When Your Raft Flips – What to Do & Not Do

Posted October 19, 2021 by Trey Armstrong: guide and grandson of founder George Armstrong

Chances are, when you made plans to go whitewater rafting, the intent was to do just that: raft. You may ask: “What’s the other alternative?” Great question! The answer is quite simple: swimming. Now there are many opportunities during a river rafting trip to hop in the water to cool off and relax, however, in the larger rapids the goal is to stay in the raft and keep it right side up. There is a common saying among the rafting community that goes “upright is alright.” Alas, on every river trip there is always the chance of a raft flipping over. That’s alright too just so long as you keep a few things in mind.

River Carnage on the North Fork Stanislaus

1. Listen

Before each significant rapid, your guide will give you the lowdown on how to successfully navigate the whitewater. Pay attention to any special instructions such as where to swim to if you’re in the water or where there might be a boat that can assist you.

2. Keep calm

While this may sound like a simple thing to do, it can feel quite chaotic when your raft flips. It usually happens fast, and you will most likely be underwater for a few seconds. It is important to conserve energy and keep your wits about you in this situation. Remain calm and wait until your PFD (life jacket) brings you to the surface.

3. Look

Once you pop up from under the water, look around at your surroundings. You may be right next to your upside down raft. Go ahead and hold onto it while you orient yourself in the river. If you are not near your raft, chances are there is another boat nearby in a position to rescue you. Listen and watch for directions coming from your guide or a guide in another raft. Should there be no rafts near you, remember what to do if you fall out of the raft.

River Carnage on the North Fork Stanislaus

Special Flipping Notes

Get out from underneath the raft

When a raft flips, you may end up under the raft. You will discover a large air pocket there which may tempt you to stay, but that is not a good idea. From under the raft you lose sight of the river and your whereabouts and other people on your trip lose sight of you. To get to the outside world, pick one direction and make a beeline for it. Don’t stop and go the other way because this will only prolong your under the raft experience.

Don’t fight the river

No matter how strong of a swimmer you might be, you will not be able to overpower the river…it will always win that battle. Instead of fighting the river, trust your PFD to do the heavy lifting and keep you on the surface where you can figure out what to do next.

The rescue after a raft flips
Flipping a raft is very uncommon, yet it is always a possibility. It is important to be prepared for a flip, but you shouldn’t let it scare you. Rafting is a team activity. When a raft flips, it’s all hands on deck to safely rescue those in the water as efficiently as possible and get the boat rightside up again with everyone back into it. Flipping rafts are what rafting tales are made of, so consider yourself fortunate if it happens to you and be ready to tell your story well later.


Back to Top

Email Newsletter

Get season updates, latest rafting videos & blogs, plus enter to Win a Free Trip for Two! Learn more