If You Fall Out of the Raft

Posted June 4, 2021 by Kira Culp, AO river guide

Whether you’re rafting Class II or Class V whitewater, falling out of the raft does not occur often, but it can happen during any rafting trip. Although it is sometimes scary to unexpectedly find yourself in the water, there are a number of ways that you can make your “out of boat experience” a good one.

5 Things to remember when swimming in a river:

1. Relax and be aware of your surroundings.

If you find yourself in the water, try to relax (often easier said than done!) and be aware of what’s around you. It can feel confusing and disorienting to be out of the raft and in a rapid. Knowing where you are in the river allows you to better avoid rocks, branches, and other obstacles. Oftentimes, you’ll come up right next to the raft after falling out.

Relax and be aware - South Fork American

2. Nose up, toes up (and heads up!)

When you fall out of the raft, you’ll want to look downstream and lie on your back with your feet out in front of you and your head out of the water. This position allows you to see what’s coming and move around rocks and protect your feet. It also makes it easier to take breaths in between waves. (Feel free to hold your nose when going through a wave – nobody’s taking score!)

Swimmers Rapid on the South Fork American

3. Look and listen for a guide’s instructions.

Whether it be your guide or a guide in a different boat, someone will likely be giving you instructions and working to get you back into a raft. Guides always point in the direction that they’ll want you to swim. The quicker you can respond to them, the quicker they’ll be able to assist you in the water. Take heart – most people don’t stay in the river very long!

Listen to your guide

4. YOU are your own best rescuer.

Of course, your guide, other guides, and the other guests on your trip will try their best to get you out of the water and into their raft, but whatever you can do to help assist during the situation will become very helpful. By swimming back to the raft, you’ll reduce the time that you’re in the water and make it easier for a guide to help you get back in.

Getting back in the raft

5. Getting back in the raft.

When you’re getting ready to get back in, face the raft so that you can be pulled in face-first. If possible, it is always best practice to get your feet out behind you and have someone pull you in by the lapels of your lifejacket. When rescuers grab your lifejacket shoulder straps, they are preventing arm and shoulder injuries and it is the easiest way for them to gain leverage. You can assist the rescuer by pulling up on the handles and kicking against the water.

A parting thought: Oftentimes an out of boat experience becomes the highlight of the whole trip and earns you bragging rights on the ride back home and for years to come. Nonetheless, if you’d like to increase the chances of staying IN the raft, read this blog to get some pointers.


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