous, and leisurely.
It can be quite stimulating as it requires not only arm strength but also proper balance and significant leg work to keep the boat upright, which is why rafting for non-swimmers might not be a good idea.
While it’s a thrilling sport, rafting is also quite dangerous. Steering a raft through tumultuous waters is not exactly a piece of cake.
It requires strength, resilience, teamwork, and skill. In case the raft comes up against an unexpected obstruction in the river, it may even topple over.
Here is where you need to rely on yourself for rescue, and this is where your swimming skills can help you make it through.
Swimming Requirements for Different Rafting Levels
There are a total of 6 levels of river rafting. Each level marks the level of difficulty as determined by the river rapids.
Even though we’ve already established that swimming is critical for survival when you’re out rafting, most river rafting companies do take non-swimmers out on comparatively calmer waters.
Up until level three, basic swimming is preferred but not an absolute necessity. It is possible to go rafting even if you cannot float.
As per safety requirements, all rafters must wear life jackets that can help keep them afloat while the instructor arranges an extraction.
The first three levels are considered softer waters.
Participation from each member is not a must on these trips, which is why even novices can join a group without posing any danger to the other participants.
However, as the ranking increases, the water becomes more challenging. Level 4 and above falls under the hard water classification in which participation from each member becomes a must.
All members present on the boat must paddle together to be able to navigate the vessel through hard waters.
Out on such waters, river rafting companies do not accommodate non-swimmers as they may pose a threat to the safety of others.
Rafting on currents level 4 and above requires strength, skill, and experience.
New rafters have a higher chance of falling out on class 4 rapids. While many enjoy the dip in the water, it is also distressing experience.
Your survival depends on you, and being able to maintain a calm mind in such a situation is absolutely necessary. It is a life-saving skill that takes significant time to master.
Even though swimming is not a requirement for even class 3 rapids, we do not recommend rafting for non-swimmers even at that level.
It is best if they stick to level 2 at max and learn at least necessary survival skills before they go on a rafting excursion.
Can I Do White Water Rafting if I Can’t Swim?
White water rafting is just another name for river rafting. We do not recommend rafting for non-swimmers.
However, most companies do take even non-swimmers out for an excursion on calmer river waters that are classified as 1 or 2.
Some even accommodate them in class 3 rivers. However, it is more challenging than the other two and is thus riskier.
How Dangerous Is White Water Rafting?
The perceived danger level for each rafting trip depends on the classification level of the river’s rapids.
Death by drowning is the number 1 danger of river rafting, especially for non-swimmers.
They tend to panic, and their frantic movements let the river current get the upper hand, taking them under.
Rafting is a strenuous exercise, which is why overexertion is the second most common reason for deaths when rafting.
The sport entails prolonged exposure to heat and the sun. Combine the physical exertion with the relentless heat, and it becomes a severe health risk.
River water is almost always icy as it comes from melted snow or spring run-off.
If throughout the trip, the boat overturns, or you lose balance and tip over, the cold water seeping into your clothes sends shock waves down the body.
The sudden temperature change can lead to hypothermia. If allowed to remain in the water for extended periods, a person even runs the risk of losing their limbs.
Injuries are more common than deaths when river rafting. All river rafting companies deliver a pre-rafting training session that teaches all participants basic survival skills.
You can use the training to keep you afloat and survive. However, avoiding injuries is another thing.
Once in the water, you will hit rocks, and that will hurt!
People who fall into the water often get out with severe cuts and bruises. Because rocks and other obstructions are part of the river, avoiding them is incredibly difficult.
Your raft my hit a rock, propelling all those aboard the vessel into the water. Non-swimmers can find such a situation very panic-inducing.
Their inexperience leaves them susceptible to mistakes, which could possibly lead to entrapment in the river bed.
What Happens If You Fall out While Whitewater Rafting?
Falling out of your river raft will definitely not be the highlight of your rafting trip.
Being plunged into ice-cold water on a warm summer afternoon might be refreshing for the adventure seekers out there, for those who are experiencing whitewater rafting for the first time, it is quite a harrowing experience.
When you do fall out, the initial contact with cold water sends shock waves down the body. At that moment, control over the senses is most important.
The current will pull you along, and your waterlogged clothes will weigh you down.
The chances are that if you are entirely inexperienced and were inattentive during the pre-draft trip river safety class, your feet might hit the river bed, which is quite dangerous.
The bottom is made of uneven, disjointed rocks, and your foot may get stuck.
You could also be swept away from the inflatable raft and with nothing to hold on to.
It’s also possible that you’ll start to swallow large gulps of water as you constantly go under the water and then come back up.
However, in such a dangerous situation, the key to survival here is resilience. Try to hold on to your senses and follow these steps.
- Grab on to the side of the boat as soon as you are thrown off. Try to hold on to the rope extending along the length of the raft as it is the easiest thing to hold.
- Remember two words, ‘nose and toes.’ Keep your nose above the surface level so that you can breathe and are not drinking river water. The same goes for your toes. They must be visible over the surface so that they don’t get caught in the river bed.
- If you find yourself plunged away, first get your toes up and facing downstream. Then, use your arms to turn towards the raft and maneuver your way to the boat. This position is known as defensive swimming.
- If you are within 75 feet of the boat, a rescue rope will be thrown your way. Put it over your shoulders and keep a firm hold on one end. Make sure you stay on your back as being pulled in on your stomach just means that you’ll end up swallowing river water.
- Once you reach the vessel, help the guide get you back on board. You can do that by making sure you face the raft during the rescue operation. This way, once you’re halfway up, you can look for something else to grab and pull yourself up. It also helps distribute the weight as you can let the weight fall on your belly.
- Do not attempt to stand up unless you are absolutely sure you are near the shore. Getting there may prove quite challenging. A river generally has some calm sections that you can take advantage of. Utilize those breaks to guide your way to the shore.
- Once at the shore, signal that you are okay and need to be picked up. The guide can arrange for transport that can take you back to base camp.
Why Is It Not Advisable To Go Rafting for Non-Swimmers?
Non-swimmers tend to panic when thrown overboard in fast currents.
They tend to flail around, which can become a threat to their lives and to that of their rescuer. In such situations, guides often have to knock the panicking person out to save both their lives.
Swimming lessons teach you more than just how to maneuver through the water. Through swimming, a person learns how to remain calm when they come in contact with cold water.
Often, our body becomes too numb to do much, which is why a person must know how to do a deadman’s float.
It also teaches you how to bounce with the water’s current and still be able to maintain as much control as the situation allows.
Rafting for non-swimmers, while possible, is nothing short of a gamble, which is not advisable at all.
All year long, many people go rafting without major incidents.
However, it is always a good idea to do some research before you undertake a new sport.
Knowing what you are up against helps when it comes to tackling emergencies.
As far as rafting for non-swimmers goes, it is not advisable to participate in the sport regularly without the necessary swimming skills.
At the very least, a rafter must know how to do the dead man’s float and how to maneuver their weight in the water.
The Beginner’s Guide to Whitewater Rafting
Elen Turner is a New Zealand resident who covers the country for TripSavvy. She has also spent time living in the United Kingdom, Czech Republic, Japan, Australia, the U.S., and Nepal.
Whitewater rafting is an exciting sport and, despite how it looks, you don’t need to be incredibly brave or technically skilled to enjoy it. Even beginners and older kids can enjoy a rafting adventure. Whether you want to add a half or full-day whitewater rafting excursion onto a trip or like the idea of spending several days (or even weeks!) on the river, there are all kinds of rafting destinations and trip types to suit your needs. From gentle floats along tropical rivers to epic expeditions through some of the world’s greatest river canyons, here’s everything you need to know about whitewater rafting.
River Grading System
The first thing you need to know when planning a whitewater rafting trip is about the grading system. The International Scale of River Difficulty is a standardized scale created by the American Whitewater Association used to rate the safety of a stretch of river or a single rapid. The grades can be summarized as follows:
- Grade I, Easy: Fast-moving water with some small waves. The risk to swimmers is low.
- Grade II, Novice: Straightforward rapids with clear channels; rocks and medium-sized waves can be easily avoided. Swimmers rarely need much assistance.
- Grade III, Intermediate: Rapids with moderate and/or irregular waves requiring some complex maneuvers; scouting is advisable. Swimmers can usually self-rescue or are helped with some assistance.
- Grade IV, Advanced: Intense and powerful but predictable rapids; precise and expert boat handling is required. Swimmers usually require group rescue, and the risk of injury is moderate-high.
- Grade V, Expert: Long, obstructed, and/or violent rapids with drops, requiring high fitness. Swimmers risk injury, and rescue is difficult.
- Grade VI, Extreme and Exploratory Rapids: Runs at this level are rarely attempted.
Well-trained whitewater rafting guides can guide even relative novices through challenging and high-grade rapids, but in general, beginners and older children will be safest and most comfortable on Grade II and III rapids. Those with more experience or advanced river skills and an appetite for adventure can tackle Grade IV and V rapids. Most trips—whether half a day or 10-plus days—will usually include a combination of grades, and tour operators will let you know the highest grade you’ll encounter on the trip and whether that’s suitable for you and your party.
Key Terms to Know
Your whitewater rafting guide will brief you before you hit the river and will run through the key terms and instructions they’ll likely use. You don’t need to know all the technical river terms to follow your guide’s instructions, but here are some of the most important that you will hear:
- Put in: The starting point of a rafting trip.
- Take out: The ending point of a rafting trip.
- River left/river right: Sometimes, your guide will be facing you, with their back to the front of the boat and the direction your raft is traveling. If they want to point out any features to the left or right, they’ll use “river left” or “river right” relative to the direction in which you’re traveling, so you don’t get confused about whether they mean their left or your left!
- Swimmer: Anyone who falls out of the raft is called a swimmer, whether they intended to swim or not. Your guide might shout “swimmer!” to get that person’s attention when attempting a rescue, as they’re unlikely to know every passenger’s name.
- Flip: When the raft capsizes, it has “flipped.”
- Safety kayak(er): The safety kayak, or kayaks, accompanies the raft to help swimmers. The number of safety kayakers on your trip will depend on the number of raft passengers and the safety credentials of the company (avoid traveling with tour operators that scrimp on safety kayakers).
What to Wear and Bring
Tour companies will provide you with the essential gear, including paddles, life jackets, and helmets. If you’re rafting in a cold climate or cold water, you’ll be provided a wetsuit, too. Some companies may provide a dry top, a water-resistant top that won’t keep you as warm as a wetsuit but will reduce the effects of cold splashes and wind.
Your clothing is up to you, but you’ll be expected to wear suitable shoes, which could be either closed waterproof shoes or sandals that strap firmly to your foot. Dress for the climate and conditions. Most people prefer to wear synthetic t-shirts and shorts of tight yoga-style pants for rafting. Cotton clothing isn’t a great idea because it is cold when wet and retains water for a long time. If you’re rafting in a tropical climate, this is less of an issue than in cold water or weather. If you’re on a multi-day trip that requires camping, pack appropriately for overnight conditions in a tent.
Avoid taking valuables on a rafting trip, including cameras, unless you have a dry bag (and even then, keep these items to a minimum). Some guides will have a dry bag you can put small personal items in, but not all. Wearing sports shorts with sealable pockets for storing small items like keys is a good idea. If you want to take a camera, make sure it’s waterproof or in a waterproof case and can be secured onto your lifejacket with a carabiner. However, rafting companies will normally take photos for you with a company camera and either provide the photos for free or at a cost after the trip.
The most important safety tip is always to follow your guide’s instructions. They are trained to keep you safe during what can be quite a risky activity to the untrained. It can be easy, especially when traveling with a group of friends, to get carried away with laughing and forget to follow the guide’s instructions—but don’t!
It should also go without saying that you shouldn’t go rafting unless you can swim. Some operators in some locations (particularly developing countries where many of the local population can’t swim) allow people to go on trips if they can’t swim. This is a terrible idea and puts you at much greater risk if you fall off the raft. Guides are trained to swiftly pull swimmers aboard if they fall out, but your chance of panicking and behaving dangerously if you fall in the water and can’t swim is much greater. You don’t need to be an extremely strong swimmer to enjoy whitewater rafting, but basic water skills are necessary for your own safety.
Similarly, if you’re a parent, only take your kids if they’re comfortable in the water. Lower age limits will vary depending on the location and the company but are normally at least 8-years-old and sometimes 10 or 12. Lower-grade rivers and rapids will normally be more suitable for younger ages.
How to Plan a Rafting Trip
As well as the adrenaline rush associated with whitewater rafting, this sport is a great way to see landscapes that aren’t accessible any other way. Floating down a river through the jungle with the sound of birdsong all around; gazing up at the walls of the deepest canyons in the world; jumping off the raft for a swim in warm waters; pulling up to camp on a riverside beach at the end of the day. these are some of the highlights of a whitewater rafting trip.
Climate and season play an important part in planning a whitewater rafting trip. In some places, it’s only possible to raft during high or low water periods, before or after seasonal rains. In others, it’s too cold for some of the year, while elsewhere, you can raft year-round, even in winter (with the right gear!) No two destinations are the same, and you might sometimes be surprised by what’s possible: find out more about the conditions in your chosen destination before deciding whether to add a whitewater rafting trip to your itinerary. Just like you wouldn’t plan to lounge on a beach and swim in the sea regardless of the season, the same applies to whitewater rafting. Know the local conditions.
Wherever you go, it’s important always to choose a company with a good reputation that hires fully trained guides. While guides and companies are held to very high standards in some places (such as the U.S. and New Zealand), there are fewer legal requirements regarding safety and training in some countries. Always check a company’s credentials before signing up.
Best Places to Go Rafting
Some of the most popular whitewater rafting destinations in the world are:
- , especially Colorado , especially Ladakh and Zimbabwe (Zambezi River)
Some incredible long-distance river trips need to be planned well in advance, such as along the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon, because of their popularity and restrictions on the number of people allowed. In some lower-income countries (such as India and Nepal), you will find trips to be surprisingly affordable, so if you like the idea of a multi-day river trip but are on a limited budget, check out the Indus and Zanskar Rivers in India or the Sun Kosi and Karnali Rivers in Nepal.