What Is Rafting: A Beginner's Guide

What Is Rafting: A Beginner’s Guide

You’ve probably come across the term ‘rafting’ once or twice and the question ‘what is rafting?’ may have popped into your head too. Well, we’re about to answer all your questions about rafting and how you can join in on the fun too.

Most people use the simple word ‘rafting’ instead of the complete term ‘whitewater rafting.' The sport is one in which a team works together to navigate through the course of a river. The river can be a natural water body or an artificial rafting course. People usually go rafting in pairs or larger groups of up to seven to eight people.

The Types Of Rafting

The type of white water rafting that you choose is different from the rest mainly based on the kind of raft used, and the number of people rafting together. There are various kinds of boats in general, but for rafting, people choose a few types. These whitewater rafts also differ based on your level of participation, whether a guide is with you, and how much experience you have.

The Oar Rig

The oar rig is a 16-feet self-bailing raft, which means that in a way that water flows out from the cockpit area of the raft. The design of the oar rig is what discharges the water through the back.

People On Rafting

This type of raft is most common for white water rafting for beginners or children who are taking a tour because the guide pilots the raft using two large oars. All you need to do is hang on to the sides of the raft.  

The Paddle Raft

Once you’ve developed your rafting skills to a certain extent, you can start participating in the navigation of the raft. For this activity, you’ll be using a whitewater paddle raft that can hold a capacity of up to six people, but you’ll need a minimum of four to navigate smoothly.

A paddle raft is 14-feet long, so they’re not as long as an oar rig, which needs more space for participants to hold on. You don’t need a lot of rafting experience to get on a paddle raft, because your guide will give you instructions on paddling as you move.

There isn’t much complexity involved either; you don’t have to navigate around the river by yourself. Your guide will be steering the paddle raft from the back, but you and your groupmates will have to provide the propulsion to move through the course.

The Inflatable Kayak

Most experienced rafters use an inflatable kayak because they have the skill required to do it with just one partner. Traditional kayaks are suitable for a single person or two people at max, so an inflatable version mimics this design but are lightweight and a greater surface area to withstand rough waters.

Inflatable kayaks are the smallest type of rafts- they’re only eleven to thirteen feet long – and you won’t have a guide with you. You’ll have to steer your way through the river and manage the propulsion as well. These have a self-bailing floor that instantly flushes out water, and you’re supposed to use a kayak paddle since they make it easy to maneuver the kayak.

The Dangers Of Rafting

Even though you may be with an experienced guide the entire time, there are still many dangers that you'll come across while whitewater rafting, especially if you're navigating through a natural river course.


Drowning is a risk when you go whitewater rafting, and it’s obvious. The rapid is always strong, and it can often cause a raft to tip over, causing everyone inside to fall out. Although you will be wearing a life jacket, the whirlpools have a lot of pressure and can suck you in.


The whitewater in the river comes from melted snow, and most rafting tours take place in the spring when the chill hasn't subsided. Hence, it’ll be cold when you go rafting, even though you’ll be wearing a drysuit underneath to keep you warm.

Man Swimming In Cold Water

Injuries From Rocks

It doesn’t take much to sustain a couple of bruises and scratches while rafting. That’s because you’ll be navigating through rocks, so it’s possible to smash into them. Not to mention, one of your groupmates might accidentally smack you in the face with their flailing paddle.

Rafting Equipment

Here are some of the essentials you need to take with you while rafting.


Helmets are necessary for rafting that is above the first and second levels. However, the need for a helmet also highly depends upon where you’re going rafting, what season it is, and whether it’s a real course or not.


Most people don’t expect to need sunscreen when they’re floating in the river, but your neck and legs are bound to get a lot of sunburns. Therefore, remember to put it on before you get on the raft.

Life Jacket

You need to be able to float in the case that you fall into the water while rafting. For this reason, wearing a personal floatation device such as a life jacket is necessary to prevent the chances of drowning.

A Wetsuit

A wetsuit will keep your body warm and protect it from hypothermia. Make sure that yours is made from synthetic material since natural fibers can pull heat from the skin.

Popular U.S. Rafting Spots

These are some of the best places you can go whitewater rafting in the US:

The Gauley River

Located in West Virginia, the Gauley River is the best place to go rafting all year around. It has incredible rapids even though a dam regulates the flow and you can go rafting throughout the summer as well.

Rafting On Gauley River

The Merced River

This river and rafting course is in California and has recently been growing in popularity because of the snowmelt that increased the river’s flow. The rapids run fast during the summer months as well, but the real fun comes later in the spring.

The Tuolumne River

It’s positioned near the Yosemite National Park and is famous for its Class 4 rapids that experienced rafter come from all over the world to see.

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