We partnered with the Adventure Travel Trade Association (ATTA) to come up with tips to help you host a safe whitewater rafting experience. These are best practices, but you’re the expert on the activities you lead. A great Host always thinks about what more they can do to keep everyone safe.
Set the right expectations
If there are health, fitness, or other requirements needed to safely enjoy the experience, make this clear in your experience’s description. This includes providing details about the length of time, exertion and fitness required, and skill levels needed.
Here’s a guide from the ATTA to help you communicate to guests what skill level is needed for your rafting experience:
Beginner: River contains riffles, short, and/or straightforward rapids (class I-II). Many recovery pools. Downstream travel is self-evident and requires little maneuvering. No skills are required, guests will learn basic strokes and whitewater defensive swimmer position.
Intermediate: Rapids with moderate, irregular waves (class III, occasional IV). Downstream travel will require deliberate maneuvering to avoid obstacles. No skills are required, guests will learn basic strokes and whitewater defensive and aggressive swimmer positions and use tow ropes for rescues.
Advanced: Rapids contains waves, boulders, hydraulics, and other obstacles (consistent class III-IV). Specific river swimming skills are required if a guest should fall out of the raft. Guests need to be able to make strokes as directed by guides.
Communicate with guests often
Once someone books, you can use Airbnb’s messaging system to introduce yourself and help your guests feel welcome and prepared. Check in with them to find out if they have any health concerns that may affect their participation. This may be anything from a food allergy to a heart condition. Make sure you’re clear on what modifications you’re able or willing to make to accommodate them. Let guests know that you’re available to answer any questions.
You should create an experience where your guests feel comfortable asking questions at any point. Try to anticipate common points of concern (such as how to use the bathroom on your experience, expectations for interaction with others, etc.). Provide your guests with a list of what they’ll need ahead of time. For whitewater rafting that may include clothing layers, a change of clothes, appropriate shoes, a hat, sunglasses (with a strap) and sunscreen. Address any concerns outright–and make yourself available to attend to these and any others questions throughout your experience.
Listen with patience and authentic concern, and try to put yourself in your guests shoes. This could include practical matters like if there will be food, snacks, or water provided, if they should bring their own water bottle, and what bathroom facilities are available. Try to address these concerns before guests have to ask. What may seem normal to you may be difficult or fear-inspiring for your guests, so your communication is key to a safe and enjoyable experience.
Follow local regulations & check forecasts
You should have the local knowledge to know if and when it’s acceptable for you to guide at your river and what rules or regulations apply to areas in which you may raft. You should know the weather forecast, and know this slope or track well enough to be able to anticipate the conditions.
Give a pre-experience briefing
Before you set out on your experience, make sure guests are clear on what you’ll be doing. Now is the time to check that your guests have all the food, water, and gear that they’ll need during the experience.
A “River Safety Talk” is an important part of your pre-launch ritual. This is best done just before boarding the boats. You can tell guests about the water temperature, what to do if they swim, the technique to swim a rapid, how to get back in the boat if they end up in the water.
Since some guests may be out of their comfort zone, they may need more of certain items than a local would, so if you can anticipate these needs, you can make the experience even better.
Provide the Right Gear
If you’re providing gear for your guests, it should be in good condition, clean and dry, and fit each guest properly. For whitewater rafting, you’ll need a raft made of a thick material (hypalon, neoprene, or PVC) that can effectively carry the number of people on your trip. The raft should not have holes and should be properly inflated, including the thwarts and floor. Keep in mind that ‘self-bailing’ rafts are preferred for rivers and rapids where water is readily taken onboard; ‘bucket’ boats should have the means to bail.
Other important considerations:
- If you’re rowing, there should be an extra oar.
- If you’re paddling, all your paddles should have a way to hold it firmly at the top, and the shaft and blade should not be cracked or have chunks missing. Each paddle raft should carry one spare paddle.
- You should bring a pump that functions for your specific raft as well.
- All lifejackets should be suitable for river travel. Local authorities (e.g. US Coast Guard or a state boating safety authority) may require specific certifications or approvals for life jackets. In the US, for example, approved Type-III or Type-V PFDs are suited for river travel. Fit is extremely important, so make sure all lifejackets are the right size, fit snugly, are fully-buckled, and remain fully-buckled.
- You should have clean dry bags for your guests to use, and make sure you have enough food and clean drinking water for your experience.
- For rescues in whitewater, you’ll need:
- Throw line
- The means to re-right an overturned paddle raft
- The means to extract a pinned raft
- Each host/co-host should have a knife
- If properly trained in its use, a Type-V rescue PFD for each guide.
- Transport vehicles and trailers should be safe, maintained, and clean, and comply with all local regulations.
If guests bring their own gear (a personal floatation device, for example), make sure it is suitable for this experience, it fits properly, and is in good shape.
You should carry (and know how to use) an extensive first aid kit for stabilizing an injured guest and safely evacuating them.
Choose the right conditions, and prepare for the unexpected
Talk with your guest about the range of conditions you’ll encounter, including air and water temperature, wind, and any precipitation. Make sure you know any pertinent dam release schedules or weather events that could change your river conditions with a sudden increase or decrease of water. Let guests know how they can best prepare for these, as well as unexpected but possible challenges.
If you need to cancel an experience for an emergency, weather, or safety issues, no penalties will be applied. Learn more about the cancellation policy for Experiences
Have an emergency action plan
Make sure you have a clear itinerary and plan that all your guests understand. This should include specific info about what they should do if they become lost or injured.
As a host, you can work to prevent some of the more common problems in whitewater rafting by warning your guests about any river hazards, teaching proper rapid swimming technique; and encouraging guests to follow directions.
You may want to have an emergency action plan that you’ve practiced and the means to evacuate a guest if the unexpected happens. If you’ll be more than an hour away from medical care, it’s best practice to have a Wilderness First Responder (WFR) or Wilderness Advanced First Aid (WAFA), along with CPR certification. Find out more about making an emergency plan
Adventure Travel Trade Association (ATTA): Courtesy of the Adventure Travel Trade Association. ©2021 Adventure Travel Trade Association. All rights reserved.
The Adventure Travel Trade Association (ATTA) name and logo are used with its permission, which in no way constitutes an endorsement or vetting of, express or implied, of any product, service, person, company, opinion or political position. The ATTA does not select or approve, and is not involved in the selection or approval of, Airbnb Experiences or hosts. For more information about the Adventure Travel Trade Association, visit adventuretravel.biz.