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Rafting Safety, Goma Adventures

Whitewater rafting is a fun and refreshing outdoor activity and a great way to enjoy the outdoors no matter what your ability or experience level.

It is also a safe sport, as long as you follow the rules. And the chances of encountering an incident are reduced even more by following a few common-sense safety tips:

1. Choose a licensed and professional River Guide

While booking your rafting trip, ask them questions.

Ask them what kind of training their guides have and what government entity manages their permit and training practices.  This will let you know that you are working with a professional outfitter. 

2. Always wear a Lifejacket or Personal Floatation Device (PFD)

Although just because you wear a life jacket, it doesn’t mean it will save your life.  

It must be worn correctly. All buckles must be clipped and the jacket should be fitted snug to your body.  The trick here is to have the jacket fitted so you can breathe yet the jacket should not be able to be pulled up over your head.  Always have your professional guide fit your jacket.  This will ensure a perfect fit.

3. Wear Safety Equipments

Always wear a helmet no matter what level of rafting you are participating in.  Let’s face it, you wouldn’t let your kids out to ride their bike or go rollerblading without a helmet, why go whitewater rafting without one?  It just makes good sense.

4. Come Prepared and Make Sure You have the right outerwear for the day

In early Spring, the water may be a little chilly. Wearing a wetsuit, splash jacket, and proper river shoes can make the trip much more comfortable, allowing you to enjoy the thrill without the chill.  Some outfitters rent this gear.

On the other side of the spectrum: be prepared for sunny clear days. This can be accomplished by wearing quick drying clothing like polypro and wearing sunscreen and a cheap pair of sunglasses with UV protection.

5. Listen to the Safety Instructions

In addition to being fitted for safety equipment, you will also receive brief directions on safety procedures. Specifically, you will need to know what you should do if you fall out of the raft or if someone else falls out of the raft.

When you get into the raft, take note of the outside line (or OS line) and the throw bag worn by the guide. You should be aware of where these are in the event that they are needed.

6. Know the Commands: High – Siding

When you are listening to your guide’s safety talk before the trip, pay extra attention to the part about high-siding.  

High-siding is a command that your guide may call out as a last ditch effort to keep the boat from capsizing. 

Remember: don’t panic! Chances are this won’t happen, but if it does you will have wished you paid attention during the safety talk.  This situation tends to stress both guides and clients out but really it is a super easy command to execute.  

If the boat hits a rock or gets in a hydraulic, the boat is usually in a sideways position in the river.  Water pressure will build on the upstream side of the boat, which can flip the boat over.  

But if your guide is Johnny on the spot and calls out, “High-side!” you need to go to the downstream part of the boat (the way the water is moving) by getting up and throwing your weight to the downstream tube of the raft.  

Easy peasy!  Remember to always go the direction the river is flowing: downstream.

7. Hold the Paddle Properly

Holding the paddle properly can be a huge safety concern.  

One hand should be at the base of the paddle on the shaft.  The other hand should ALWAYS be on the end of the shaft over the “T” grip.  The “T” grip is made of hard plastic and can blacken eyes and knock out teeth.  Keeping your hand over the “T” grip will keep control of the paddle and cushion the blow if it should happen.  

Ask your professional commercial guide for the proper technique.

8. Stay in the boat!

This sounds like common sense, but it can happen.  

One minute you are in the boat and the next you are swimming next to it.  

When rafting, pay attention and watch for rocks coming from downstream.  Your guide may use a command called “Bump” just before the boat hits a rock.  If your guide calls out, “Bump!” lean in while placing your paddle “T” grip on the floor of the boat.  Make sure you still keep your hand over the grip.  If the “Bump” command is executed correctly your blade end of the paddle will be up in the air and your fist over the grip will be on the floor of the boat.  This should keep you in the boat.

 After the boat collides with the rock, return to your seat and be ready to paddle.  If you fall out of the boat, the most important thing to do is… DON’T PANIC!  Find your boat.  

Most times when someone falls out of the boat they pop up right next to the boat.  Grab it so you don’t float away.  

If you are a couple of feet away from the boat, swim to the boat.  If you pop up and you are far from the boat, look for other rescue options, other boats or the riverbank. 

Remember, there are two riverbanks for your convenience, one on either side of the river. 

If you are panicking you won’t think about getting back to the boat and the rescue becomes more difficult.  

Your guide will go over this in great detail during the safety talk before the trip.

9. Follow the Guide’s Direction

Before you hit any rapids, your guide will teach you the basics of how to paddle the raft, including how to hold the paddle and how to sit so you don’t fall out. Holding the paddle incorrectly could result in the paddle being knocked out of your grip. Moreover, sitting correctly in the raft will keep you in a safe position where you can see the river and the rapids. This will make you far less likely to accidentally fall into the river.

Your guide will also give you a rundown of the voice commands they will use. Your guide knows the river and how to navigate it safely so it’s essential you follow their directions. You and your fellow paddlers need to work as a team to traverse the rapids safely.

10. Never Panic

Panicking is a waste of time.

Goma Adventures

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