Is White Water Rafting Safe?

Written by Ben Sack, 04.03.2020

Guides in training learning water dynamicsThrilling outdoor activities like whitewater rafting and mountain biking get our adrenaline pumping. Why? Because we sense the element of fear and get a rush by pushing our boundaries and entering into the unknown. 

In essence, the thrill of rafting comes from our realization that there is some level of risk involved. But with the proper equipment and experience, that risk is dramatically reduced. 

Whenever you partake in an outdoor adrenaline sport, it’s important to ask yourself, “is this safe?” Particularly if you’re a solo adventurer who plans to head out on your own. 

In this article, we’ll discuss when whitewater rafting is dangerous, and what you can do to mitigate risk.

Staying Safe as a Private Rafter

Rafters who head out on their own need to be knowledgeable and experienced. Without ample rafting skills and experience in various conditions, river rafting on your own is unwise and dangerous.

Outside of the know-how, private rafters must be sure that they’re using quality equipment. The raft, life jacket, helmet, paddles and oars need to be in working order, and it’s important to check gear before heading onto the river. 

Finally, even the most experienced rafter should be familiar with the river conditions. Knowing the water level and what to expect along the river at the existing level ensures that a rafter doesn’t tackle something that’s too complicated. 

You want to be certain that the rapids aren’t too difficult for anyone who’s on the raft, and that the gear can stand up to the current conditions. 

And don’t forget to check the weather forecast beforehand. While getting caught in a thunderstorm can be exciting and not dangerous in itself, it’s important to be aware of flash flood risks at common stopping points below side canyons along the stretch of river.

Staying Safe on a Commercial Rafting Trip

When you join as a guest on a guided trip with a commercial outfitter, safety starts behind the scenes prior to your arrival. 

River rescue skills while guide training with Echo CanyonTrustworthy outfitters do everything in their power to mitigate risk. This starts with helping you choose the best rafting trip for your group, based on the skill level of the youngest or most timid rafter. Commercial outfitters are also regulated by government entities requiring a certain level of guide training and experience. You’ll find many outfitters like Echo Canyon exceed minimum requirements by a long stretch, which better prepares that guide to handle challenging situations that may come up on the river.

Next, high-quality rafts and safety equipment are used so that you’re prepared for the Colorado whitewater. When you arrive on site before your trip, you’ll be fitted with a helmet and personal floatation device, also known as a life jacket, for safety.

Other planning that goes on behind the scenes is tracking water levels. Spring runoff creates high water levels with dramatically different rapids than encountered later in the season. Storms, too, can influence conditions. 

Before you head out on your trip, the outfitter and your guide will have already planned the route that’s the best fit for the rafters in the group. At times, this involves changing where you begin and end your trip on the river.

As a guest, your job is to listen to your raft guide before and during your trip. They will instruct you on what to do to stay as safe as possible, from how snug your helmet should be to when and how quickly to paddle.

Final Thoughts

Colorado rafting boasts stretches of whitewater great for beginners and extreme rafters. Whether you’re a new rafter going on a guided trip or an experienced rafter heading out on your own, safety should be your number one priority.

River difficulty, water levels, weather conditions, and safety equipment are just a few of many things that should be considered before heading out on the water. Fortunately for those who go rafting with Raft Echo, we take steps behind the scenes to make your safety our primary objective.

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About the Author

Ben Sack is the General Manager of Echo Canyon River Expeditions, Colorado's largest white water rafting outfitter. He's also a raft guide, a photographer, and he loves exploring Colorado and beyond with his wife and two boys.
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