My goal for this article is to provide a few tips you can use during your next River Float trip to assure it is a successful one. Every trip is different and success can mean many different things for many different people.
I have been a river guide for many years, have many hundreds of hours behind the oars and still treat every river trip and rapid like it was my first time. Rivers are one of the most dynamic systems in the natural world. I am going to cover 9 Tips to help you have a safe and successful river float trip.
I have learned some of these things the hard way. I have been in dangerous situations because I was either not prepared, didn’t stay focused or was just confronted by mother natures messy natural system. Others items are keys that have helped me on many of my trips in one way or another.
Top 9 Tips for a River Float Trip
1) plan the logistics
2) Determine if you need a guide and leader
3) Don’t over pack
4) Put in and take out early
5) Scout the water
6) Research the sites along the way
7) Wear life jacket and EPIRB if needed
8) Stay sober
9) Know your limits and Breath
Tip #1: Logistics
The details should be lined out in advance of your trip. Do you need a permit, are permits available, how long can you go are all questions you need to line out. You are going to have to find a way to get your vehicle from your launch point down to your take out point. There are companies you can pay to drive your vehicle to your take out point. You can also do your own shuttle but in in some cases takes too long to justify the money savings.
Determine how long of a float you will be doing. Many river floats have different common lengths and your trip will depend on how much you want to do while floating. Will you need extra time for fishing, site seeing, or just relaxing. If so, that 20 mile float will be a lot different than if you were just floating straight through.
Do you need a guide for the float. In some situations having a guide is required and in others may help you get safely down river or benefit the experience. What other licenses or fees are associated with the trip. These things can change from year to year so always check in on the newest fees.
River guide books and maps are helpful and provide a lot of useful information on sites and dangers along the way.
Tip #2: River Guide or Team Leader
When I am starting to think about my next river trip the first thing that usually comes to mind, after thinking about how awesome it is going to be, is who will attend the trip. Within this group of boaters, finding one person who can be the leader is important. By leader I mean, who is going to be the person you look towards when you have a question about running the river.
Also, this person is likely the first boat down the river. This is the person that gives you the confidence the night before the big run that you can do it. When you have a questions about a piece of water or technique this person will have that knowledge.
Some people may think that they are experienced enough to run a new river by boating experience alone. Maybe others have a guide book and feel good about following along. I know that when I am on a new river I have no problem letting the most experienced person take the lead. If that most experienced person happens to be me then I will take on that task. I have been on a few rafting trips where I was the most experienced person even though it was my first time on the river. In this case we made sure to get out and scout any rapid we were unsure about.
If you don’t have a person that has run the river before or don’t have someone with the confidence to be a leader you may want to think about hiring a guide. There is an extra cost but depending on the extent of trip it may be worth the extra money. A guide will not only assure the trip will most likely be safe, but also give you a bunch of insight on the river and little details you wouldn’t otherwise have. If you can afford the extra money a guide can help tremendously.
Tip #3: Don’t over pack
I have always considered myself kind of a sherpa type when it comes to packing gear. I over pack thinking that having more gear will make the camping more comfortable. This link has camping gear lists that will help you decide. This may be the case but in the past when I have done this, the work required to get down river with a heavy boat didn’t equal the bonus we received for having the gear at camp. At the extreme end a heavy boat has put me in very dangerous situations.
The most important thing is to have a balanced boat so if you are heavy you will still be able to maneuver effectively. So when packing for your trip try to consolidate gear with others on the trip to minimize the unnecessary stuff that adds bulk and weight.
Tip #4: Put in and take out early
I will just start by saying that something will go wrong on your trip just about every time. Even on the best trips there are always things that come up. It’s a really good idea to get an early start when putting your boat in at the beginning of the day and always to leave a little grace period on the end. This allows you to not only weather those situations where some environmental factor came into play, but also decreases your stress drastically.
I boat a few rivers where wind is a very common factor that we deal with. On the Deschutes River in Oregon we have had trips where the wind was blowing so hard that we had to pull off and wait it out.
All of the situations where I have gotten into difficult spots are because I was trying to push the limits a little too much. We always make those bad mistakes when we are just a little too tired. Your reflexes aren’t quite there at the end of the day and it’s much easier to screw up.
So I recommend that you just plan on a shorter day to give you a little break. If you do this simple task it will save many hours of stress down the line. And if you have a day with no major issues, then you have a little more time to rest at camp at the end of the day.
Tip #5: Scout the Water
Scouting the water is the act of stopping your boat above the rapid so you can walk down and look at the line you will be taking the rapid through. This is best to do for any rapids you have never been through before or in rapids that are a high class level. My rule of thumb is Class IV or higher should always be scouted. Take a look at this link for some additional information and resources on scouting.
This is important because rapids change over time, boats may be in the way, and just getting a feel for the run before hand is always a good idea. If it is your first time down the river you may want to scout Class III or any rapids you are unsure about. You should also look at the current and expected river levels for the trip. Changes in river flow can change the size of the rapids and the amount of technical moves required.
Don’t underestimate the challenge. I go into every rapid knowing that there is the potential to dump no matter how small. River currents can be very unpredictable so you should always be on your toes and expecting the worst.
Tip #6: Research the sites
We were on a river trip into the Middle Fork of the Salmon River and it was our first time down this section. The water was extra low that year because of a small snow pack. We ended up having a great trip because we did our research to make sure we knew where all of the sites were at. If you are unsure of where to go this link will walk you through the process to find a spot. There were some really amazing hot springs on this trip that we wanted to make a priority to visit. We ended up having some of the most amazing camp sites because we put in a little extra time before the trip to make sure we wouldn’t miss any of the unique features of the canyon.
Tip #7: Where life jackets and EPIRB
Life Jackets are a no brainer. There is no question that the majority of people that drown on river trips every year were not wearing their life jacket. It is such an easy thing yet people tend to underestimate the dangers associated without wearing your PFD.
First, let’s define an EPIRB or Emergency Position Indication Radio Beacon. This link will describe what an IPIRB is and why it might be beneficial for your next trip. We used an EPIRB on one trip while boating through a river in a remote part of Canada. Our device was set up with a emergency crew on call if we got in trouble. If there was a problem we pushed the red button and a helicopter crew was ready to come get us. Although we never had to use the device it decreased some of the stress we had going into unfamiliar waters.
Tip #8: Stay sober
In many of the larger rapids you sometimes have multiple key moves to make in order to avoid serious danger spots. If you are under the influence your reaction time is slowed down and you may not be able to make these critical moves. If you get in a situation where you are swimming you will not be as aware or have the stamina to swim out of a dangerous situation.
This link has some additional safety information. I can tell you from experience that that beverage of choice will taste better celebrating in the evening after you have run all of the big water. Stay hydrated, drink water and have a good time.
Tip #9: Know your limits, take a deep breath and enjoy
You are out there after all to have fun so enjoy your trip. Taking care of the details I have listed will allow you to better enjoy your trip. Also, make sure to take a nice deep breath before each of the large rapids. It will help you relax and stay focused on the task at hand. And when you get to your evening camping location is the time when you can grab your beverage of choice, kick back and relax.
If you follow these 9 tips they should get you well on your way to having a safe, fun and successful River Float Trip. Let me know if you think I missed any key items. Hope to see you on the river soon!