Is White Water Rafting Dangerous: Part 3

Is White Water Rafting Dangerous: Part 3

Part 3: Equipment & Logistics

 Is white water rafting dangerous? We are nearing the end of this discussion. I hope it has been helpful for you. If you missed any of the previous material, you could find it here. These articles are merely primers for deeper discussion and research, but I hope it has helped you begin to map out your plan to grow your skills and chart out a course to explore different rivers. We will finish this up by covering the last two categories: Equipment and Logistics. 



A good PFD keeps white water from being dangerous

The first piece of equipment and I believe to be the most important, is your life jacket, or otherwise known as a personal flotation device (PFD.). There are many types to choose from, and I have seen various kinds on display on the river. However, there are only a few you should consider, and the rest you need to stay away from. I will start by saying that you have bought the wrong one if you can find it at Walmart. Life Jackets are broken into 5 Types. 

You will find Type 1 and 2 jackets in your local stores. In World War 2, sailors wore a life jacket similar to Type 1 and 2. These life jackets should be used strictly for sailing. They are great for that but not designed for whitewater rafting. They will not keep your head above water in rough water. 

Type 3 jackets are what you see used by water skiers. Type 3 jackets are designed for slow-moving water where a water rescue can be conducted quickly and rapidly. They are not very buoyant and would fail in turbulent water. 

Type 5 is what you need when running whitewater. They provide adequate buoyancy and will do a much better job keeping your head out of water. 

Types of PFDs

Oh, but it doesn’t stop there. There are many types of Type 5 jackets for you to choose from! There are rescue PFDs, crew or standard PFDs, Unisex, PFDs designed for women, and more! Typically, you are given a standard unisex PFD on a guide trip. They have an additional float built into the back to support your head if you fall out of your raft. They are pretty comfortable and are a great PFD to choose from. However, when you start running larger rapids and rescue situations begin to present themselves, it could be time to purchase a rescue PFD. They have built-in straps and clips that will come in handy. They are also easier to swim in, but they are not buoyant. 

My wife loves her PFD designed for women in mind, as they are constructed to fit women better and typically are fastened by zippers instead of clips. It has made me think about adding that to my inventory for future guide trips. 

My typical setup is I run with a rescue PFD, my clients or friends use Unisex PFDs, and typically other guides will use their rescue PFDs as well. This also helps set the roles for each person on the trip: if you have a rescue PFD you are responsible to engage when needed. If you don’t, then you don’t. I have been on a few trips where my clients thought they were the guide instead. The life jacket served as a gentle reminder. 


Some rivers require using helmets. My general rule of thumb is always to wear a helmet when the possibility of falling out could lead to me smashing up against large rocks. I also always wear a helmet while kayaking. As a guide, I have some rivers where I always require helmets, such as the Upper Klamath River. It is a good idea to purchase one, so you are ready if you need one. Make sure you buy a river helmet instead of bringing a bike helmet because they are designed to protect you differently. 

Shoes and clothing

 What you wear on the river is often overlooked, but it matters. A good pair of river shoes that you can also walk in can make or break a trip. I have seen clients show up in sandals, cowboy boots, shoeless, and just socks. Those won’t work. You will be uncomfortable, and being miserable can lead to bad decision-making while whitewater rafting. A shoe that offers good traction for walking in the river and on land but can handle being wholly submerged at times is essential.

Many suppliers and I will write an extensive article on this, provide good open and closed-toe options. I love Chacos. I have been wearing them for years and find them a great shoe to walk in and out of the boat. They are lightweight and wear well. They also give you a pretty sweet tan line that you can brag about as the season wears on. 

Having suitable clothing is also essential. You want clothes that can keep you warm while being wet, that prevents chafing, and can dry fast. Another thing to consider is to purchase clothing that provides UV protection. I typically wear nylon shorts with a long sleeve polyester shirt and a baseball cap. I stayed comfortable all day with that setup. If I get too hot, I can always jump in to cool down. They are also easy to clean on the river and dry quickly. 

Additional gear

Other things to consider, and I will write different articles on this soon, are your storage needs. Is it a day trip and a couple of dry bags will suffice? Will you need dry boxes because you doing an overnight trip? The camp kitchen is a whole topic itself and one of my favorite things to discuss. You will need to look at throw bags, a first aid kit, air pumps, straps, and a raft repair kit. Email me, and I will send you an itemized checklist for both day trips and overnight trips that I use. I even have river-specific ones for most of the rivers in Oregon. 

You can cover most day trips that you would want to go on if you make sure you have a good PFD, suitable clothing, a first aid kit, a repair kit, and a pump. Not having these items is what can make white water rafting dangerous.


Lastly, you want to map out the details of your trip. This is really important on overnight trips, but can still get you in trouble if you don’t have a good plan for day trips as well. The basics are identifying your put-in and take-out, determining how you are going to retrieve your raft at the end of the day, clear communication to others on where you are going, and an estimated timeline from start to finish and stops. 

If you have followed the other steps I have laid out in Part 1 and Part 2, this last step will be easy. It starts with knowing your put-in and take-out points and how many miles are between. Once you have that, you can start estimating the time it will take to run that section of water. For example, on a river running around 1500 CFS I know, I can row about 3 miles an hour comfortably with a stop in there for lunch. That means I can cover roughly 10 miles in 3.5 hours. 

What to look for

For a pretty short day float, you would need to fill up some time with a short hike, river games, or a long lunch. I also know that I would want to get on the river later in the day if I was on a fishing trip to capture the evening hatch near the end. Also, I could look to extend my section of the river I was running as well, as long as it fit my skill level. 

I next would need to determine how I will transport my boat at the end of the day. Am I hiring a shuttle service to drive my truck to the take-out, or am I riding my bike back to the put-in? I could call in a favor from a buddy, but that rarely works for me. Most rivers have excellent shuttle services. I am happy to connect you to a few shuttle services that offer reasonable rates. This is the route I typically take because it becomes one less thing I need to worry about after a day on the river. 

Is white water rafting dangerous

Other things to consider are if your river requires a special permit, multi-day trips–which I will cover more soon–multiple boats going with you, food and toilet concerns, and river maps. However, you will be okay with what we have covered so far for most one-day trips. I hope these articles answering the question: Is white water rafting dangerous, have been helpful for you. I can’t wait to dive deeper into each topic soon. In the meantime, send me an email if you have questions regarding anything we covered, and I will do my best to answer!

All Forward,

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