10 Essential Rafting Tips From Our River Guides

A guide splashes his raft on the Franklin | Glenn Walker
A guide splashes his raft on the Franklin | Glenn Walker

If a rafting trip sounds like it would float your boat, but you have limited experience with the thrills and spills of the river, follow these simple white water rafting tips and your first trip will be a smooth one. Our Franklin River rafting guides and river experts have given us some essential pointers on what to wear, bring and expect on your next rafting trip.

1. Wear the right attire 

While you might have every intention to stay in the boat the whole trip, you may not necessarily stay dry. Expect to get soaked on your trip, and wear waterproof and anti-chafing clothes that will act as a barrier between you and the raft.

Avoid cotton, which takes a long time to dry and pulls the heat away from the body. Rather, synthetic materials are fantastic as they are quick drying.

For shoes, err on the side of shoes such as enclosed shoes that have laces, such as Dunlop volleys. Thongs or flip-flops can easily be lost if you fall into the water.

Depending on the predicted weather and temperatures, you may have the option of wearing wetsuits. These will give you added buoyancy and also protect you from the cooler temperatures of the water and colder months.

2. Wear your helmet

Your safety is paramount on all of our rafting trips, which means that you always have to wear protective equipment, including helmets. There are many submerged rocks, logs and branches that aren’t visible from your sitting position in the boat, and hitting your head against these if you fall in is an experience we want to avoid. Keep your helmet on at all times and minimise your risk of injury.

Rafting down the Franklin River, Tasmania |  <i>Glenn Walker</i>

3. Don’t take your valuables

The general rule of thumb for rafting trips is that you don’t bring anything that you don’t want to get lost or wet. Leave your jewellery, including rings, necklaces, earrings and bracelets at home.

4. Ensure you are a competent swimmer

While you don’t have to be an Olympic swimmer to join a rafting trip, you need to be comfortable in the water. Our life jackets or personal floatation devices will keep your head above water, helping you actively swim to avoid obstacles and swim towards the boat or shore while on the river.

5. Keep your lifejacket on and tight

Just like you should keep your helmet on at all times, you should also keep your life jacket on and fastened – even when going through calm waters. These not only help keep you afloat they also make it easier for guides to pull you back into the raft if you fall out.

6. Know what to do if you fall out of the raft

Try as we might, sometimes our guides simply can’t prevent you from falling out of the raft. If and when this happens, it’s important to know what to do next. Our guides will go through this with you in more detail at the beginning of the trip, but in preparation, remember:

  • Swim towards the raft and grab onto the outside safety line. Call out to your rafting mates in the raft and wait for someone to pull you back into the raft. Keep your life vest on, as they will use this to grab onto to hoist you into the boat.
  • If you can’t make it to the outside safety line, call out to your rafting mates to toss you the throw bag (rescue bag with a rope attached) or pass you a paddle to hold on to.
  • If you do not manage to hold onto either of these within a few seconds, assume the whitewater swimming position. Lie on your back with your feet pointing downstream. Our rafting guides will reach you.

7. Understand the procedure if someone else falls out of the raft

Our guides are trained in ensuring a safe ride and will help any clients who find themselves in the water unexpectedly. While you can rely on our guides, it's worthwhile understanding the procedure if you see someone fall out of the raft. Here are a couple of things you can do.

  • If the person has managed to hold on to the outside safety line, pull them into the raft by holding onto the shoulder straps and hoisting them in.
  • If the person has not reached the outside safety line:
    • Pass them a paddle to hold on to and bring them closer to the raft
    • Throw them the throw bag and pull them back to the raft.

8. Master the T-grip

The reason the T-grip is so important is that it prevents the paddle from slipping out of your hands and hitting yourself – or your rafting mates – in the head and chest. The T-grip is the end part of the paddle that looks like a “T” and is made of hard plastic. Your guides will demonstrate the T-Grip at the beginning of your rafting trip, however essentially, one hand should always be at the base of the paddle on the shaft, and the other should always be over the T-grip. This helps ensure you maintain control of the paddle, as well as cushion any blows to yourself or your rafting mates if something should happen.

Rafting on the Franklin River, Tasmania |  <i>Glenn Walker</i>

9. Paddle! Paddle harder!

While it may seem as though the current of the river will get you through the rapids, it is the paddling done by the rafters that ensure we navigate each rapid effectively. When our guides call “paddle”, he or she means it.

Many maneuvers past submerged boulders or rocks require a full crew of paddlers to raft around them. That requires paying attention to the paddle strokes, as called out by your guides.

10. Listen to your guide

Our guides are experienced wilderness and rafting guides who have years of experience on the river. Regardless of whether you have been white water rafting before, it’s important that you pay attention to our guides when they give out commands.

Our guides will tell you everything you need to know while on the river; from what to wear, where to swim, what to avoid and, of course, when to paddle. Their instructions when rafting is simple, basic and easy to follow like lean left, lean right, paddle, stop paddling, these commands help dictate the direction, speed and weight balance of your raft.

And while you may have been rafting before, our guides will have more experience on the river than you likely will, have encountered all sorts of scenarios and obstacles, and are being paid to ensure your safety on the trip.

It is possible during portages that participants will need to unpack the rafts and carry loads short distances around rapids.

Rafting is a group activity and participation from all group members is appreciated.

Tips & Advice, Franklin River

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