When considering a whitewater rafting trip, the first question many people ask is, “What if I fall out?” While this is an understandable worry for first-timers, falling overboard should not be a concern as long as you’ve got a professional guide by your side and are familiar with the safety procedures. In this guide, we’ll teach you how to be safe on the river in the event of an unexpected plunge.
Falling Out of the Raft Is Normal
If you fall out of the raft, you’ll be okay. It’s a completely normal occurrence and actually happens on the majority of rafting trips. In fact, many rafters consider it to be a fun part of the rafting experience. While it’s true that rafting does incur risks, it’s no more dangerous than many other more common activities such as swimming in the ocean or driving a car. In all of these activities, as long as you stay alert and cautious, you have very little to worry about.
Also, remember that, if you fall overboard, you won’t be left to fend for yourself — there will be an experienced guide and boatful of able-bodied rafters who will help pull you back on board. You should also be aware that the life jackets used in whitewater rafting have great flotation capability, perhaps much more than the ones you’re accustomed to. In the majority of cases where rafters fall off the boat, they are pulled back in immediately.
You should also keep in mind that you can easily minimize your chances of falling overboard by listening to your guide. If your guide tells you to grip the raft firmly with both hands, listen. Don’t overestimate your strength or pull out your phone for what you think will make a great photo — the only thing you should be doing is holding on tightly. If a rafter falls overboard, it is often because they were trying to take a photo or video while gripping the raft with only one hand.
Of course, there are other times when, regardless of how tightly you hold on, your boat might flip over. This situation is also normal and no cause for worry, but you will want to take action to rescue yourself. Recall what your guide taught you during the safety orientation, look out for instructions from your guide and a rope and focus on getting back in the boat or swimming to the shore, whichever option your guide thinks is more appropriate.
What to Do If You Fall out of the Raft
If you end up falling out of the raft during your rafting trip, do the following:
- Grab the raft. Right after falling overboard, grab the raft’s side as quickly as you can and, if there is a safety rope running along the raft’s outside, grab onto it. Hold tightly until your guide or a fellow rafter pulls you back in.
- Face your raft during the rescue. When your rescuer pulls you back into your raft, face your raft and your rescuer and make sure they pull you face-first, which lets you bend at your waist as they pull you over the raft’s side. This method also lets you see the rescuer, whom you can assist by grabbing ropes or something else to pull yourself. This position also makes it easier to kick in the water, which also helps you get in the raft. If you’re not facing the rescuer or raft during your rescue, this will cause your back to awkwardly arch and you won’t be able to help by kicking or pulling.
- Bring your legs up to the surface of the water. If the current sweeps you away from your raft, bring your legs immediately up to the surface. This is because the riverbed, which has narrow openings that can trap you, is far more dangerous than the waves at the surface. Bring your feet to the river’s surface with your toes above it. Commit the phrase “nose and toes” to memory, which will help you remember that your nose and your toes should be above the water.
- Point your feet downstream. Your feet shouldn’t just be above the water but also facing downstream. You should also have your arms on either side of you, which will help you maneuver and slow yourself down. If you’re close enough to the raft, someone may extend a paddle to you, which you should grab. Then, face your raft and have them pull you up.
- Look out for a rope. If you’ve drifted away from your raft but are still within a 75-foot radius, look out for the guide to throw you a rope. If they do throw one, grab it, keeping it above your shoulders. As they pull the rope, face your back to the raft, which will prevent water from entering your mouth while they pull you.
- Wait for calm waters before moving over. If the rapids sweep you farther than 75 feet from your raft, you shouldn’t try to swim in the rapid. Instead, stay calm and remain in the floating position discussed above. Keep in mind that every rapid is followed by a calm section. When you reach one of these calm sections, you will have the opportunity to move over to the shore.
What Not to Do If You Fall out of the Raft
Some things you should never do when whitewater rafting include:
- Don’t panic. Although being suddenly thrown into a cold, raging river can be alarming, try your best not to panic. If you panic, you will lose your ability to think clearly, meaning it will take longer to get back on your raft.
- Don’t stand up in rapids. You should never stand up in rapids because you risk getting one of your feet caught in the crevices between the rocks, which could lead to serious injury. Even if you’re in a calm section of the river, you still shouldn’t stand. Instead, just swim quickly toward the river’s shore. After reaching the shore, stay there until the rescuers arrive.
- Don’t swim against the current. River currents are much stronger than any rafter, and if you try to swim against one, you’ll quickly become exhausted and run the risk of injury.
- Don’t let go of the paddle. If you fall in the water, you’re probably not thinking much about your paddle, but if you hold onto it, it will be easier for others to pull you back into the raft.
Always Listen to Your Guide
Perhaps the most important advice of all is to always listen to your guide. River guides receive extensive training to keep rafters safe at all times and attend to their needs. To become a qualified rafting instructor, candidates will undergo 14 days of intense rafting guide training and, upon completion of the course, will proceed to guide commercial rafting trips alongside a qualified instructor. This qualified instructor will assess the trainee’s performance while furthering their training at the same time. After at least 20 training trips, depending on their abilities, the trainee will become a professional guide by leading their first solo whitewater rafting excursion.
On the river, your rafting guide will often give instructions, some of which must be carried out immediately. For instance, if your boat is about to hit a rock, your guide may call out “bump,” which means the rafters must lean in and place their paddle “T” grips on the boat’s floor, keeping their hands on top of the grip. If executed properly, this action should keep all the rafters on the boat. Listening closely to your instructor can mean the difference between staying in the boat and falling overboard.
Contact Raft1 With Any Questions You Have
If you have any questions about this exhilarating sport, feel free to speak with one of our experienced guides, all of whom are passionate about sharing their knowledge. You can reach us at 1-888-RAFT-ONE (888-723-8663).
You can also visit our site to learn more about what to expect when rafting on the Ocoee. See you on the river!