What is White Water Rafting?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
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  • Last Modified Date: 19 October 2019
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White water rafting is a popular type of outdoor sport, especially in the United States. Also called simply rafting, this sport is an exciting aquatic adventure that can be enjoyed by individuals of all skill levels with proper guiding and instruction. In some areas of the United States, rafting is available year round, although it is generally seasonal, depending on snow pack, rain, and dam release schedules.

White water rafting uses specialized rubber rafts that are very sturdy and flexible. These rafts can accommodate a wide range of people, depending on need and build, although eight to ten individuals is a standard number. All the rafters have paddles, which are used to guide and propel the raft through the water. With a trained guide, it is possible to have a raft with only one or two experienced people and a crew of novices, depending on the difficulty of the waters being rafted.

The excitement in white water rafting comes from the white water, a term referring to the level of turbulence in the river, or rapids. White water can be caused by changes in elevation to the riverbed, rocks or other obstacles in the water, and flow from snow melt and rain. White water rapids have a range of classes, from one, which indicates small, slow moving rapids that are safe for all levels of experience, to six, which indicates a dangerous and perhaps never tested rapid that should only be attempted by professionals.


Rafters can take short trips consisting of a few hours and culminating at a pickup point further down the river, or longer expeditions that combine white water rafting and camping. Especially in the West, longer camping and rafting trips are quite popular and a wonderful way to see nature, often quite intimately. A wide range of white water rafting companies exist, many of which provide a range of experiences, from adventures geared towards more professionally trained individuals to family rafting trips, on which rafters will rarely encounter anything above a two. There is an element of risk to rafting even on class one rapids, which can be alleviated by taking basic training, wearing safety gear, and obeying the instructions of your guide at all times. Basic swimming abilities are also strongly recommended in case of emergency.

Especially when rafting higher classes, it is assumed that rafters have professional training and a much better knowledge of their abilities. In more highly rated rapids, safety precautions should always be observed to prevent injury, and rafters should be aware of prevailing weather conditions as well. When done with safety in mind, white water rafting is great fun and a fantastic way to get in touch with the outdoors.


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