How It Works: Whitewater Rafting

Apr 09 2014

Whitewater rafting is an exhilarating adventure, one that often captivates the heart and adrenaline of outdoor enthusiasts.

In fact, in 2004 alone it’s estimated that nearly 160 million Americans partook in outdoor recreational sports, whether it included skiing, fishing or rock climbing.  In the 1970s, whitewater rafting became an Olympic Games sport, which further boosted this sport’s popularity. Fortunately, whitewater rafting is perfect for all skill levels, especially when using an experienced outdoor rafting outfitter.

Whitewater rafting includes padding in a raft, maneuvering around nature’s wild, rough river rapids. Whitewater rapids are classified into different sections, which denote their skill levels.

Class I – These are the easiest rapids and feature moving water with minimal obstructions. These are ideal for families, children or beginning rafters.

Class II – Slightly more advanced, this class highlights medium-sized waves and may require simple rock maneuvers.

Class III – Featuring irregular waves, these moderate rapids also include narrow passageways and faster currents. This class may include large waves, but generally they are easy to navigate.

Class IV – This class is difficult and should not be attempted by novices. Experts may have difficulty tackling these challenging rapids, as they feature crosscurrents, powerful waves and fast moving waters.

Class V – Extremely challenging, this intense class includes obstructed rapids, large drops, holes and powerful crosscurrents.

Class VI – These rapids are considered impossible for safe navigation.

Rivers can fall into several categories, which is why it’s important to have an expert scout that understands the river’s subtle nuisances and topography. East Coast rivers generally require more advanced technical knowledge, as they often have more navigational obstacles. However, West Coast rivers have higher mountain elevations, which leads to more water volume, steeper descents and rough, wild rapids.

There are several different types of rafts that can be used to conquer whitewater rafting trips. The most popular designs include paddle rafts, which generally seat four to eight people plus an experienced guide.

Trained river rafting guides are experienced with white-water rescue methods, first aid and emergency CPR. Guides help teach novices how to paddle, including offering river rafting safety tips. Rafting vacations vary from several hours to upwards of more than a week.