White Water Rafting for Beginners: What You Need to Know

White Water Rafting for Beginners: What You Need to Know

Getting out on a river for a fun raft adventure is something many people find exciting, especially when they do it with friends or family. It’s important to know the basics of white water rafting before you head out so that everyone remains safe.

There are 10 specific tips beginning white water rafters need to know including book early, pack the right items, pick a slower river, pick a guide, pay attention to the safety speech, have protective gear, what to wear, hold your paddle correctly, swimming correctly in the river, and avoiding panic.

Knowing the basics will help you stay safe and have fun, so pay attention to the list below.

White Water Rafting for Beginners

1. Book Early

Many white water rafting expeditions book up quickly in the summer and early fall so it’s important to get your name on the books early to secure a spot. This is especially important on weekends as that is their busiest time.

Getting an early booking will also help you secure a knowledgeable guide rather than one just starting, who may be called to duty to help with last-minute bookings.

2. Pack the right items.

Those new to white water rafting may not realize that you do need to pack for the trip to be safe and comfortable. Here is a list of necessary items:

  • Sunscreen
  • Comfortable footwear that remains secure on your feet. The best type for this activity is aqua shoes.
  • Sunglasses that come with a security strap.
  • Water bottle, lunch, snacks, all packed in a small, personal watertight container.
  • A change of clothes for after the trip.

Be sure to put any of your belongings that you are taking onto the raft in sealed plastic bags so they won’t get wet.

3. Pick a slower river.

Rivers are categorized by the type of rapids each feature. Class 1 are rivers that have small waves, and virtually no obstructions like large rock formations. These are the ones you want as a beginner.

Some confident beginners can start with a Class 2 river because it has wide waterways with only a few obstructions that can be avoided with guidance. These can be managed by beginners if you have a strong guide.

Classes 3 and 4 are for more experienced rafters as each involves more complicated moves and strong control of the raft.

Classifications go up to Class 5, which are for rafting experts only as they have huge waves, holes, steep chutes, and violent rapids.

It is best to talk to your entire group about their skill and confidence level before picking a river. It is always the better option to start with the river class the least experienced in your group prefers.

4. Pick a guide.

Some new to rafting think guides aren’t necessary because it’s just “going down a river” but nothing could be farther from the truth. A knowledgeable guide can make a world of difference between safety and injury, between a raft staying afloat or capsizing, and between having fun or wishing the trip was over.

Ask the expedition company you are booking how knowledgeable your guide is regarding that river, rafting, safety, and other aspects. Ask your guide similar questions when you arrive to make sure you are getting a true professional for your group.

It is important that your group have confidence in your guide since you will be following his or her instructions on your river trip. Trusting your guide will make your entire trip safer and more fun!

5. Pay attention to the safety speech.

People have been conditioned to tune out safety speeches, but in white water rafting for beginners, what you need to know is your guide will be telling you certain terms he or she will use to lead the team during the trip.

One of the most important aspects of white water rafting is working together as a team, led by the guide. Everyone needs to pay attention to how they instruct you and the warnings they will give during the trip regarding rocks and waves. All of this will be covered in the safety speech. 

The guide will also tell you during the safety talk about certain aspects of the river and what to expect. Knowing what lies ahead will help prepare you to travel the river safely and to not panic.

6. Wear protective gear.

The expedition company will hand out lifejackets and helmets. Be sure to wear both while on the river. All the buckles on the lifejacket should be buckled with it fitting comfortably snug.

The helmet is to protect you in case you end up in the river near rocks, so it’s important to keep it on even if it feels odd. Make sure the helmet fits your head before you go on the river so that it is comfortable.

7. What do you wear?

Most people wear swimsuits, but some wear shorts and T-shirts. Be sure that whatever you wear won’t bog you down when it gets wet. You will get wet. Some people wear wet suits if the water is a cold-water river.

 Many rivers have temperatures of 50 to 60 degrees, so they are cold. Be aware of the temperature and pick the right clothes for the river.

8. Hold your paddle correctly.

Paddles must be held correctly to avoid injury going over rocks. The correct way is one hand should be around the shaft near the lower end of the paddle while the other hand should be over the T-grip.

This prevents to paddle from hitting you in your jaw or face if you go over a rock. 

Also, there will be times your guide tells you to stop paddling as you go over rocks. In those cases, hold your paddle with the T-grip down, lower than the shaft so it won’t pop up and hit you. 

9. Swimming correctly in the river.

Rivers are different from other bodies of water because there are rocks, tree limbs, and other obstructions. The proper way to swim in a river, if you get thrown out of the raft, is to lie on your back with your feet downstream to get your bearings and look for a place to land.

When you get to a spot to swim to a rock or shore, flip over and head the way you want. Your guide will pull the boat over to pick you up. 

10. Don’t panic.

A situation may arise that frightens you. It could be that your raft is caught on a rock or hits an unavoidable rapid. The worst thing you can do is panic.

Keep your head clear, listen to your guide and follow instructions. Stay in the raft if at all possible. There may be a situation where you must exit the raft to get it off a rock, but it is always better if you can stay in the raft. 


White water rafting can be a fun, team-building exercise that provides for some safe thrills. For those planning a trip of White water rafting for beginners, what you need to know is to always err on the side of safety rather than the thrills.

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