With so many firms out there telling you they are the best and the safest, just what should you be looking for when rafting trip planning? Expert rafter Hamish McMaster tells you how to pick the best rafting company:
By far the biggest asset to any rafting company are its guides. You should definitely ask questions about your guides; they are so important to your safety. What qualifications do they have? how long have they been rafting? and where?
Guides with international experience tend to be better as they have experienced different conditions. Also, be sure to ask if they are first-aid and CPR qualified, and have Swiftwater rescue qualifications that are current.
Do your guides know the area? A big part of a trip is sharing local knowledge about geology, flora, fauna and customs.
Always make sure you get good equipment. When rafting cooler rivers, wetsuits, spray jackets, and wetsuit boots should be issued. On all trips, PFDs (personal flotation devices – life jackets to you and I) and helmets should be compulsory.
Strangely, on some trips in the US, helmets are not required, although we recommend always wearing them – you can easily take them off when your guide advises. You should also note the condition of your PFD. They must have 6.2kg of flotation by law, so if your jacket is looking a little worse for wear, ask for another.
Before getting paddling, take a look at the rafts: How do they look? are the safety lines around their outside all intact and tight? Do the rafts have bow and stern lines? Simple, yet vital questions if you want to pick the best rafting company.
The industry standard is for a safety kayaker to accompany you as they are more agile and faster than a raft. They should, in general, remain in front of the first raft. This is in case a guest falls out – you will travel faster than the raft and the kayaker can rescue you and help you back to your boat.
Professional safety staff should be watching you. If you see your kayaker surfing on a wave, ask yourself are they looking cool or looking out for me? And have a glance at their kayaks, too. Do they have the right boat for the job? Kayaks for safety should be quite large volume boats and not small ‘playboats’.
On more challenging waters, such as the Coruh River in Turkey and the Futaleufu River in Chile, a safety cataraft will be used. This is a very fast and nimble raft that can rescue multiple people in the event of a mishap. They are distinct from other boats, as they have safety platforms or nets on the front and rear.
With respect to safety, try to find out if the company has radios or a satellite phone, and a comprehensive first-aid kit. In reality, the most serious rafting accidents happen in camp, but when rafting trip planning you need to have confidence that the firm can deal with any eventuality…
On multi-day trips, it is particularly important the company is strict on hygiene. Check food is stored and separated in cooler boxes, vegetables should be soaked in iodine water, dishes should be done in hot water, and most importantly, there should be handwash at the kitchen and toilet.
This all sounds like a lot to take it. But you will tell if a company has good codes of practice, professional guides and adequate equipment.
The best river guides and their companies take a lot of pride in what they do. However, there are plenty of them out there, so just look out for the cowboys!
We are happy to give you unbiased recommendations and options to help you pick the best rafting company wherever you want to travel. So let us know and we’ll give you options! Take a look at Hamish’s company – Water By Nature.