Running the Rapids: How to Protect Yourself in Whitewater

The rush of whitewater rafting is pure adrenaline. Your first sight of the set of wild rapids just down the river sends your heart rate pumping. You grip your paddle with knuckles as white as the water.

While floating rivers and group river rafting tours are a common outdoor pastime, they aren’t without some inherent dangers. It’s that risk that makes rafting so exciting. Here’s what to do if you find yourself thrown from the raft, and into the whitewater.

1. Get properly equipped before you even hit the water.
If you’re going out with a guided tour, take a look over their equipment first. Helmets and maintained life jackets are crucial to whitewater safety.

Wear light clothing that dries quickly and won’t take on bulky weight when they hit the water. Items like boots and denim jeans get wet, they’ll weigh you down if you’re in the water.

Keep your life jacket snug and buckled, making sure that you can breathe but the jacket itself can’t be pulled up to your neck. If it’s too loose, or not buckled, you run the risk of turning the life-saving device into a hazard instead.

2. If you’re in the rushing water, keep your legs out in front of you.
If you’ve been tossed from the protection of a raft and into the whitewater, keep your legs out in front of you to defend yourself from rocks or tree branches hidden under the surface.

If your life jacket and helmet are secure, your legs are the first line of defense as you tumble downriver. Lie on your back with your knees bent and your body flexible.

Push off of obstacles or, if they’re unavoidable, try to use the momentum of the water to push yourself up and over anything in your way.

3. Help your rescuers.
If possible, keep in contact with those still in the raft. Watch for them to throw you a flotation device or rope that you can hold onto.

When you’ve reached your rescuers, allow yourself to be pulled in face first. This way, you’ll be able to bend at the waist and roll into the raft.

Before venturing out into water, whether in a raft or while wading for angling, keep the dangers in mind. If you stay calm and follow these tips, there’s plenty of fun to have out on the water.