rafting guide

3 things you need to know when hiring a rafting guide

Hiring a river guide

How to hire the right whitewater rafting guide

You have to read The River of Doubt by Candace Millard. It is the true story of Theodore Roosevelt’s trip down a treacherous river in the Amazon. The trip was an absolute disaster, with three people losing their lives. They didn’t read this article on the 3 things you need to know when hiring a rafting guide. It was the culmination of bad logistics and inexperienced guides. Ultimately is a great story of perseverance, fortitude, and adventure, but many of the disasters could have been avoided. They needed to know how to hire the right whitewater rafting guide.

Let’s begin!

Hiring a good whitewater rafting guide can make or break a whitewater rafting experience. They are responsible for most of your experience when you are on the water. However, as I am sure you have found, if you have been researching, the cost of hiring a whitewater rafting company is comparable to other companies. So how do you know if you hired the right one? 

Before we dive into this, I want to clarify that most of the rafting guides in your area are probably pretty good. Many of the rafting guides I have known have been passionate about their craft and take river guiding very seriously. That being said, some whitewater rafting guides are better, more professional, and make the experience more memorable. Think about it, the constant on a whitewater rafting trip is the river; the variables come from the person taking you down the river: the whitewater rafting guide. Some guides take you down the river, and others help you truly experience it. 

I also want to disclose that I’m a river guide and have been since 2000. A couple of old fly fishing guides taught me to highly value the customer experience. I took that knowledge and approach into whitewater rafting. I still hire whitewater rafting guides to explore a new river and have hired quite a few over the years. 

What to look for

Here are the 3 keys I look for when hiring a whitewater rafting guide: River training, straightforward logistics, and river experience. 


wood people water summer

Being a rafting guide requires time working for a river guide in most states. However, some states only require a First Aid/CPR certification, a Surety Bond, and Insurance. Either way, I am looking for river guides who have their teams undergo more training. 

Swiftwater rescue training is a course I am expecting all guides to have gone through. This course teaches River Guides how to conduct rescues in all types of river situations. These courses are typically held on Class 4 rapids, which gives me confidence that they also are somewhat familiar with those types of rapids. The class is usually 4-6 days long, and the River Guides spend all day in the water. Just writing about it makes me miss my time in one of those schools!

I also look for companies that provide continued education opportunities. Good companies typically give a refresher course before the rafting season starts. It goes over the essential river running methods, logistics, client care procedures, and brief rescue training. 

When hiring a rafting guide, I always ask a company that I am looking at using what training requirements they have for their guide and what training they offer to them each year. Some companies will hire new river guides and expect them to learn as the season progresses. That works if you are rafting a relatively calm section of water, but I will do my homework on a company if I float an area with significant rapids.

Real-life experience

One time, I was coming off the wild and scenic section of the Rogue River, and I noticed a River Guide taking out with a boat of clients. We started chatting a bit, and he shared that he had only run this section a few times, and his boss told him he was ready to run clients through this section. To me, that is risky. He is new to whitewater rafting and would not have the experience to handle a problem should it arise. One of my river guides was on another stretch of water and had to rescue two river guides stuck on a strainer. They had lost their boat and weren’t even wearing life jackets. They shared that this was their first Summer whitewater rafting, and they were hired by XYZ company because they were short-staffed. 

Why would I hire a guide that has only been on a river a few more times than I have? If I am going to pay for a river guide, I expect to have an experienced and well-trained person take me safely down a river. Ok, my rant is over. 

Clear Logistics

This may seem small, but it is essential to have a detailed plan for your arrival, departure, the section of the river you are running, what they provide for you, and what you need to bring. For example, some companies offer tents for overnight trips, and others don’t. You would hate to find that out at the put-in. More importantly, some provide beer, and others don’t! I booked a trip, and I asked if they offered good beer. They told me they did, and I arrived to find that their “good beer” was Bud Light. Now, I am not knocking Bud Light, but I would not consider that “good beer.”

Equally important to know when you should arrive and expect to be off the river. “Winging it” doesn’t work. I have seen irritated customers waiting at a boat ramp for their river guide as I was shoving off. Often, this information can be found on their website, or they will email it to you. Just make sure you have it before booking with them. 

River Experience

I have noticed that it’s becoming more common for river guide companies to offer whitewater rafting trips on multiple rivers. There is nothing fundamentally wrong with that, but it does pose the question: how well can you know all those rivers? Now, some do. I know of a company that has spent over 30 years guiding the Rogue and Salmon rivers. Yet, others are looking to expand their market share too fast and can take you safely down the river, but they can’t help you experience it because they are still learning its nuances themselves. 

Each river has more to offer than just its rapids. It has its side hikes, picturesque moments, great lunch spots, camping posts, and so much more. It takes time to learn these. After twenty years of doing this and being on over 50 rivers, I can confidently say that I know a few. There are better river guides than me who can learn more rivers than I can, but it doesn’t hurt to ask how long they have been guiding on that river. 


Now that you know what to look for, go and call a few and start interviewing to hire a perfect river guide. I can also help point you in the right direction. All you have to do is email me, tell me a little about what you are looking for, and I will do the leg work for you and provide a list of qualified whitewater rafting guides in your area. 

All Forward,

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