14 Common Whitewater Rafting Mistakes and How to Avoid Them

In the US alone, almost 10 million folks are “rafters,” and another two to three million are kayakers. Of those who participate in whitewater rafting, three million consider themselves “enthusiasts.” Meaning, they go on rafting trips at least twice a year.

Rafting, after all, is exciting, thrilling, and an excellent way to work out. As a water activity, it can also bring about wellness and positive cognitive effects.

However, since this sport involves fast-moving water, it can also be a risky venture. Fortunately, many of these whitewater rafting mistakes are easy to avoid.

To that end, we came up with this guide detailing common rafting errors. Read on to learn what they are and how to avoid them so that you can make your rafting trip fun and safe at all times.

Rafting-Mistakes
Rafting-Mistakes
  1. Donning the Wrong Kind of Clothes

If you’ve never tried air-drying clothes before, know that it takes two to four hours for most fabrics to dry. However, this only applies to clothes exposed to constant heat (AKA sun) and a light breeze.

However, during a whitewater rafting expedition, you’ll continuously get wet. So, even if the sun is blazing hot and the wind is strong, you can’t expect your clothes to dry faster.

Cotton, especially the 100% kind, is difficult to dry. What’s more, cotton clothes can shrink when exposed to an immense amount of heat.

What you want to wear instead are quick-dry clothes or those designed to wick away moisture. Polypropylene, a recycled and recyclable plastic, is a good example. Wear these over a bathing suit so that you don’t end up paddling with soggy clothes.

  1. Using Outerwear Inappropriate for the Season

If you wear too-light clothes on a rafting trip during cooler months, you’ll end up shivering in the cold. This can lead to hypothermia, a condition characterized by low body heat. This can happen if you get exposed to water with a temperature of 60 °F to 70 °F.

So, use heavier clothes when you go whitewater rafting with friends or family in spring or fall. Clothes made of merino wool are a smart option, as this special type of wool dries fast. It also helps trap heat, so you can stay warmer as you raft away.

On the other hand, using heavier clothes on a summer rafting trip will burden you with a lot of extra weight. Things will get even heavier once water splashes all over your attire.

You can use long-sleeved rash guards made from breathable and flexible spandex. They’re not water-proof, but they’re quick-drying and protect you against extended outdoor exposure. You can use this protective clothing in both summer and winter.

  1. Mistaking Whitewater Classes

According to a post by Bear Valley Rafting, Class I through IV whitewater are the most common. There’s Class V and VI, but these are rare, as they are the riskiest.

Class I is “easy,” as the fast-moving water only has riffles and small waves, making it ideal for kids. Class II is for “novices,” as it involves whitewater with more straightforward rapids. However, Class II whitewater is still okay for kids ages four and above.

Then, we have Class III and Class IV whitewater, which are only for the strongest paddlers. Children are still welcome, so long as they’re at least 12 years old and have adequate experience.

With that said, make sure that you check the rafting trip’s Class category before you book it. Otherwise, you may end up wasting money if you book an advanced class and you don’t have enough experience.

  1. Forgetting to Look Up the Day’s Forecast

Did you know that a 10-day forecast is only accurate about half of the time? By contrast, a five-day forecast is usually 90% spot-on. A 90% accuracy is way better than 50%, but it still has a 10% chance of being wrong.

As such, preparing for rafting should include checking the current day’s forecast. Meaning, if your trip is later today, you should look up the forecast for that timeframe. This way, you can pack a few other things, such as a waterproof jacket, in case the experts predict rain later on.

  1. Applying Sunblock Right Before Boarding the Raft

Your sunblock will become useless if you do this, as the water will wash it all away. You need to apply sun-protection topicals 15 minutes before you even go outside. This helps ensure that your skin absorbs the UV-protective properties of the product.

You should also avoid applying sunscreen on your forehead. Otherwise, you risk having it drip into your eyes, which can sting and even irritate your peepers. Instead, use a forehead protector, visor, or hat to avoid sunburns on this part of your face.

  1. Not Putting Any Sunscreen At All

Just because it’s cloudy doesn’t mean you can skip the sunscreen. As much as 80% of the sun’s UV rays can still penetrate clouds. What’s more, water can reflect up to 85% of harmful solar radiation.

So, apply sun protection liberally before rafting or doing different outdoor activities. Failure to do so can result in severe painful sunburns that can last for weeks.

  1. Using Sunscreen That Contains Oxybenzone or Octinoxate

These chemicals are organic UV filters found in many UV protective products. Yes, they’re effective in safeguarding the skin. However, studies have shown that they’re killing marine life.

For instance, scientists found that oxybenzone has a bleaching effect on coral reefs. Researchers also found traces of oxybenzone and octinoxate in many species of fish. Worse, these chemicals now contaminate almost all of the world’s water sources.

So, do the environment some good by ditching products with these dangerous chemicals. This way, you can keep rafting in waters packed with healthy marine life.

  1. Wearing Expensive Specs or Sunglasses on Board

Unless your eyeglasses or sunglasses have retainer straps or cords, don’t bring them on a raft. That’s because your pricey unsecured eyewear is sure to sink to the bottom of the river. After all, whitewater rafting can get a little wild, and all those waves can send your specs overboard.

Wearing contact lenses is not advisable either, as they don’t mix well with river water. Keep in mind that as clean as the water looks, it’s home to countless microorganisms. Scientists say that a teaspoon of river water contains millions of bacteria.

The best way to not go blind while rafting is to invest in an eyewear retainer. This goes for both eyeglasses and sunglasses. The retainer straps or cords will help keep them securely in place.

If you plan to participate in more water activities, then a custom-made pair is a smart investment.

  1. Not Wearing Any Eye Protection At All

This is especially important if you’re rafting on a sunny day, as the sun’s UV rays can damage your eyes. There’s also the water’s UV ray-reflecting effects, which can make you squint all day long.

To keep your peepers safe, you should wear special-purpose UV protective glasses. The best ones offer at least 95% UVA and 99% UVB protection. They also help safeguard your eyes from excessive brightness.

As always, make sure you go with a pair that comes with retainer cords or straps. Otherwise, your pricey specs will end up swimming with the fish.

  1. Too Little Water, Too Much Alcohol

You’re on vacay, so it’s definitely fine to have a few beers and be a little tipsy when you go to bed. However, you might want to hold off on your alcohol if you have an early rafting trip the following day. At the very least, make sure you drink a lot of H2O before you slip under the covers.

If you forget to do these, you’ll end up dehydrated, which can be a bummer once you’re on the raft. More than being irritable, though, is the fact that dehydration is dangerous. Yes, water is everywhere while you’re rafting, but that doesn’t mean it’s potable.

Even if you don’t drink alcohol, keep yourself hydrated before, during, and after a rafting trip. Otherwise, you’ll experience fatigue, dry skin, constipation, dizziness, or lightheadedness. If these hit you while you’re on board, you’re at a higher risk of falling overboard.

During the actual trip, you should have enough water in reserve and clipped to you at all times. A lightweight tumbler with a spring clip makes it easy to fasten the container to one of your belt loops.

  1. Slipping Out of Your Life Jacket

All respectable outfitters require their guests to wear a life jacket. These personal flotation devices (PFDs) are life-saving equipment designed to float in water. When worn the right way, they keep a person afloat; even if the user doesn’t know how to (or can no longer) float on their own.

However, PFDs can only do their job if they stay affixed to a person. That’s why you should fasten all buckles (they usually have at least three or four, depending on the size). At the same time, be sure that the jacket isn’t too tight and that it doesn’t impair your breathing.

  1. Forgetting to Watch Your Head

Just like PFDs, all decent outfitters will require you to wear a helmet throughout the trip. You’ll be in the “wild,” after all, so it’s possible to encounter falling debris. Your raft may also pass by rocks, and if the raft gets all “rocky,” your helmet can keep your head safe from painful smacks.

With that said, proper helmet use is paramount whenever you go on rafting trips. It should be tight enough that it doesn’t wiggle, but not too tight that it strains the underside of your chin.

If you’re planning to buy a helmet, make sure you choose one that offers a good amount of adjustability. This way, you can wear extra headgear (such as a hat, for super sunny days) between the helmet and your head. Another option is to invest in a helmet with a cap-like visor, as this can protect your forehead from sunburn.

  1. Thinking You Won’t Ever Be That “Person Overboard”

Falling overboard doesn’t happen to every rafter, but that doesn’t mean it won’t happen to you. So, it’s best that you prepare yourself in case you experience it yourself.

If you fall out of a raft, the first thing you should do is blow the whistle attached to your life jacket or PFD. If there’s none, look for the outside safety (OS) line attached to the raft. Grab onto this and wait for the guide to help you back into the raft.

If you can’t find the end of the OS line, someone should already extend a paddle out to you. Another person should also hurl the throw bag as close to your location as possible. Grab the nearest one so you can safely make your way back to the raft.

  1. Brimming With (a Little Too Much) Confidence

As awesome, experienced, and skilled as your guide is, they don’t have control over the water. So, for your safety, make sure you choose a class that’s appropriate to your experience. If you want more excitement, match your swimming ability to the rafting class you book.

If you don’t know how to swim, take lessons first. Then, take the time to practice, be it in a pool or the ocean. Even during practice, make sure someone is always looking out for you.

All these can help prepare you for the slightly wilder rafting trips you’re about to take on.

One more thing: practice the whitewater “floating” position before your actual rafting expedition. It’s a defensive position in which you float on your back with your arms outstretched. Your feet should point downstream, and your toes and face should be above the water.

Avoid These Whitewater Rafting Mistakes So You Can Raft to Your Heart’s Content

There you have it, the top rookie whitewater rafting mistakes to avoid and what you should do instead. You may be a beginner, but that doesn’t mean it’s fine for you to commit these errors. Besides, avoiding them at all costs will help make your river adventures safer and more fun.

Ready for more travel, entertainment, or even tech-related guides? Don’t be shy then: check out our other blog and news posts so you can stay in-the-know!

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