First Time Rafting? Whitewater Rafting Tips and Guidelines

Are you looking for a group activity that includes fun and adventure?

You might want to consider whitewater rafting! Rafting is a sport which requires teamwork, hence a great outdoor activity to enjoy with friends or family. Here is a guide on the essentials that you need to know if you are considering going for a rafting trip.

Let's look at the basic definition of whitewater rafting - it is an outdoor recreational activity where you are required to navigate a river which usually has a lot of rapids in an inflatable boat.

Wait! Now I made that sound real easy, didn't I? But believe me it is not that difficult either, even if you are doing it for the first time. You will just cruise over the rapids if you stick to the basic rules!

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Whitewater rafting is a fun group activity!
Whitewater rafting is a fun group activity! | Source

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A short course on rapids

Whitewater rafting usually takes place on a river with rapids. Rapids are caused when there is an increase in the gradient of the river due to a steep descent. This turbulence gives the water a white, frothy look and hence the name "whitewater".

Rapids are categorized into six classes.

  • Class I - II - Very basic and suitable for an amateur rafter. A river with Class I - II rapids will contain small waves between long stretches of calm water.
  • Class III - IV - Rivers with Class III - IV rapids have larger waves and a greater number of obstacles.
  • Class V- VI - Of course by now you can understand that Class V - VI rapids would have the largest waves, and a whole bunch of other obstacles and I would recommend that you do not attempt them unless you have tried and tested the other classes!

Typically for a beginner the ideal course would be a mix of classes I, II and III.

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The classes explained.
The classes explained. | Source

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Tips on preparing for your rafting expedition

This list will give you a complete idea of what you need to know before you head off.

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1. Choose your level depending on your party

The short course above should give you an idea on the level of rafting you and your family or party would be comfortable with. So you should be able to choose a river depending on your requirements. Also if you are planning to go with kids or older adults you need to check the age requirements. Typically, families with kids choose the Class I - II rapids.

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2. Prices

Prices vary depending on the area, season and the day of the week. They are higher during the spring and fall months as they are the peak seasons and weekends for obvious reasons. The prices usually include flotation jackets, shuttle to and from the river, paddles and watertight storage containers.

Prices can also vary depending on the facilities provided. They may be higher if your trip includes a meal and other amenities like wetsuits, jackets etc. Some companies provide package deals, which means that along with rafting you can choose other group activities such as biking, hiking, camping and skirmish (paintball).

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3. Check some vital stats before choosing your outfitter

When choosing your outfitter check the following; the number of years the company has been in service, customer service feedback, popularity choice with families, certifications and licenses for the services they provide etc.

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4. Listen to the tutorial provided by the guides

Before you get into your boat, the guides will give you a tutorial on the important aspects of rafting, like how to paddle your boat, how many people should get into a single boat, what to do in case you fall out of your boat and other emergencies. You are expected to pay attention to all the details.

For first time rafters here's the basic tip; to turn right paddle with your left oar and to turn left, paddle with your right oar. It sounds a little confusing at first but once you are in the water you will get the hang of it.

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5. Do not panic if something goes wrong

If you do happen to fall out of your boat DO NOT panic. Your flotation jacket will keep you safe in the water until help arrives. And remember under any circumstances do not open your flotation jacket while you are in the water. Usually 3 - 4 guides raft with each group (on kayaks) and they have one person leading the way and another person lagging behind the group so that all who belong to one group are in between the two guides. Just make sure to follow the leader and you'll be just fine!

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6. Do not carry expensive personal belongings

Most rafting outfitters will provide you with watertight containers to keep certain personal belongings like your lunch, sunglasses, cameras etc. with you on your raft. If you do wish to take pictures while rafting I strongly recommend you to bring a waterproof camera. Bringing an expensive DSLR or a camcorder is not a good idea! Even though the containers are supposed to be watertight, they are not attached to the raft and can fall off.

Also, there is no need to worry that your friends will not be able to see your rafting feats! The outfitter takes shots of each boat and these photos can be collected at the end of your trip.

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7. Keep clothing pockets empty

Keep your pockets empty, do not bring your car keys, wallets or other important items with you. Your outfitter should provide you with lockers where you can leave your belongings. Losing your car keys on a fun filled weekend trip, not a good idea!

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8. Dress accordingly

It advisable to wear quick drying clothes while rafting. During the summer months you can wear bathing suits, shorts, t-shirts. During spring and fall the water would be cold so you would need to dress accordingly.

You can wear swim wear under your clothes as you will able to swim in "swim spots" along your course. Your guide will let you know where the depth of the river is good for swimming. Wear waterproof sandals or shoes. If you wear eye glasses or if you want to wear sunglasses make sure to fasten them as they may fall off during rafting. Sunscreen is a must!

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Class IV whitewater rafting

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Other useful tips

  • Do not turn up for your rafting expedition in any sort of inebriated state! First of all you will not be allowed to raft and second of all it is not safe for you.
  • Rafting is a team activity and hence you are expected to be a good team player. Your guide will tell you to choose a captain for your boat before starting your expedition and it is advisable to do so. Ideally, the captain should be a person with prior rafting experience but if that is not the case simply choose someone who is the most levelheaded from your group.
  • You must let your guide know about any preexisting medical conditions that you might have. It's always a safe bet.
  • Don't be under the impression that you will never get wet unless you fall into the water. You WILL get wet so make sure to bring a change of clothes with you.

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Rafting in Ladakh, India
Rafting in Ladakh, India | Source

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Comments 8 comments

BenjaminB 6 years ago

Awesome stuff here! Living in CT i'm sure you have taken advantage of what I hear is great white water rafting in Vermont.Personally i prefer the 2-3 range as it is more relaxing and you can easily do it without paying great attention.The Colorado video was great,a state filled with mind blowing rapids especially during the snow run off season.Rated up and awesome ponx!


ponx profile image

ponx 6 years ago from USA Author

Thank you Benjamin.I did not go to Vermont but to PA, in the Pocono mountains.I am not aware of the ones in Vermont but now that you told me I will check that as well.This was my first time so I had opted for the class 2-3 rapids.I would like to try class 4 also :).


Duchess OBlunt 6 years ago

Beautiful pictures, and I enjoyed the layout. Sounds like an exciting family adventure.


ponx profile image

ponx 6 years ago from USA Author

Thank you Duchess. Yup it is an exciting family outing, especially with kids. :)


Shelly Bryant profile image

Shelly Bryant 6 years ago from Singapore and/or Shanghai

Good information in your hub, ponx. And great pictures!


ponx profile image

ponx 6 years ago from USA Author

Thank you shelly.


Beth100 profile image

Beth100 6 years ago from Canada

Excellent advice! I really like the visuals for the different levels -- explains it very nicely! I probably won't venture into this, but there's a good chance I'll be sending the kids this summer down the river. :) Thanks for a great hub!


ponx profile image

ponx 6 years ago from USA Author

Thanks Beth!Yes it is indeed a fun activity for the kids.There were many families with kids when I had been for rafting and they all had an amazing time :).

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