Although it is an adventure sport, rafting is safe as long as you are with an experienced guide and have the correct equipment. You should never underestimate the power of moving water, and hidden eddies and rocks add to the danger, but that is what makes white water rafting so exhilarating. An experienced guide has great respect for the water and understands the importance of safety precautions and avoiding unnecessary risks. He or she will be familiar with the river and its danger spots, and will brief participants on what to do and what to avoid doing before setting off. Responsibility for your own safety in the light of potential dangers is usually accepted by signing a waiver form.
As a participant, you don't necessarily need any experience in order to book a trip with a respected white water rafting company. It helps to be able to swim and non-swimmers should tell their guide when booking. The great thing about this adventure activity is that complete novices can enjoy the thrill of shooting the rapids, knowing that they are in safe hands. Modern river rafts are usually inflatable boats, designed specifically for this environment, and don't capsize easily. The raft tends to be buffeted by rocks, squeezes through narrow channels and is easily manoeuvred by paddling.
Safety is obviously paramount where children are concerned and most professional white water rafting companies take children from about 8 years old, and organise school trips. All rivers have different degrees of difficulty, so if you are frightened by the thought of flying down a thundering torrent, there are plenty of calm, wide waterways which might fit the bill. Rafting rivers are graded from 1 to 5, so this is something to look for when booking a trip. Every raft should have a first aid kit and some form of communication to call for help in an emergency. In some of the more remote locations, satellite phones are used.
People are often worried about falling out of the boat, and this does happen, especially on the faster, steeper rapids. Helmets should always be worn when rafting so that any collision with a rock, or even someone else's head or paddle won't result in injury. Just to be on the safe side, buoyancy aids are also worn. Wetsuits too are used on rafting trips, particularly in colder climates, so the whole experience of being in the water becomes an enjoyable element part of the activity, even when it's cold. On a slow moving, scenic part of the river, your instructor might even tie up the raft and get everyone swimming and jumping around in the water just for extra fun!
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