A beginner's guide to whitewater rafting (2023)

Whitewater rafting is an exciting sport, and despite its appearance, you don't have to be particularly brave or technical to enjoy it. Also beginners andolder childrenyou can enjoy a rafting adventure. Whether you want to add half-day or full-day rafting to your trip, or want to spend a few days (or even weeks!) on the river, there are all kinds of rafting destinations and types of trips to suit your needs. From gentle rides down tropical rivers to epic expeditions through some of the world's largest river canyons, here's everything you need to know about whitewater rafting.

flow rating system

The first thing you need to know when planning a rafting trip is the rating system. The International River Difficulty Scale is a standardized scale used by the American Whitewater Association to rate the safety of a section of river or an individual rapid. The ratings can be summarized as follows:

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  • Weight I, easy: fast water with small waves. The risk for bathers is low.
  • Class II, beginner: flat rapids with clear channels; Rocks and medium waves can be easily avoided. Swimmers rarely need much help.
  • Grade III, medium: Fast with moderate and/or irregular waves requiring complex maneuvers; Scouting is recommended. Swimmers can usually rescue themselves or get help.
  • Class IV, advanced: Intense and powerful, but predictable rapids; Precise and expert boat handling is required. Swimmers usually require group rescue and the risk of injury is moderate to high.
  • Grade V, Expert: Long, congested and/or violent rapid descents that require a high level of fitness. Swimmers are at risk of injury and difficult to save.
  • Class VI, Extreme and Research Rapids: Races at this level are rarely attempted.

Well-trained whitewater rafting guides can guide even relative beginners through challenging, high-quality rapids, but in general, beginners and older kids are safest and most comfortable on Class II and III rapids. For those with more experience or advanced river skills and an adventurous spirit, there are Level IV and V rapids. Most tours — whether half-day or 10+ days — usually include a combination of characters, and the tour operators will let you know which character you'll meet on the tour and if it's a good fit. you and your group.

Keywords you should know

Your whitewater rafting guide will brief you before you reach the river, explaining the key words and instructions he should use. You don't need to know all the technical terms of the course to follow your guide's instructions, but here are some key ones you'll hear:

  • Insertion:Starting point for the rafting tour.
  • Take away:End point of the rafting tour.
  • River left/river right:Sometimes your guide will face you with his back to the front of the boat and facing the direction your raft is going. If you want to highlight some features to the left or right, use "river left" or "river right" in relation to the direction of travel so you don't get confused as to what they meanherleft orFROMlinks!
  • Swim:Whoever falls from the raft is called a swimmer, regardless of whether he intended to swim or not. Your guide might shout "Swim!" In order to get that person's attention in a rescue attempt, it is unlikely that they would know each passenger's name.
  • Sales:If the raft capsizes, it is "capsulated".
  • Safety kayak(s):A safety kayak or kayaks accompany the raft to assist the swimmers. The number of kayakers on your tour depends on the number of passengers on the raft and the company's safety requirements (don't travel with tour operators who skimp on kayakers).

What to wear and what to bring

Tour operators will provide you with the necessary equipment, including paddles, life jackets and helmets. If you are going rafting in a cold climate or cold water, you will also get a diving suit. Some companies may offer a dry top, a water-repellent top that won't keep you as warm as a wetsuit, but will reduce the effects of cold spray and wind.

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The dress code is up to you, but you are expected to wear appropriate footwear, which can be closed-toe, waterproof footwear or sandals that fit tightly to your foot. Dress appropriately for the climate and conditions. Most prefer synthetic t-shirts and shorts or tight yoga-style pants for rafting. Cotton clothes are not a good idea because they are cold when wet and retain water for a long time. Rafting in a tropical climate is less of a problem than in cold water or cold weather. If you're on a multi-day trip that requires camping, pack the right conditions for an overnight stay in a tent.

Avoid bringing valuables, including cameras, on a raft trip unless you have a dry bag (even then, keep these items to a minimum). Some guides have a duffel bag where you can put small personal items, but not all. It is recommended to wear sports shorts with zippered pockets for storing small items such as keys. If you decide to take your camera with you, make sure it is waterproof or in a waterproof case and that it can be attached to a life jacket with a carabiner. However, rafting companies usually take photos for you with a company camera and deliver the photos either free of charge or for a fee after the ride.

safety tips

The most importantsafety tipsAlways follow your guide's instructions. They are trained to protect you in activities that can be quite risky for the untrained. Especially when traveling with a group of friends, it's easy to get carried away laughing and forget to follow the guide's instructions - but don't!

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It should also be understood that if you can't swim, you shouldn't go rafting. In some places (especially in developing countries where many locals can't swim), some tour operators allow tours when people can't swim. It's a terrible idea and puts you at much greater risk if you fall off the raft. Guides are trained to quickly pull swimmers aboard as they fall out of the water. However, the risk of panic and dangerous behavior is much higher if you fall into the water and do not know how to swim.You don't have to be a very good swimmer to enjoy rafting, but a basic knowledge of the water is necessary for your own safety.

If you are a parent, you should only guide children if they are comfortable in the water. Lower age limits vary by location and company, but are usually at least 8 years old and sometimes 10 or 12 years old. Lower rivers and rapids are usually more suitable for younger age groups.

How to plan rafting

In addition to the adrenaline that rafting brings, this sport is also a great way to see landscapes that are otherwise inaccessible. He flows down the river through the jungle, hears birdsong everywhere; gaze into the walls of the world's deepest canyons; jump from the raft and swim in the warm water; Stopping at the riverside for camping at the end of the day... these are some of the highlights of a rafting trip.

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Climate and season play an important role when planning rafting. In some places, rafting is possible only during low or low tide, before or after the seasonal rains. In others it is too cold all year round, while in other places you can raft all year round, even in winter (with the right equipment!). No two destinations are the same and sometimes you may be surprised by what is possible: ​Check the conditions at your chosen destination before deciding whether to add rafting to your itinerary.Just as you don't plan to relax on the beach and swim in the sea regardless of the season, the same applies to rafting. Know local conditions.

No matter where you go, it's important to always choose a reputable company that employs fully trained guides. While in some places (eg USA and New Zealand) very high standards apply to tour guides and companies, in some countries there are less legal requirements for safety and training. Always check a company's credentials before signing up.

The best places for rafting

Some of the most popularDestinations for whitewater raftingin the world are:

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  • SAD., especiallyColorado
  • You have
  • New Zealand
  • Chile
  • Costa Rica
  • Nepal
  • I, especiallyLadakh
  • ZambiaIZimbabwe(Zambesi River)

Some amazing long-distance river trips require planning well in advance, like the Colorado RiverGrand Canyon, due to its popularity and restrictions on the number of persons allowed. In some lower-income countries (like India and Nepal), travel is surprisingly affordable. So if you like the idea of ​​a multi-day river trip but are on a tight budget, check out the Indus Zanskar Rivers in India or the Sun Kosi and Karnali Rivers in Nepal.


Are Class II rapids OK for beginners? ›

Class 2-3 (Easy/Beginner):

This is an ideal level for most, not too scary for most beginners. You definitely get wet and it's fun and exciting.

Can beginners do white water rafting? ›

Practically anyone can have a good time white water rafting as long as they choose a stretch that matches their skill level and come equipped with all the right information. Read our tips below to prepare for your first white water experience.

How hard are Class 5 rapids? ›

Class V: Extremely difficult, long, and very violent rapids with highly congested routes, which should be scouted from shore. Rescue conditions are difficult, and there is a significant hazard to life in the event of a mishap.

What are the commands for white water rafting? ›

The raft command is simply a loud “stroke,” “stroke,” “stroke.” With each “stroke,” the group catches the water together in unison.

Are Class 3 rapids OK for kids? ›

Class III Whitewater

Due to moderate difficulty, younger children shouldn't be riding the class III rapids. With many irregular waves (4-5 feet high) and tumultuous water, strong adventurous older kids and teens will love these! Water will definitely crash over the boat and everyone will get wet.

How hard are Class 3 rapids? ›

Class III – these rapids have high waves, rocks, and other obstacles in them. These Rapids take an experienced guide and a good boat to navigate. Class IV – these rapids are long and difficult, require scouting, a high level of experience, and precise maneuvers to make it through safely.

What is the difficulty scale for white water rafting? ›

Class 3 is a typical beginner level for rafting. Class 4 is intermediate to advanced and good for adventure rafters. Class 5 is advanced and recommended only for experienced rafters. Class 6 is unrunnable by most people and presents an extreme level of danger.

What not to do when white water rafting? ›

DON'T – Jump Out of the Boat

Unless instructed by your guide, haphazardly jumping out of the boat is dangerous. Guides know the layout of the river better than anyone else. They will know when the water is clear of rocks and rapids.

Should you go river rafting if you can't swim? ›

The short answer is yes; rafting trips are safe for non-swimmers. While there is always a risk of injury in any outdoor activity, rafting is considered a safe sport for people of all ages and abilities. Additionally, most rafting tours include a safety briefing and a guide trained in first aid and CPR.

Are there Class 7 rapids? ›

Class VII and VIII Rapids

There are plenty of narrow passages, long and quite difficult rapids, and very turbulent water in a Classes 7-8. This for the advanced rafting enthusiast as it requires precision maneuvering.

What do Class 4 rapids look like? ›

Class IV: WILD

Rapids are long and unpredictable with large waves and narrow passages.

What does Class 3 rapids look like? ›

Class III Whitewater

Rapids with moderate, irregular waves. Complex maneuvers in fast current and good boat control in tight passages or around ledges are often required; large waves or strainers may be present but are easily avoided.

Do you tip white water rafting guides? ›

Gratuities based on a per person basis might be $10-$15 per person for a full-day rafting trip. Using a percentage formula, gratuities in the 15%-25% range of the full-day trip cost are standard. Gratuities may range from that amount for certain demanding, expensive, and/or high-level day trips.

Where is the safest place to sit white water rafting? ›

The ride can get bumpy, so make sure you are properly seated. The best point for balance is to sit on the outer rim of the raft.

What does class 1 rapids look like? ›

Class I rapids are defined by moving water with small waves that tug at the boat in a downstream flow - it's a relaxing way to spend the day. Rafting trips on class I whitewater are generally labeled as "scenic float trips".

What class rapids is Niagara Falls? ›

Most of the Niagara River's waters are graded as Class I.

Although the whitewater is runnable (probably a Class IV), that would mean ending up over the falls at the end.

What are Class 2 rapids like? ›

Class II Rapids - Waves that Make Fun Splashes »

Class II rapids are easy to navigate, generally broad sections of water moving fast enough to create 1 - 3 foot whitecaps. These are waves that are readily seen amidst broad channels that can be spotted without scouting the route from the shoreline.

What class of rapids are the easiest? ›

Class I: These rapids are the most gentle and fall into the “easy” category.
  • Small waves (at most 2 feet high)
  • Easily avoidable obstructions.
  • Low risk.
  • Also great for canoeing and wildlife viewing.
  • Best for beginners.
Mar 25, 2023

Can a beginner do Class 3 rapids? ›

Class 3 is a typical beginner level for rafting. Class 4 is intermediate to advanced and good for adventure rafters. Class 5 is advanced and recommended only for experienced rafters. Class 6 is unrunnable by most people and presents an extreme level of danger.

What are the hardest rapids to kayak? ›

Terminator – Futaleufú River, Chile

"It is an exhilarating whitewater power storm of turquoise champagne like water." The Class 4/5 Terminator section, which some experienced kayakers call the most difficult commercially run rapid in the world, is 6 miles and it takes about 3 hours.


1. Whitewater kayaking Tips for Beginners
(Ryan’s Routes)
2. Introduction to Whitewater
(River Kings)
3. How To: Go Whitewater Rafting
(Insider Perks)
4. What It Takes To Survive Whitewater Raft Flips | What It Takes
(Insider Business)
5. The Guides | Raft Guide Documentary
6. My Life as a Dirtbag Whitewater Rafting Guide | Summer 2019
(Middle of Wherever)


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